Mothers driven out of work by some of world's highest childcare costs
Childcare costs that are among the highest in the world are pushing Irish women out of the workforce, a new report warns ahead of the Budget.
But the document, by a recruitment industry organisation, recommends the €140-a-month child benefit payment should be means tested. It says this would be necessary to pay for the urgent need to extend state-funded childcare.
Subsidised childcare for children aged from one to two years and eight months and after-school care should be rolled out as soon as possible, according to the National Recruitment Federation submission.
It dismisses "notions" of a €1,000 granny grant for grandparents who mind children as "inadequate".
It said childcare costs in Ireland are among the highest among the 36 OECD countries, with the average weekly spend on childcare at €155.60 - more than €622 a month.
It says Ireland is the second most expensive country for childcare for couples earning more than one-and-a-half times the average wage in the OECD.
For lone parents earning 67pc of the average wage, childcare costs are the highest.
The document says women are key to the country's economic recovery and could shore up labour market gaps. But it notes their participation in the workforce is "worryingly low".
It lags behind other EU countries, according to the federation's president, Frank Farrelly. Just 71pc of those aged 25 to 34 with a Leaving Cert are working compared with an average of 78pc in the EU.
"Childcare, essentially its provision and cost, and aspects of the social welfare system that discourage job seekers from taking up part-time work, are the main issues to address if women are to be supported in going back to work," he said.
"Proper investment in a structured childcare solution is needed, and, in terms of the cost of subsidised childcare, this is expenditure that government can't afford not to make, if we are to resource our labour market needs and drive economic progress."
Childcare is heavily subsidised by the state in other countries, it says. The early childhood care and education programme should be supplemented by out of school hours care to help working parents and opportunities to use schools and community facilities should be examined.
It adds: "The changes to extend availability of subsidised childcare will require the means testing of child benefit entitlement."
Social welfare payments should be calculated on an hourly basis to encourage more people to work part-time.
"If someone has to sign off the live register for a full day, they can be worse off financially as a consequence, and many therefore decide not to take up a part time job," said Mr Farrelly.
This was an issue in food services, retail, security and cleaning, hitting women wanting to "work around their family".
The report estimates the country will be at full employment by the end of the year.
Mr Farrelly said the biggest shortages exist in professional jobs including engineering, ICT, healthcare, business and finance.