Sunday 25 September 2016

Plan to tackle childcare crisis might just crèche and burn

Published 10/07/2015 | 02:30

New proposals aimed at tackling the childcare crisis come, once again, as a government gets into electioneering mode
New proposals aimed at tackling the childcare crisis come, once again, as a government gets into electioneering mode

I remember sitting down with a pad, paper and calculator on holidays once trying to work out a complex series of numbers to see if it was worth my while to go back to work part-time instead of full-time, or cheaper to give it up altogether. With two small children, one starting school and a mid-level job in financial services, it seemed an overwhelming juggling of balls. Most parents end up doing this, usually after a second baby; definitely after a third. That was a long time ago, but it seems nothing has really changed.

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There has been much progress in the area of maternity leave of course, delaying the decisions, but not changing them, and usually in response to an EU directive. Reductions in State benefits and increases in crèche fees, however, mean we still end up having the same-old, same-old conversation.

We're still a long way off the supposed utopian Scandinavian model offering State-funded childcare, free early education, lengthy parental leave (split between men and women as far back as 1974), funded co-parenting, and an expectation that women will quickly get themselves back into the tax-paying workplace with the financial support of employers and hefty back-up legislation.

It's a pity nobody appears to have asked Irish parents if they are quite ready to be Danish, Swedish or Norwegian before holding it up as the ideal.

New proposals aimed at tackling the childcare crisis (is it a crisis or is it just a perennial state of being ever since women started working outside the home?), come, once again, as a government gets into electioneering mode.

We are faced with identical problems from a decade, or three, ago. So, what new solutions shovelling us towards the perfect, if chilly Nordic states, have been dreamed up this time?

An extension of the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Programme has reared its head again.

This was supposed to have been extended to two years ages ago, but now we're given to believe it really, really will happen.

This has nothing to do with childcare, however, and given its limited scope - 15 hours per week over 38 academic-term weeks - it doesn't help parents with the fundamental problem of trying to work while their children are minded. What employer wants someone under those same time constraints? Good news for flexible kids, though.

Success rating: 3/5.

Six months paid parental leave on top of maternity benefit will be phased in over 10 years. Employers will love this one, given they'll be picking up the tab for temporary workers, insurance, pensions and added costs.

It means mums (and it will primarily be mums) can take a full year or more off with their baby. Great news for baby, good news for some mums, and dreaded by others who may feel they'll fall behind, miss out on promotion, or have to re-skill upon their return.

And what about the self-employed who can't possibly afford extra time off?

Success rating: 3/5

Paternity leave for dads. Each week taken will cost the State/employer €10m to €11m.

This will allow splitting of care, which can only be good for parents and babies. It acknowledges the vital role fathers play but may need to be mandatory to 'encourage' dads to take it and for employers to see the benefit.

Success rating: 5/5

Child benefit: increasing by another €5 in Budget 2016 after this year's fiver restoration.

Yet still nothing is being done about the universality of it; rich and poor get the same.

How hard can it be to target this €2bn funding toward less well-off families?

And how many extra nappies will the fiver actually buy?

Success rating: 0/5

Moves to encourage women back from welfare to work by increasing eligibility and subvention levels will cost €91m and will support lone parents in particular.

All good, except lone parents of over-sevens are still reeling from losing benefits.

Instead of mum knowing best, we're told the Government knows best, and that's not granny, Mary next door or your sister.

It's a crèche. Still, there is extra funding being provided and great education programmes like Springboard help.

Success rating: 4/5

And even if it all works, it does effectively take choices away, rather than add to them.

Many people still believe that having one parent stay at home full time should be supported rather than punished. For those who want to keep working, however, child care fees remain like the yoke of a second mortgage as long as the key providers of the service are private operators.

Irish Independent

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