Thursday 19 September 2019

How Ireland compares with Europe

(stock photo)
(stock photo)

Antonio Heras

New figures have confirmed Ireland's record as one of the worst countries in Europe for affordable childcare. Eurostat figures published last Tuesday found that well over a third of Irish parents cited financial concerns as the main reason why families did not make more use of formal childcare services for children under 12.

According to the study:

* 38pc of households cited affordability issues, putting Ireland third worst behind Cyprus at 40pc and Spain at 52pc.

* By comparison, in Sweden and Denmark only 1pc of households reported that finances were holding them back from childcare.

* Overall, only 16pc of EU households reported finances as an issue.

* Despite reports of waiting lists in Dublin, only 1.4pc of households cited lack of available places as a reason for not making more use of childcare.

Other headline findings include:

* 32pc of Irish children under 12 were in formal childcare - roughly one in three.

* Ireland compares well to some Eastern European countries, and Spain and Cyprus, but not so well to Denmark, where nine in 10 children receive formal out-of-school childcare. Seven in 10 children in Sweden do so, and more than six in 10 children in the UK and Germany.

* Of those one in three Irish under-12s in formal child care, 19pc were in paid or reduced cost childcare - well below the EU average of 29pc - while 14pc received cost free childcare.

* In spite of the affordability concerns, more than half of Irish families surveyed were satisfied with the services they were getting; a total of 53pc indicated that their needs were being met - with satisfaction rating slightly higher in cities than in rural areas.

* This satisfaction rating compared with an EU average of 68pc.

* Families in Denmark, Croatia, Bulgaria and Sweden were overwhelmingly positive about access to childcare facilities - with nine out of 10 households expressing their satisfaction.

Eurostat's study examined households with at least one child aged under 12 in 2016, defining formal childcare as centred-base or organised family day care or creche.

The study compares affordability rather than actual weekly or monthly childcare costs, as in most European countries, such costs are subsidised.

In his study on Affordability of Childcare in Ireland, economist Ciaran Nugent pointed out that Ireland was one of the lowest spenders on Early Childhood Education in the entire OECD, while at the same time having the highest fertility rates in the EU.

"This underinvestment has translated into higher market prices as the net percentage of family income spent on full-time childcare in Ireland comes to 27.4pc compared to 9.7pc in Germany and France and 4.4pc in Sweden where these services are heavily subsidised," Nugent said.

The OECD's 'Education at a Glance 2017' report, published last year, found that Irish expenditure on early years education amounts to only 0.1pc of GDP, significantly below the OECD average spend of 0.8pc of GDP.

The highest levels of expenditure were recorded in the Nordic countries, which invest between 1.3pc and 1.9pc of GDP in early years education (ECE).

Sunday Independent

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