Thursday 8 December 2016

Childcare scheme must help 'squeezed middle' - Varadkar

Published 24/09/2016 | 02:30

Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar. Picture: Tom Burke
Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar. Picture: Tom Burke

Any scheme to reduce the cost of childcare for families must not forget middle-income earners, the Minister for Social Protection has said.

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Leo Varadkar said it was important to take the needs of the squeezed middle into account and acknowledged such families often feel they are paying all the taxes but with "none of the assistance from the State that they deserve".

Speaking in Galway yesterday, Mr Varadkar told the Irish Independent he was taking "a huge interest" in the issue because of the phenomenal cost of childcare in Ireland.

He said while no proposals have been made to Cabinet on the issue, he was aware of speculation. He added though that he had every confidence Children's Minister Katherine Zappone would get it right.

Ms Zappone is finalising plans for subsidised childcare for low-income families. However, there have been widespread calls for any assistance to be stretched to middle income families.

Now, Mr Varadkar has added his voice to calls for a wider threshold for families.

"While I've seen speculation about them in the press, I haven't seen any details. But I think it's important that we do target those on low incomes but also not forget people who are on middle incomes, who often feel they are the ones who pay all the taxes but get none of the benefits, none of the assistance from the State that they deserve," he said.

"The whole area around childcare falls into the department of Minster Zappone but it's an area I'm taking a huge interest in because of the phenomenal cost of childcare in Ireland," he said adding that for many people it was the equivalent of having a mortgage on a second property.

"It's a major barrier for lone parents getting into employment in particular and it's also a major cost for middle-income couples, where if they have two incomes, one of those incomes may almost entirely be taken up by childcare costs. So absolutely anything we can do to reduce the cost of childcare is a plus in my book," he said.

"I've absolutely every confidence that Minister Zappone, in consultation with the various political parties, will get that right," he added.

Mr Varadkar also revealed he plans to undo a number of cuts made to social welfare payments over the past five years in the upcoming Budget.

While he would not be drawn on what areas he is targeting, he said he wanted to see a restoration of the basic incomes and living standards for pensioners, people with disabilities, widows and those on the blind pension.

Irish Independent

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