Monday 20 November 2017

School holidays should be fun - but extra cost puts a major dampener on them

Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone Picture: Frank McGrath
Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone Picture: Frank McGrath
Charlie Weston

Charlie Weston

Parents should love the summer. It is a time of generally better weather, less traffic on the roads, no lunches to be made for schoolchildren and no homework to be overseen.

What's not to like?

Well, for working parents, the cost is one thing that puts a major dampener on the summer months.

No school means childcare headaches for families where both parents are in the workforce.

It can be hard work for stay-at-home parents too, whose efforts are undervalued. They need to be active and inventive to keep their offspring occupied during June, July and August.

But parents who work outside the home face different challenges.

They are already hit with some of the highest childcare costs in the world.

Childcare costs are the second most expensive among some 35 countries that make up the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), which is basically all western nations.

Only in the US is it more expensive to access childcare.

Most OECD countries either have subsidies or direct payments to offset the high cost of childcare.

The sheer expense of having children minded also damages our competitiveness, according to the National Competitive Council.

It said last month that the cost of childcare could amount to 90pc of the second earner's income.

This compares to 57pc in the OECD.

And the cost of children is a key reason for low levels of female participation in the workforce.

But during the summer, the issue becomes more acute. When school is out, the pressure is on for parents.

This is because working parents are being hit with a summer premium for childcare.

They have to pay extra for childcare because the children are not in school so need looking after for longer every day.

Many children, where both parents work outside the home, end up in child-minding facilities for nine to 10 hours a day, rather than five hours a day during the school term.

The summer premium can be as high as €500 for a working mum and dad with two children.

Adding to the expense is the cost of going on holiday. And the crèche or care facility still has to be paid for when on a break, as it has already been booked.

Other parents who can't afford the summer premium juggle.

The parents stagger their time off, which means a holiday involving all family members is out.

Other ad hoc arrangements have to be used by those who cannot afford the summer premium. So grandparents get called in to help.

Parents feel they are being hammered and the Government is doing next to nothing to help.

A second pre-school place is due to be introduced for younger children from September.

And there is a promise of after-school care in schools outlined in the 2016 Programme for Government. Children's Minister Katherine Zappone (inset) says a committee of officials has been set up to look at this.

The French have such a system, but there are a lot of practical problems to be overcome here, like the provision of kitchens and other facilities for children finished in the classroom.

And who will staff, and how will we fund, after-school care?

Many of today's children are likely to be well finished with school before such a system is in place.

In the meantime, many parents will continue to dread the long summer holidays.

Irish Independent

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