'Grandparents don't want to be paid for childminding'
Children's minister says state support proposal for relatives who help babysit is just an insult
Children's minister Katherine Zappone has sparked a new controversy over the future of childcare by suggesting grandparents are insulted by the suggestion they should receive state support for caring for grandchildren.
In an exclusive interview with the Sunday Independent, Ms Zappone insisted she will not give a "cash benefit" to relatives who handle childminding duties for busy parents in future Budgets and also categorically ruled out any direct payments to stay-at-home mothers.
However, Transport Minister Shane Ross hit back at his Cabinet colleague last night and insisted the "priceless" role played by grandparents and stay-at-home parents in childcare should be rewarded in the next Budget.
"Grandparents are the unsung heroes and heroines of the childcare problem," Mr Ross told the Sunday Independent. Ms Zappone said her landmark €120m childcare package will mean families will be less reliant on grandparents and can instead avail of state-regulated childcare.
"I know some organisations have been in touch with us to say they have got a lot of calls, especially from grandparents, who are actually upset to hear the suggestion they should be paid," the Independent minister said.
"What they are doing is making a choice to support their daughters or their sons and want to make that contribution to family life and it's not a job and they don't want it to be perceived as a job," she added.
Mr Ross argued in favour of introducing a so-called 'granny grant' during Budget negotiations with Fine Gael but the proposal was rejected.
"The Independent Alliance put detailed suggestions along these lines to Fine Gael during Budget talks. It was agreed that they were worthy of further thought and merited in- depth examination," he said.
In today's Sunday Independent, Ms Zappone says there are already state supports in place for stay-at-home parents in the form of tax reliefs for carers and places in early childcare school, along with child benefit payment.
"Are we going to give them cash? No, we are not going to give them cash. Every family gets child benefit, there's quite a bit of support there," she added. Ms Zappone also said there are lots of mothers "double jobbing" by going out to work everyday before coming home to household chores and childminding duties.
"I think most people would probably agree that the reality is women who are out working ... are probably more likely to be the ones who are fixing the meals or doing some of the domestic chores," she said.
Ms Zappone's comments will inflame the debate over how the State views stay-at-home parents versus those who work.
Last week, Ms Zappone unveiled a new means-tested state-subsidy scheme aimed at lower income families which will contribute to childcare costs for all children between the ages of six months and 15 years old. A separate universal payment of at least monthly payments of up to €80 for children aged six months to three years will also be introduced.
Both schemes will be introduced next September.
The childcare package also included €86m in extra funding to extend the Early Childhood Care and Education Scheme and the free pre-school scheme. Ms Zappone said she expects to get a further €120m funding in next year's Budget which she will use to expand these schemes and improve the quality of childcare workers through education and training. The minister also warned she will introduce price caps on childcare if costs increase on foot of the new measures.
An independent review of childcare costs will consider the "pluses and minuses of capping fees", she said.
"At the moment I suppose we perceive that as a market intervention. Is it necessary? Maybe," she said. The minister also revealed she is favour of increasing paternity leave.
"The research demonstrates that it is really good for babies and I would love to be able to see that. Three months, is it possible? Certainly my voice will be added to that," she said.