Monday 24 October 2016

Stay-at-home parents and families left out of childcare plan

Laura Larkin and Cormac McQuinn

Published 12/10/2016 | 02:30

Dr. Katherine Zappone TD Minister for Childcare and Youth Affairs. Photo: Douglas O'Connor.
Dr. Katherine Zappone TD Minister for Childcare and Youth Affairs. Photo: Douglas O'Connor.

New childcare measures have come in for sharp criticism for excluding stay-at-home parents and families who depend on their relatives for childcare.

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The universal childcare payment and subsidised childcare had been touted as one of the centre pieces of Budget 2016.

Children's Minister Katherine Zappone has said it will open up doors for working parents who were otherwise unable to afford childcare.

But it will exclude swathes of parents who do not send their children to a formally recognised childcare provider.

It will also leave out many parents of children over the age of three who are struggling to balance work and childcare needs. The sharpest critics of the new scheme spearheaded by Ms Zappone compared it to the debacle of tax individualisation, introduced by Charlie McCreevy in 1999 - saying it discriminated in favour of two-income couples. The universal payment will see all families earning more than €47,500 getting a payment of €0.50 per hour on their childcare costs for children under three.

Families earning below that threshold will be able to avail of subsidies for childcare for children up to 15 years, on a sliding scale depending on their income and the age of the child.

However, Pauline O'Reilly of the Stay-at-Home Parents' Association (SAHP) said the new measures were pricing stay-at-home parents out of the market and robbing them of the choice to raise their children as full-time parents.

"We haven't been invited to sit at the table and that's the real reason we have been forgotten," she told the Irish Independent. "I don't know how she can say it's giving choice - it doesn't give choice at all."

Ms O'Reilly said the group want to see all families - including working families - helped by the Government.

Read more: Childcare, €300m tax cuts, welfare hikes - your guide to Budget 2017

But she would like to see more help given to families who have given up "more than 100pc of their income to raise children" because they also lose their tax credits.

However, Ms Zappone said she wasn't "nervous" about the negative reaction because the Government has supports in place. This included an additional €100 to the €1,000 carers' allowance which also applies to people who are caring for children.

"There are many parents who are staying at home because the costs of childcare are prohibitive," she said. "If the State weren't supporting stay-at-home parents in any way I would be concerned . . . but the investment we are working on is being encouraged by Europe.

"We have received country-specific recommendations for a number of years that our childcare costs are too high. We need to reduce them in order to reduce child poverty and increase female participation in the labour force."

The 47pc of families who rely on relatives to mind their children while working will not be able to avail of the payments. Only registered childminders can avail of the payments and this rules out people who mind their grandchildren.

Asked about the comparison to tax individualisation, Taoiseach Enda Kenny dismissed the idea and said the plan was the first step in improved childcare.

"While I'd like to think we might have been able to do more for stay-at-home mothers, there is a modest allocation there. Over the period I think the minister will draw all of the complex elements of childcare together to a much more streamlined and effective proposition".

Skills Minister John Halligan called the plan "a step forward" but said he "would have preferred if the ceiling was up around €70,000/€75,000 which is really only two average incomes coming into a house". 

Read more: Explainer: From childcare to the national debt - The 11 biggest changes made in Budget 2017

How you register as a childminder

  • Childcare providers who wants to register with Tusla must complete an application form. This form sets out the requirements under new childcare regulations which the service will be subject to once registered.
  • An initial registration inspection visit to the service is carried out before the service is operational.
  • Once Tusla is satisfied the service meets all the requirements of the relevant regulations, the provider will be entered on the register of early years services and issued a certificate of registration.

Irish Independent

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