Mothers are forced out of work, say businesses
Parents will continue to be forced out of work unless the Government makes childcare a priority in the upcoming Budget, a business lobby group has warned.
Chambers Ireland warned the Government must drastically rethink its approach to childcare services because it is causing an "extraordinary loss in skills and talent".
It pointed out that half of women who have two or more children do not re-enter the workforce.
In its 'Investing for Tomorrow' report, due to be published today, Chambers Ireland has identified five key issues that must be addressed in a reform of the current childcare and after-school care services.
As well as a lack of affordability and a lack of accessibility, the group also identified the "lack of educational force" as one of the key issues currently impacting on services.
The organisation said regulation of the childcare sector had "primarily centred on health and safety, rather than educational attainment".
"It is equally important that children's learning and development curve progresses, while they are being cared for in facilities supported through public investment," the report said.
"If we are to make childcare a Government policy priority, it is our view that more emphasis must be put on the quality of care."
Low levels of investment and unsustainable capitation fees have also been identified as key issues.
Ian Talbot, chief executive of Chambers Ireland, said the time had come to address these issues because Ireland was competing against the "top-performing countries in the OECD for investment and market access".
"Our childcare sector must reflect the needs of working parents and the economy.
"We can no longer afford to ignore the need to invest in our children and provide them with the best start in life," he added.
Chambers Ireland is urging the Government to provide subsidies to service providers in the form of capitation grants on the condition that they reach certain educational quality standards.
It also called for the level of subsidy per child to be varied according to their parents' income.
It wants to see the Government bring spending on early childhood education in line with UNICEF's recommendation of 1pc of GDP. Currently, Ireland spends just 0.4pc.
While this may require the State to more than double its current level of spending, the return on investment "will far outweigh both the short and long-term costs", it argued.
Chambers Ireland said this would also increase female participation in the workforce and help close the gender pay gap.