Last week saw a protest by childcare providers outside Leinster House over chronic underfunding in the sector. Everyone knows we need a serious overhaul of how our society looks after children, but can we just make childcare tax-deductible in this year’s budget and end the fee freeze notion? And if not, why not?
I’m tired of complaining about the cost of childcare. Every parent is.
We all know the story. Ireland is one of the most expensive countries in the world to raise children and we’re paying some of the highest childcare fees in the EU.
Dublin childcare fees for three children would leave me making a loss.
I only manage because I can mainly work from home, but still every day is like a perpetual game of logistical Twister and locking myself in the bathroom to take calls.
It goes something like this: If I drop them to my boyfriend on his lunch break, I can just about squeeze in that radio interview and if I put my baby to on an earlier than usual nap, I’ll get that edit done before the younger toddler needs to be collected.
My weeks are a patchwork of Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE), my boyfriend, help from other parents and sometimes – in emergencies – taking one or all three of them along with me.
You strap the baby to your chest, make sure the iPad is fully charged for the other two, and then you bring enough snacks to keep them quiet.
During the pandemic my chances of earning money and staying relevant shrivelled as the lockdowns kept on coming and I had nobody to watch the children while I tried to work.
Nowadays, if one of the children is sick, I might miss deadlines.
If one of the links in my small support circle breaks, I have to work through the night.
But I’m lucky. I have a job that allows me work from home.
There’s a limited amount of government help available to some parents, depending on their income.
But most of us have to wait until our child qualifies for ECCE to get a measly 15 hours of free childcare a week, like children don’t need caring for before then.
When women stay at home because they can’t afford to work, or when they are working because they can’t afford to stay at home, that’s a national crisis. That’s an emergency.
But our Government’s message to women is that it doesn’t matter how good you are at your job or how much you love it, if you have a child, you can go back to work as they turn three, except we’ll only pay for your childcare for 15 hours a week.
Sit around at home until they start big school and then you can work away to your heart’s content, between the hours of 9am and 1.30pm. Maybe more if you’re lucky enough to have access to breakfast clubs and after school clubs.
Years of underfunding has left the childcare sector on the brink of collapse, yet the Government barely acknowledges the devastating impact this would have on our children, economy and women’s equality.
And we ignore the fact that childcare isn’t some choice, it’s a necessity, a basic utility that is as essential as the electricity that powers our homes.
So, what’s new?
Well, the Government is supposedly throwing €221m at the problem, but also demanding a fee freeze, despite warnings that it will close creches and put providers under pressure.
Providers say new core funding proposals for ECCE providers and day care services could close hundreds of local services because they are being asked to cap fees at last year’s rate of inflation of 2.2pc.
In other countries, childcare is viewed as essential infrastructure.
Study after study shows that much of the cost of free universal preschool childcare could be recouped from the increase in employment it would bring – yet our Government thinks only in the short-term.
It says it takes a village to raise a child. I’d have to agree.
Rather than messing around with price freezes and measly extensions of paternity leave, why not go the full hog and introduce universal free childcare?
We do this for education and healthcare for the under sixes.
There’s nothing I’d love more than state-provided, quality childcare that is free at the point of access.
The raising of the next generation is something that should be prioritised.
But I’m a realist.
Socialising childcare would cost an arm and a leg. And I’m not sure we can afford it.
As an alternative, why is it that we don’t ever talk about the fact that our childcare fees are not tax-deductible?
Because the cost of a policy like this would be mostly offset by women going back to work and paying tax.
Make childcare tax deductible for working parents.
Introduce a subsidy for those who earn below a certain income. It seems like the fairest solution. For everyone.
The fact that the Government is now talking about childcare offers some glimmers of hope that somebody somewhere might do something about this problem, in the next 20 or 30 years.
Not that that helps those of us trying to figure out what to do now, in the next few months.
I hold on to a flicker of hope that a career and a family is still an option in Ireland.
Sadly, our Government knows we’ll just keep going and keep on navigating the impossible toss-up between affording childcare and working.