Wednesday 16 October 2019

Editorial: 'Perfect storm of childcare and housing hits families'

'The need for childcare has never been quite so acute, nor the costs as high.' (Stock photo)
'The need for childcare has never been quite so acute, nor the costs as high.' (Stock photo)


Examples of the unintended consequences of the encroachment by well-meaning people of zeal, but without understanding, are legion.

Unforeseen consequences kick in remorselessly, and difficulties are compounded.

Yesterday this paper revealed how the success of one childcare policy was wreaking havoc because of the scale of demand. The Department of Children acknowledged the pressures, stating it was "aware the higher cost of baby rooms may be contributing to an emerging capacity issue".

For "capacity issue" think of an infant without a crèche, and with a stressed-out mother or father, desperately trying to figure out a way back to work.

Teresa Heeney, CEO of Early Childhood Ireland (ECI) - which represents the early years in the childcare sector - said: "The second pre-school year cannibalised places for younger children." Solving one problem by creating another is rarely recognised as a good result.

It's known as the water-bed effect - pressure on one point merely pushes it elsewhere.

So costs will only continue to go up.

Parents face a severe shortage of crèche places for babies and toddlers because of the take-up in the free pre-school programme for three to five year olds. Another Government "initiative" could also exacerbate the situation. The National Childcare Scheme, which will pay a direct subsidy to parents to help pay their childminder, sounds like a reasonable measure to ease the enormous pressure of childminding costs.

But already there are concerns as currently there are only 200 registered as such. So what will happen to the "tens of thousands" believed to be offering such services unregistered when the assistance is introduced? Will people register and thus come into the system or will they decide it is not worth their while if they have to comply with the tight terms and conditions?

As it is, parents find it impossible to manage either due to the prohibitive cost of care or the complete lack of it. The need for childcare has never been quite so acute, nor the costs as high. But young families are facing a perfect economic storm and the housing crisis is escalating the problem. It is now essential for both parents to work to either pay a mortgage or afford the rapidly accelerating rental costs. Childcare is therefore an urgent necessity, not an optional extravagance.

The housing crisis is a legacy of years of under-investment and poor planning.

The same can be said for the crisis in childcare.

As Children's Minister Katherine Zappone acknowledged today, addressing the problem has been too slow for too many.

But just as in housing, chronic shortages will not be sorted aspirationally.

Zappone's commitment to quality accessible, affordable childcare is no doubt sincere. As was Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy's commitment to quality affordable housing.

But if wishing them into existence without the necessary resources, planning and multi-faceted strategy, was all that was required, families would not be forced to live with the unprecedented levels of stress they now endure daily.

Irish Independent

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