Sunday 21 April 2019

New childcare scheme is first step but parity with European models a long way down road

Ask any working parent what their biggest headache is and they will immediately tell you it’s childcare (Stock picture)
Ask any working parent what their biggest headache is and they will immediately tell you it’s childcare (Stock picture)
Sinead Moriarty

Sinead Moriarty

Finally some good news on the issue of childcare. After years of the electorate lobbying the government and pushing for assistance with crippling childcare costs, it has finally acted.

Finally some good news on the issue of childcare. After years of the electorate lobbying the government and pushing for assistance with crippling childcare costs, it has finally acted.

Ask any working parent what their biggest headache is and they will immediately tell you it's childcare. Ask women who would like to go back to work why they don't and they will answer, the prohibitive cost of childcare.

It is the continued lack of affordable care that has prevented so many Irish women from going back to work. So it is heartening to hear that, finally, this Budget is addressing the issue. The Government has announced that it is introducing a new scheme where all parents (regardless of their annual income) with children aged between six months and three years in childcare will be entitled to up to €900 in State subsidies a year.

Thirty-five million euro is being provided to fund the childcare support package. The subsidies will be available from September, for all preschool children attending a Tusla-registered childcare provider - including centre-based providers and childminders. This will help to take the sting out of current costs. Families today pay a crippling €800 to €1,000 per month for full-time childcare. If a couple has more than one child it usually ends up costing the mother to work so she has to give up her job to stay at home.

Orla O'Connor, Director of the National Women's Council of Ireland (NWCI), who has long campaigned for affordability in childcare, says: "The provision of childcare is the most important public service in order to increase women's participation in employment and civic life. This applies to women across all income groups as they are the most likely to drop out of employment when they have children. We therefore particularly welcome the start of a universal payment that will be available to parents in all income groups."

The new initiative will see the country's poorest families receiving €8,000 annually in the new childcare scheme. The targeted subsidies for the poorest will also apply to after-school care for children up to the age of 15. This will make a big difference to low-income families, particular single parents as it recognises the need to provide childcare outside of school hours.

Children's Minister Katherine Zappone received a total increase in her departmental budget of about €150million, and thankfully she has used a lump sum of this to placate furious parents who are stretched to the limit under crushing costs.

But before we all stand up and applaud, there are potholes in the scheme. It's by no means perfect. The plan leaves out parents who don't use crèches.

It is relatives (usually grandparents) who are the most common form of childcare in Ireland, with childminders a close second, followed only in third place by crèches.

So surely it is these family members who do the work and the professional childminders who are not registered with Tusla (to date only 1pc are registered) that are being overlooked.

Minister Zappone says the hope is that the scheme will allow people to move away from relying on relatives for childcare. While some worn-out grandparents may well breathe a sigh of relief, there are many who love minding their grandchildren and being rewarded by the Government would have been most welcome.

The National Childminding Association has warned that the new measures could actually push childminders out of the market.

While measures do not tick every box, they still represent a big first step in the road towards subsidised childcare.

Yes there is a lot more to do. As a working mother I have spent a small fortune on childcare and it does bug the life out of me. So I welcome any and all moves towards improving the situation.

While this childcare package is welcome it is only the first step to developing a publicly subsidised universal childcare model, similar to the models available in other European countries.

Our European counterparts have long enjoyed wonderful public childcare systems that are guaranteed to all parents and operate from early morning to late evening.

Perhaps now, more Irish women will be able to go back to work and have the choices that our European neighbours have so long enjoyed.

Irish Independent

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