By Adrienne Harvey
Fears that the Government’s More Affordable Childcare Scheme would increase the financial burden on parents have been realised. The subsidy of up to €80 per month was intended to help parents cope with rising childcare costs.
However, some parents have already seen this potential gain wiped out after being notified of increases of €90 per month. This is notwithstanding the fact that childcare fees in Ireland for single parents are the highest in the EU, accounting for 42% of household income, compared with 14% across other EU states!
Although childcare costs are rising, workers in this sector remain on low wages, averaging €11.40 per hour. There is also a high turnover of staff. Early Childhood Ireland has announced that it supports its members who have increased their charges.
As of the end of August 2017 just 2,626 of a possible 4,484 early childcare providers have signed up to the Scheme, further compounding stress – financial and otherwise – of parents. They are facing the turmoil of uprooting their child to a crèche that has signed up, or losing out on this subsidy.
Highest in Europe
Results of a recent online poll showed 45% of mothers are considering or already have left the workplace due to crippling childcare costs. This result serves to highlight the EU Commission’s 2016 statement targeted at Ireland that; “The availability and cost of childcare remains a barrier to female market participation and hinders efforts to reduce child poverty”. Ireland was further singled out to “Improve the provision of quality, affordable, full-time childcare”. Of course, the EU’s neoliberal spending rules are an attempt to cut across any significant increase in public investment which would be necessary to provide for the building of state run, free or affordable crèches.
Ireland is woefully lagging behind other countries in UNICEF’s recommendation of contributions of not less than 1% GDP towards early childcare. Our state contributes 0.3% GDP. To put this figure in context Denmark contributes 2.0%, Finland 1.1%, France 1.2%, Sweden 1.6%. In Sweden, public childcare is guaranteed for all, free preschool between three to six months, fees up to 3% of family income but capped at €146 per month.
Zappone’s fiasco of a scheme is not good enough – the simple demand for quality, free or affordable, accessible childcare will not occur within this bureaucratic, profit-driven system.