Meath East Social Democrat Sandra fears childcare plan could spike costs
The government's introduction of the new "Affordable Childcare Scheme" is causing increased childcare fees for some parents says Sarah Vanden Broeck , Local Area Representative for Social Democrats Meath East.
'The scheme also adds further pressure to child care providers often only able to offer minimum wage to their staff who are facing an increased cost of living,' she says.
The scheme, coming into force in September 2017, offers a universal, non-means tested subsidy of up to €1,040 per year for children up to start of the ECCE, as well as supports for families on lower incomes of up to €7,500 per year for children up to 15 years of age.
As a mother of 2 crèche going children, Sarah states "Our monthly cost for crèche fees is €1540 per month, which includes the €20 per week subsidy for both children and to be honest, I wouldn't call this 'affordable'. We are lucky to have a brilliant crèche with highly qualified staff but Early Childhood Education is seriously undervalued within Irish society. The sector is critically vulnerable because of underfunding, increasing levels of qualification requirements, high staff turnover, staff working on minimum wages while parents are trying to make ends meet each month in order to afford childcare".
"Introducing this universal subsidy was inevitably going to lead to an increase of fees, as it substantially increases the workload for childcare providers . Yet no measures were implemented by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs to ensure rates wouldn't go up", adds Sarah. A well planned scheme should have allowances for price increases built in.
She continues: "I was contacted by parents in Meath concerned about the increases. Many parents have informed us that their crèche and preschool fees are raised either immediately or from September, with the increases ranging between €5 and €20 per month.
In some cases, the increment effectively cancels out the Affordable Childcare subsidy in its entirety".
Early Childhood Education is heavily regulated, with 5 agencies already requiring inspections with its associated paperwork , the service also pays fees towards the cost of inspections. The Affordable Childcare Scheme brings a further workload to childcare workers who need to comply with statutory inspections and additional collaboration with other agencies regarding individual child needs regarding Speech and Language, Play therapy and Educational Psychology. The industry is also expecting a demand on places at a time when very few new facilities are opening.
'Figures from Early Childhood Ireland show that Irish childcare costs are higher than anywhere else in Europe: Irish families are paying 35% of their average income on childcare, compared to 16% by our European counterparts,' Stamullen based Sarah added.