Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth | To ask the Minister for Children; Equality; Disability; Integration and Youth the efforts currently in hand to ensure that Ireland can have a national childcare scheme where the prices paid for childcare are similar to prices paid for childcare elsewhere across the European Union; the recent progress in this regard
To ask the Minister for Children; Equality; Disability; Integration and Youth the efforts currently in hand to ensure that Ireland can have a national childcare scheme where the prices paid for childcare are similar to prices paid for childcare elsewhere across the European Union; the recent progress in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
The most recent edition of ‘Key data on early childhood education and care in Europe’ published by the European Commission in 2019, highlighted the high level of fees for full time early childhood education and care for under 3s in countries which rely on market mechanisms to including Ireland, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. Since then, the Government has set out a range of commitments in the Programme for Government to address this issue with a commitment to increase State spending to at least €1bn by 2028.
More than 100,000 children now avail of the Early Childhood Care and Education Programme (ECCE) programme, a universal two-year pre-school programme available free to all children within the eligible age range. It provides children with their first formal experience of early learning prior to commencing primary school. The programme is provided for three hours per day, five days per week over 38 weeks per year and the programme year runs from September to June each year.
In addition, the National Childcare Scheme (NCS) provides financial support to help with childcare costs to more than 80,000 children. There are two types of subsidies available under the National Childcare Scheme:
• Universal subsidies are available to all families with children under 3 years old. They are also available to families with children over 3 years who have not yet qualified for ECCE. This subsidy is not means tested and provides 50c per hour towards the cost of a registered childcare place for a maximum of 45 hours per week.
• Income Assessed Subsidies are available to families with children aged between 24 weeks and 15 years. This subsidy is means tested and will be calculated based on your individual circumstances. The rate will vary depending on family income, child’s age and educational stage, and the number of children in the family. The maximum available income assessed subsidy, dependent on the aforementioned conditions, is €5.10 per hour or a maximum weekly subsidy of €229.50.
A recent review of the NCS revealed that, as a proportion of total family childcare costs, 6% of parents receiving NCS support reported that all childcare costs were covered by the NCS, while 38% reported that half or more of their costs were covered by the NCS.
Since the review took place, I announced a further package of measures to directly address the costs associated with childcare in Budget 2022, including:
• an extension of the NCS universal subsidy to all children under 15, benefitting up to 40,000 children from September this year.
• an end to the practice of deducting hours spent in pre-school or school from the entitlement to NCS subsidised hours from spring 2022, benefitting an estimated 5,000 children from low income families since 2 May.
• a new core funding scheme – worth €221m in a full year – to support:
• improved quality through better pay and conditions for the workforce by supporting agreement on an ERO through the JLC;
- the employment of graduate staff; and
- improved sustainability and stability for services.
The new funding model being implemented aims to transform the sector to one that is increasingly publicly funded and publicly managed, delivering a service for the public good, through a partnership between the State and providers, to the benefit of children, parents, educators and practitioners, and society overall.
A new fee management system, attached to core funding, will mean no increase in fees from pre-pandemic levels for the September 2022 to August 2023 programme year, which, in tandem with developments to the NCS will together deliver significantly improved affordability for parents.
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