Wednesday 13 December 2017

Stephen Kinsella: Benefits to supporting childcare are clear – and it's a vote winner

DEMOGRAPHY is not destiny, but you need to understand it to win elections. Full-time childcare now costs parents an average of €1,000 a month for one child. Any political party that pledges to use the resources of the State to reduce these costs or provide enhanced services will, without doubt, be on to a winner. The crucial steps are for our policymakers to see early childhood education for the high return investment it is, and to understand how to pay for it.

First, this is an investment in society with positive, long-run benefits. Studies on the return to these programmes have been carried out since the 1970s. We know they work. For example, analysis of one programme, the Abecedarian Early Childhood Intervention, showed that children who attended a high-quality, half-day pre-school programme from ages three to four were, at the age of 40, much more economically successful than randomly selected participants in a control group. The benefits to the investment made today will carry through these children's lives.

The key is to move from using free childcare as a targeted anti-poverty scheme towards an almost universal entitlement for young families, regardless of their incomes. The benefits are substantial, and while they are more pronounced for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, these benefits apply across classes: improved literacy and numeracy; better neurological development; longer educational participation; better labour market outcomes; better life outcomes; reduced societal costs from crime and additional future tax revenue; allowing working women to return to the workforce more quickly.

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