Saturday 22 October 2016

The Yates Anthology: We must broaden debate on childcare

Published 25/07/2015 | 02:30

Having a child involves a gross earnings cumulative cost of €200,000 up to 20 years
Having a child involves a gross earnings cumulative cost of €200,000 up to 20 years
Trainer Aidan O'Brien

The debate surrounding Children’s Minister James Reilly’s Inter-Departmental Group Report into future childcare services is uniformly one dimensional. The singular narrative for parents of children under four years is childcare is unaffordable, with costs of up to €1,200 per month per child; one free preschool year must be doubled; taxpayers should pick up all consequent costs.

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No one demurred from “Ireland should copy Nordic countries” to ensure careers are unaffected by burdens of rearing kids.

State costs on childcare/early education amount to €260m. An additional annual €500m would be absorbed by taxpayers if the report was implemented forthwith.

This is a net transfer from everybody else in society to a specific cohort of young parents — at the expense of other competing spending commitments on housing, healthcare, mainline education and welfare. Some contrarian whataboutery is required to give context to these political choices.

The most important decision any woman makes isn’t choice of life partner, house purchase or career path. The choice to have a child is utterly life altering.

The biggest wake-up call in life is the return home from maternity hospital with your first-born baby. All subsequent life sacrifices are without parallel. There’s no escaping 168 hours of infant care — upending your social, personal and work life. Not something resolvable by 15 hours of crèche facilities per week.

Having a child involves a gross earnings cumulative cost of €200,000 up to 20 years. We shouldn’t pretend responsibility for child rearing can be conferred on to the state. Recommendations to ensure future adequate supply of childcare and enhancement of standards of provision are readily implementable.

Notions that a system of Early Child Care Education (ECCE) can fully facilitate resumption of pre-pregnancy careers is disingenuous — even dishonest to working mothers, who juggle multiple impossibilities on a daily basis.

Debate also ignores cash subsidies of €2bn in child benefit, even to those on largest incomes. Passing the costs of parental leave in the first year of childhood on to employers is both unfair and counterproductive. Many firms can’t afford costs involving replacement workers — revenue can’t be relayed to customers.  In 2014 we had 67,750 births, down 11pc over the past seven years. Three- and four-year-olds benefit from formal childcare facilities, but stay-at-home mums and childminders are apt for under twos.

A wider balanced societal debate should determine these policy choices, rather than monologues from vested interests.

Political paralysis

I’m suspicious of long-awaited government reports that are published the week after the Dáil’s summer recess — circumventing proper political scrutiny. The review of the Fair Deal scheme by Deloitte was on health ministers Lynch and Varadkar’s desks for months, commissioned in 2011. We didn’t need a report to know that the scheme is in crisis. Kathleen said some months ago it was “unsustainable”.

Fundamental facts are established: 22,600 elderly residents participate in the scheme; contributions average €280 per week, costs €1,200 per week; culminating in a cost of €950m to the taxpayer. Due to burgeoning dependency demographics, an extra 11,000 places are needed over next decade; whilst 2,000 public community hospital beds don’t conform to HIQA standards, requiring immediate capital investment of €500m.

It all adds up to unavoidable refinancing of the model. Instead of considered incremental investment response, what do we get? Superficial announcement of “no hike” to 80pc income and 7.5pc asset charges to Fair Deal applicants. Short-term populism to get over expediency requirements of the imminent general election yet again funking critical public policy issue. No party is prepared to confront this looming crisis, despite unambiguous analysis militating reform.

Better to have the earliest possible autumn election, so hard choices won’t be on hold indefinitely, while political leaders are paralysed by voter backlash fears — the ultimate insult to our intelligence.

Westward bound

All roads lead westward as the Ballybrit bonanza begins; seven unique days of the holiday racing festival. Willie Mullins, Aidan O’Brien, Gordon Elliott and Tony Martin may train sporadic winners; Dermot Weld is systemically likely to train at least a dozen victors. Separating wheat from chaff involves identifying his quality horses that have been set aside for months, capable of winning graded races at top tracks, but DKW instead earmarks for Galway.

Multiple entrants catching my eye are First Figaro, Stuccodor and Silver Concorde. Two- year-old maidens knocking on the door are Sunglider, True Solitaire and Simannka. Weld banker is Tribulation on Friday night, having won well in Killarney a few months ago.

The biggest races are the Tote Galway Plate and Guinness Galway Hurdle. Investments here are high risk and speculative.

On recent racecourse trips I saw Mouse Morris’s (Gigginstown owned) Ravished win the Midlands National at Kilbeggan (20/1 in Plate); Willie Mullins’ Diakali had an easy victory at Tipperary, despite top weight, and he’ll go well (hurdle odds 14/1).

If surviving Ed Sheeran at Croker, The Bodyguard at Bord Gáis Theatre and hurling quarter finals at Semple Stadium, I’m set fair to rock up on Wednesday — my liver has been in the prerequisite intensive training.

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