Saturday 24 March 2018

Childcare plan will subsidise those on low and middle incomes

Joan Burton
Joan Burton

Fionnán Sheahan

The Coalition is planning to extend a childcare subsidy to low- and middle-income working parents.

The Government ultimately plans to give the direct financial assistance universally to all parents and make it available to help pay for private sector services.

At the moment, the subsidy is only paid to those dependent on social welfare who use community-based childcare facilities, which makes up just 30pc of facilities.

The measures to remove poverty traps and help parents take up work are being recommended in a Government report on childcare, obtained by the Irish Independent.

Children's Minister Dr James Reilly will publish the report today following the last Cabinet meeting of the summer at Lissadell House in Sligo.

Dr Reilly is expected to say parents will not go back into the labour market "if they are not confident the obstacles of affordability of childcare isn't going to be addressed".

The measure is expected to take several years to roll out, starting in October's Budget.

However, there is still no indication how much the subsidy would be worth and who would benefit from it initially before it is rolled out for all.

The new scheme will be modelled on the existing Community Childcare Subvention (CCS) Programme, whereby disadvantaged parents and parents in training, education or low paid employment can avail of childcare at reduced rates.

Under the scheme parents get a weekly fee reduction ranging from €95 for a full-time service, €47.50 for a part-time service, €31.35 for sessional service and €15.20 for a shorter hours service.

On foot of the report, working parents are expected to eventually get six months paid leave off work in the first year after their child is born.

The report also finds that just over one in four children under school-going age are in formal childcare and the existing free year of childcare is too short in terms of hours each day and number of weeks a year. Six months' paid paternal leave, in addition to maternity benefit, is the big ticket item in the report. It is expected to be taken up by up to 45,500 parents a year.

The measure would take a decade to implement in full but would build up gradually from a month to a full six months.

The recommendations include:

l extension of the Early School Year;

l rationalising existing childcare subvention schemes to a single scheme;

l six months paid parental leave in addition to maternituy benefit;

l paternity benefit paid for by the state of one or two weeks.

The paternity benefit of either one or two weeks is expected to be included in Budget 2016 later this year, as flagged by Social Welfare Minister Joan Burton.

The report is aimed at identifying and assessing policies and future options in the area.

Irish Independent

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