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Demand for childcare drops by half in slump

THE demand for childcare has dropped dramatically in the past three years with the Government spending about half of the original budget planned for childcare places.

The Public Accounts Committee heard that the National Childcare Investment Programme was planned to provide €357m for 50,000 places.

Instead about €180m was spent on creating about 25,000 places. Jim Breslin, secretary general of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs told the committee that during the boom there was considerable pressure on pre-school places.

Reductions in employment and disposable income because of the economic downturn meant budgets had been "re-shaped" to provide quality pre-school education.

The Early Childhood Care and Education programme, introduced in January of last year now provided 66,000 children with a free year of pre-school education. Some 94pc of eligible children were participating in the scheme.

Mr Breslin said adequate childcare provision remained key to bringing women back into the labour market.

The number of women in employment fell by 83,100 in the three years from March 2008 to March 2011 and over the same period there were an extra 90,100 men and women with children who were now unemployed.

Choices for parents in childcare and quality childcare to support children's development remained key policy.

"Improvement in employment and income levels as we recover from the recession are likely to see further take up of the facilities that have been developed through both private and public investment", he added.