Friday 22 November 2019

Childcare costing families more than mortgage bills, survey finds

And for families with two or more children, the bill for full-time care can easily top €2,000, whether you use a creche or a childminder.

With the new school year looming, the cost of raising children is putting a huge strain on family life as tough decisions have to be made.

And a separate survey today shows how parents have had to cut back on their own personal spending to meet the cost of getting children back to school.

It now costs close to €540 per household to kit out children for their return to the classroom, results from a specially commissioned KBC Bank/ Irish Independent survey show.

While costs remain high, young families have been hit by swingeing cuts to child benefit rates and the scrapping of a €1,100 a year government supplement for children under five.

The only boost that parents got in recent years was the introduction of the free pre-school year in 2009.

But this only contributes around €200 a month to childcare costs for children aged three to four.

Reports on childcare costs put Ireland low in the league table of affordability. Estimates suggest that parents are facing childcare costs of anywhere from 20pc of salary up to 41pc, according to a report in 2010 by the OECD.

The costs are such that many mothers find themselves unable to take up or continue in full time jobs, particularly if they have two or more children.

Orla O'Connor, acting chief executive of the National Women's Council, said there had been no easing of the burden since the OECD's stark findings two years ago.

"Many parents contact us about being forced into part-time work, because they can't afford childcare. It's a huge issue for lone parents as well," she said.

Lobby group PACUB (Parents Against Child Unfriendly Budget) said that it was concerned about IMF calls to stop universal child benefit, which is currently a monthly payment of €140-€160 a child.

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"Some parents might be earning good salaries, but most of it is going on childcare," said PACUB spokeswoman Niamh Kelly.

"So if you take away the little bit of help provided by child benefit you could push them out of the workforce altogether."

The highest childcare prices were found in Dublin, where most creches we surveyed charged more than €1,000 for one child.

The highest price we found was at Bright Horizons in Swords at €1,113, followed by Park Childcare in Cherrywood at €1,100 a month.

With childminders, anecdotal evidence suggests that the going rate is often around €5 per hour per child -- if they are cared for in the minder's home.

To have a child minded in the parents' own home, the cost is generally closer to €10 per hour plus PRSI contributions.

Our survey also found that prices in most creches reduce by 5pc to 12pc as babies grow and mandatory staffing levels fall.

But the age at which these price cuts apply varies greatly.

For example at Model Farm Road Childcare in Cork, the cost is €910 a month for a baby, dropping to €802 per month when the child reaches 12 months.

At Bright Horizons in Swords, the price reduces from €1,113 a month for a baby to €1,024 a month when they reach two years.

And at Stepping Stones in Dundalk, toddlers are charged the same as babies -- although at €607 a month this creche has by far the lowest prices surveyed.

Irene Gunning of their representative body Early Childcare Ireland (ECI) insisted that creches are not milking it as it is a labour-intensive industry with very low profits.

In general, 70pc of the cost goes on labour governed by strict HSE staff-child ratios, while 20pc goes on building costs such as rent, mortgages and rates, and 10pc is for running costs such as food, utilities and cleaning.

"Costs are obviously higher in Dublin and commuter counties, and often that's because many premises were purchased during the Celtic Tiger when property prices were sky high," Ms Gunning said.

New employee sick pay proposals are also likely to see additional costs passed on to hard-pressed parents.

Some 42pc of creches and pre-schools surveyed in recent days by ECI said they would have to increase their fees if these proposals are made law.

Irish Independent

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