Saturday 19 October 2019

Yvonne Hogan: 'If the State wants both parents at work then system needs an overhaul'

Vital years: 'The new report pits parents against businesses and paints the State as a fair-minded patriarch'
Vital years: 'The new report pits parents against businesses and paints the State as a fair-minded patriarch'

Yvonne Hogan

Yesterday's news story that families in the capital were paying €1,000 a month for one child in a crèche or nursery was not news to anyone who is paying, or has recently paid, for such childcare.

Having paid such fees almost continuously for the last six years, I find the release of the report a lazy, headline- grabbing, mean-spirited, pre-budget tactic.

It completely ignores the fact that until very recently, governments have not considered early childcare at all relevant, important or within their remit. Research after research shows the crucial importance of early childhood education and care - research trumpeted by ministers such as Katherine Zappone. But instead of taking responsibility for it and running it as the essential societal service that everyone agrees it is, they want us to pat them on the back for giving us a few pence towards paying for it.

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Framing the childcare issue in purely financial terms is also problematic, as is the outrage at the fact that cost of nurturing, feeding and caring for a baby should cost such a sum, which for a full-time working parent in Dublin works out at little more than a fiver an hour.

Another major flaw is that at no juncture has it been seriously considered an option to pay a parent to take time out and spend more time with their preschool child. Parenting, like childcare, is not valued.

We do have State maternity pay - unless you are self- employed - but once those six months are up (during which you spend a lot of that precious time looking for childcare), unless you are independently wealthy, you are back on the hamster wheel. Surely it is worth discussing inflating the children's allowance for the first three years of a child's life to allow parents to consider such a path?

I know many, many parents who would love to leave the workforce or work part-time for a while to spend more time with their children, but they just cannot afford it. And many have done so at the expense of pensions and savings and could do with the extra funds.

For many years now, our Governments has largely run the country as an economy, benefiting and buffering interest groups, businesses and banks at the expense of society and its citizens.

The result is, among other things, crazy house prices that trap people into a cycle of working to service a mortgage or pay exorbitant rent, and living half a life. Some of those people are also paying significant fees for childcare, and some of them struggle to even find childcare.

How easy then for the State to whip up a frenzy about the cost of childcare. To redirect the anger and the attention of the exhausted, overstretched parents of young children away from decades of governmental mismanagement and towards said childcare sector, a sector that's very existence compensates for a vacuum in services from the State.

That is not to say that it is perfect, or that there aren't bad apples cutting costs and putting the needs of children second to profit - thanks to the work of 'RTÉ Investigates' we know all too well that there are such places. But there are many more wonderful, caring places where children are loved and nurtured.

The measures introduced by Minister Zappone, the release of this latest report about childcare costs, the discourse in the media about how we have pumped millions into the system and yet it is badly paid and still expensive, all scream one thing: it is the fault of the individuals running the businesses.

It is an odious, mean-spirited campaign. Seriously, how much did they spend to research and disseminate the fact that fees in a crèche down the country were half the fees of a crèche in one of the most expensive parts of Dublin.

It pits the parent against the childcare provider and posits the Government as the fair-minded patriarch which is doing its best to help the parent. Humbug.

If it really wants to help with the cost of organised, outside-the-home childcare, it could consider reducing the rates for crèches and nurseries. It could consider subsidising the insurance, provide meals, subsidise training, give tax breaks - there are many, many things that could be done to reduce costs for parents without maligning the industry.

Our investment in the early childcare sector is decades behind because for years the powers that be wanted women to stay in the home. The system that we have was set up for that purpose.

If the State wants both parents working - and every single policy that has been enacted or mooted in the last decade seems to scream that it does - the system needs to be radically rethought and overhauled.

Irish Independent

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