Wednesday 16 October 2019

Childcare fees jump by €10 a week in two years despite State subsidy


(Stock picture)
(Stock picture)

Anne-Marie Walsh

Childcare fees have risen by more than €10 a week in the last two years despite a Government subsidy that aimed to slash costs for hard-pressed parents.

Official figures reveal that crèches have hiked full-time fees by almost 6pc since the universal subsidy was rolled out in 2017.

Average weekly full-time childcare fees jumped from €174.16 to €184.36 a week since the Government grant was introduced - a difference of €10.20 a week.

At the same time, the Government has been paying out €20 per child per week to try to ease the burden on parents due to the sky-high cost of early years care.

Weekly full daycare fees stood at €174.16 in 2016/2017 and rose by 2.2pc to €177.92 in 2017/18, according to a Early Years Sector Profile Report from Government agency Pobal.

They rose by another €6.44 or 3.6pc to €184.36 by May this year, according to Children's Minister Katherine Zappone's recent statement on childcare costs.

Childcare costs in Ireland are among the highest in the world. According to a Eurydice report this year, the gross fees for two children in full-time care are 39pc of the average wage. This compares to an OECD average of 24pc and EU average of 18pc.

The subsidy is worth €20 a week or €1,040 a year per child and is part of the Affordable Childcare Scheme.

It is not means-tested and was introduced in September 2017 for families with children aged between six months and three in childcare. They register with the crèche, which processes the application.

Siptu head of strategic organising and campaigns Darragh O'Connor said subsidies were not a long-term solution to affordability.

He urged the Government to back Minister Zappone's call for a fund to increase wages for workers in the sector in the Budget.

"Subsidies do nothing to help providers improve pay and are not a long-term solution to affordability," he said. "What is absolutely certain is low pay is undermining quality for children and the sustainability of services.

"So either Government invest in a 'living wage fund', as advocated by Minister Zappone, or fees are going to increase for parents."

A spokesperson for childcare providers organisation, Early Childhood Ireland, blamed underinvestment by governments. She said early years providers were in a precarious position because of this and the average service operated on a break-even basis.

"Government currently invests only around 0.2pc of GDP per year in the sector," said director of policy and advocacy Frances Byrne.

"This is the lowest amount of any country in the EU.

"While some important progress has been made by the current minister, the wider issue of investment remains to be addressed."

She said that until this happened, parents would be left to pick up the pieces and professionals would face low wages and precarious working conditions.

The Department of Children and Youth Affairs said affordability "remains a concern". It said the National Childcare Scheme, when introduced shortly, would bring further progress in helping those who need it.

"While the minister currently has limited powers to control fees charged to parents, she has asked an expert group to explore the potential to do this as part of their work in developing the new funding model," it said.

"It is important to note that recent fee increases were preceded by a very significant period of low or negative change."

Irish Independent

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