Thursday 18 July 2019

Childcare scheme ‘will put lone parents out of work’

A group says the new scheme, launched in March this year, will take up to 400 euro a month from Ireland’s most vulnerable families.

The new scheme adopts a universal approach to childcare subsidies (Dominic Lipinski/PA)
The new scheme adopts a universal approach to childcare subsidies (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

By Aoife Moore, Press Association

The Government’s National Childcare Scheme will force single parents out of work, according to a representative group.

Single Parents Acting For Rights of Kids (Spark) says the new scheme, launched by Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone in March this year, will take up to 400 euro a month from Ireland’s most vulnerable families while offering families with higher incomes a small benefit.

Spark spokeswoman Louise Bayliss said: “This is just bad government policy making.”

The group says it has met with Ms Zappone to raise the issue, a meeting it labelled a “box-ticking exercise”.

“There seems to have been no communication between two government departments when writing this policy,” Ms Bayliss added.

“We told the Department of Children that the loss of certain schemes meant that people wouldn’t be able to train or go to college, which is exactly the opposite of what the Department of Social Protection are trying to do, and they told us to take it up with them.

“We’ve been told to look at ‘the bigger picture’.

“We keep being told that this new scheme will benefit 95% of families, but the 5% of families it doesn’t are the ones struggling and the most in need of help.”

The new scheme adopts a universal approach to childcare subsidies and ends certain targeted supports, which Spark says had allowed low income families to work, train and avail of education.

The universal subsidies are not means tested and provide 50c per hour towards the cost of a registered childcare place for up to a maximum of 40 hours per week, a total of 20 euro a week.

The Income Assessed Subsidies are calculated based on individual circumstances.

The subsidy can be used towards the cost of a registered childcare place for up to a maximum of 40 hours if you are working, studying or training, and a maximum of 15 hours if you are not.

However, the scheme will not be implemented until October, and one single parent Gayle Smith, who is currently studying at Maynooth University, says the Department has only told her that subsidies “will be based on her personal circumstances”, but could not state exactly how much she is set to lose when the strategy comes into force.

“I can’t even plan for anything because I don’t know what I’ll be getting or losing,” she said.

The loss of targeted schemes like the Childcare Employment and Training Support (CETS) scheme, which meant lone parents in higher education or skills training courses could qualify for a subsidised childcare place, has been deemed a severe loss.

Similar losses are set to be faced by parents on the CCS (Community Childcare Subvention) scheme, which allows low income families to access affordable childcare, and additional supports for children who require early intervention.

Spark says many lone parents will now see losses of over 350 euro per month and feel they will be forced out of work and “trapped on social welfare dependency”.

Ms Bayliss told the Press Association that while the new National Childcare Scheme could offer a progressive step, in the current format, it is regressive, that will entrench the poorest families in poverty and offer little support to higher income families.

“I think there’s a lack of empathy from Minister Zappone, and her officials,” she said.

“The very fact that the Government is allowing people to stay on their existing scheme until August next year if they are not better off, is them acknowledging that a lot of people are going to be worse off in this scheme.

“There will absolutely be single parents out of work because of this strategy.”

One in four families with children in Ireland is a one-parent family, 84% of which are single-mothers.

In 2016, there were 218,817 family units with children headed by a lone parent, an increase of over 3,500 families since 2011.

The Department of Children has been contacted for comment.

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