Wednesday 29 March 2017

Stay-at-home brigade's response to childcare move is disappointing

Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone at the recent launch in Dublin of Early Childhood Ireland’s report on childcare costs. Photo: Frank McGrath
Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone at the recent launch in Dublin of Early Childhood Ireland’s report on childcare costs. Photo: Frank McGrath
Liz O'Donnell

Liz O'Donnell

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. If I wasn't an elder lemon versed in the politics of childcare for 30 years, I might be taken aback by the negative and even angry reaction by some parents, particularly stay-at-home mothers, to the childcare subsidy scheme announced by Minister for Children Katherine Zappone in last week's Budget.

But many of us have vivid memories of earlier attempts by several governments to grasp this nettle. We remember in particular the savaging of finance minister Charlie McCreevy when, in 1999, he introduced individualisation in the tax code. This was a reform long called for by workforce equality campaigners, particularly for women who worked outside the home. But resistance from women in the home caused consternation at the time and resulted in the introduction of a home carer tax credit. The furore over it chastened policymakers, discouraging them from making divisive distinctions which placed a monetary value on women's work in and outside the home.

As a result, Child Benefit has reliably provided the safe and politically neutral solution for successive governments by indirectly supporting childcare costs. Over three decades of increasing participation of women in the workforce, these costs have long been a source of grievance and an unaddressed policy issue. Any move by government to compensate parents through the tax system for childcare costs inevitably runs into "what about me" claims of the stay-at-home parent who provides this service free and as a matter of choice.

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