The nation watched in horror as the shocking truth about what happens behind closed doors at our privately owned crèches unfolded on Prime Time. Disturbing images of children being mistreated have enraged parents up and down the country, and all for some of the highest child care costs in Europe.
Already burdened, Irish families fork out 29% of their family net income on childcare more than double the European average of 13%. “A Breach of Trust” exposed the extreme failure by the state to regulate and inspect the ran for profit child care system that Irish parents have little choice but to avail off, but begs the question why did we ever trust them in the first place? Historically the Irish State has never provided childcare or preschool facilities and has a woeful record of protecting our most vulnerable.
Running childcare as a business model has effectively turned our most precious commodities into a by-product of the greedy profit hungry industry. While the childcare workers themselves are under paid, under trained and overwhelmed, the children are exposed to tense and potentially an unsafe environment. The need for publicly funded childcare is greater than ever, not only to ensure our children are being looked after in a safe stimulating atmosphere but to ensure that it is an option for all families and not just those that can afford the estimated €11,000 a year per child.
Women have borne the brunt of austerity cuts for the last five years, cuts to child benefit, taxing of maternity pay and attacks on lone parents along with the fact women make up the majority of part time and underpaid jobs rule out the option of early education or childcare for most. Forcing women to stay at home and be unpaid child minders, evocative of the state’s “endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour and neglect their duties in the home” as engrained in the Irish Constitution. This obstacle to the basic right of employment is the leading factor to why if you are a woman you are more likely to live in poverty.
The reactionary response to the scandal from the government has been their typical one. Contrary to the claims of Frances Fitzgerald that she is committed to increasing the standard of childcare there has been revelations of recent cuts to funding of a training and advice service which provided help and guidance to thousands of child minders. The Child Minding Advisory Service which employed more than 30 people was suspended in most places at the beginning of the year and is evidence that the priorities of the government are to keep their friends in the IMF happy and not the young children and families that have already suffered enough from their draconian policies.
We must demand free, publicly run, monitored and regulated childcare based in the community to ensure children are in an environment in which they can thrive. After school care should be provided for all primary and secondary schools where students could study as well as have access to sports and leisure facilities which would allow parents the option of working full time. The need for drastic changes to maternity, paternity and parental leave must also be highlighted, in order to allow parents play a better roll in the care and development of their children. The Socialist Party is in favour of an increase in paid maternity leave to 52 weeks for mothers and 12 weeks for fathers to alleviate the pressure working families are being subjected to by extortionate childcare, unsustainable mortgages and the ever increasing cost of living.