Tuesday 17 September 2019

More families to get childcare subsidy... but not until late next year


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Laura Larkin

Laura Larkin

FAMILIES earning up to €102,000 a year will be able to avail of a targeted childcare subsidy under measures announced in Budget 2019 - but not until late next year.

It is one of two key measures introduced by Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe - the other is an extra two weeks' paid parental leave for new parents - not expected to come online until late 2019.

Children's Minister Katherine Zappone will today flesh out proposals outlined by her Cabinet colleague in relation to the expansion of her flagship Affordable Childcare Scheme.

The extra funding has been used to tweak the bands at which people can avail of the scheme; raising the maximum income threshold to €60,000 after tax.

Payments are available on a sliding scale from €50 to €145 per child a week, reducing as income increases.

A household earning up to €26,000 will be able to avail of the maximum subsidy rate under the new tweaks.

Under the scheme, a family earning €60,000 after tax with three children - two in school and one under three years - would see a payment of €92 a week under the expanded scheme. The roll-out of the Affordable Childcare Scheme was delayed by an issue with the IT system, with a new system needed to administer the tailored payment.

Families earning over the threshold may qualify for the universal childcare subsidy that sees payments of up to €20 a week, which hasn't been changed in this Budget.

Another measure announced by the Government to help out what Mr Donohoe termed "hard-pressed" families is the introduction of two weeks' paid parental leave per parent in the first year of a child's life.

The payment is expected to be made at the same rate as maternity pay.

Meanwhile, the Back To School Allowance is to increase by €25, as well as increases to payments targeted at children in poverty.

These include an increase in the Qualified Child Payment of children whose parents are in receipt of a social welfare payment.

The increased rate will see an additional €2.20 per child for children under 12 and an additional €5.20 for a child over 12.

Advocates for children and families extended a cautious welcome to the measures.

Tanya Ward, of the Children's Rights Alliance, welcomed the "focus on children" and also welcomed the childcare measures.

"Families are crippled with the cost of childcare," she said.

"The increase to income thresholds for the Affordable Childcare Scheme will mean that four out of five eligible families with children will benefit financially from the scheme.

"It also means that more families on the lowest incomes will benefit significantly as the threshold is increased to €26,000 net.

"The Government must now ensure that it can meet the extra demand and invest in quality early years centres and supports for childminders so no child is turned away next September," she said.

However, Seas Suas - a body which represents early education and childcare providers - said the investment falls far short of what is required to ease the burden on families in the squeezed middle.

Chair of Seas Suas Regina Bushell said the changes announced were a positive move, but the "squeezed middle" continue to grapple with high taxes and rental or mortgage costs making accessing quality childcare an ongoing challenge for them.

Irish Independent

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