Sunday 25 September 2016

'Middle classes must get childcare relief too'

Anne Marie Walsh

Published 21/09/2016 | 02:30

Squeezed middle earners are likely to lose out on any significant relief in Budget plans to ease the burden of childcare. (Stock image)
Squeezed middle earners are likely to lose out on any significant relief in Budget plans to ease the burden of childcare. (Stock image)

Pressure is mounting on Finance Minister Michael Noonan to bring childcare relief to hard-pressed middle-income families.

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Squeezed middle earners are likely to lose out on any significant relief in Budget plans to ease the burden of childcare.

Minister for Children Katherine Zappone is unlikely to get enough funding to roll out a subsidised childcare scheme to help middle-income parents.

Under the scheme, the state would pay up to 100pc of a family's bills for childcare directly to creches and childminders.

The portion paid would drop as income levels increased, so that lower-income families would benefit most.

And sources said that there will be "very little" left from the €600m budget for spending, when housing and welfare packages are put together, to subsidise childcare.

Early Childhood Ireland, which represents 3,500 childcare providers, welcomed the introduction of a subsidy rather than tax credits.

Chief Executive Teresa Heeney said that evidence showed this was the best use of funds as the State could use it to set quality requirements.

But she warned that Irish parents spend up to 40pc of their income on childcare, compared with 14pc by their European counterparts.

"That's why they're squeezed," she said. "We want to see the government introduce something for them in this Budget, and signal a plan in terms of what's going to happen. We're saying that, at the very least, we have to be considering an upper limit for eligibility of €47,000 as a net figure, or €70,000 gross.

"It all depends on how much money they're prepared to invest ... it will obviously target those who need it most but they have to be ambitious and inclusive of as many parents as possible."

Ms Zappone's spokesman insisted that the "squeezed middle" are in her plans and she ultimately wants to bring in free childcare for every child.

He said the 'single childcare scheme' had been well received by the Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform departments but admitted the full plan was "unlikely to occur in one budget".

"We are aiming high," he said. "Ireland has the most expensive childcare in the OECD and we are confronting that head-on with this scheme."

He said that a €47,000 threshold figure was purely an example, and had no bearing on the final thresholds that would be used.

Irish Independent

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