Parents were 'led up garden path' on promise of lower childcare costs
The Government has failed to deliver its "signature promise" in last October's Budget to ease the burden of childcare costs, Labour leader Brendan Howlin has said.
The former public expenditure minister said the Government had failed to put the necessary computer systems in place to deliver special childcare payments to low income working parents.
Mr Howlin said this had been clear since February - but the Government and Children's Minister Katherine Zappone had failed to be honest with the public about this situation.
"Now all people will get is €20 per week when they have childcare costs in excess of €1,000 per month in many cases," the Labour leader told the Dáil. He said tens of thousands of low-income parents had been "led up the garden path" with false promises in last year's Budget.
"Having made political capital out of promising a childcare scheme that would be progressive and help families that needed it most, the scheme will do no such thing. The existing targeted supports for the lowest income families will be retained but that is not progress. That is standing still," he said.
Replying for the Government, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said up to 70,000 children would benefit from better childcare subsidies from next September. She hoped the computer systems would be in place "early in the new year" to pay extra subsidies to the low-income families.
"We are determined to go from being one of the most expensive childcare systems to being one of the best," Mrs Fitzgerald said.
The minister said the Department of Children and Youth Affairs was working with various other departments and agencies to build the fully automated online system which will provide a user-friendly means for parents to access childcare supports.
"It will be much more efficient in terms of administration. Given the sheer complexity of this development and a number of other factors beyond the control of the department, the department will not now introduce the online system until a later date," Mrs Fitzgerald said.
The Tánaiste said that the Government had already introduced an extra free pre-school year and also introduced paternity leave.
Mr Howlin said this was more based on the previous 2011-2016 coalition than the current Coalition. "It is extraordinary that the only positive things the Tánaiste has to announce are things done by the previous government," the Labour leader said.
"When will we have the announcement that was made in the Budget on the revised childcare supports that were supposed to be funded in 2017 and which will not now be delivered in 2017? When will they be delivered?" the Labour leader asked.
Mrs Fitzgerald conceded there was a need for some legislation and an IT system to deliver the extra money. She said these matters were being prioritised by Ms Zappone.
"When that has been done, using existing levels of investment, a further 9,000 families will benefit from more affordable childcare through childcare subsidies of up to €12 per week," Mrs Fitzgerald stressed.