OPINION: Irish children make up one fifth of our population and all of our future.
‘Tús maith, leath na h-oibre’ goes the saying. A good start is half the work. Something most of us learn to be true as we grow older, and hopefully wiser.
A good start in life is something we all want for our children too. Something we as parents strive to give them, and often have to work long hours to be able to afford.
For parents who want, or need to work outside the home while their children are young, this means being able to access high quality and affordable childcare.
I hear it from too many families in Louth on a weekly basis – childcare is breaking the bank, it is like a second mortgage.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) lists Ireland as the third most expensive country for childcare. If you are a single parent it is the most expensive country in the OECD in which to avail of childcare. A recent Aviva Family Finances Report showed childcare to be a major factor in some families not yet feeling the positive effects of the economic recovery currently underway in this country.
These are the kinds of families who have been pressed to the pin of their collars for far too long. The people who really struggled to make ends meet after the economic crash. The people who pay for everything and feel they receive very little in return for their taxes.
As your local fine Gael TD, I have been using my position to impress upon my Government colleagues the need for this to change.
Childcare is just one area where a change in Government policy can and will make a tangible difference to these families who need help.
The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Katherine Zappone recently announced new affordable childcare measures that will see up to 70,000 children benefit from State supports from this September.
This radical Government scheme is designed to help families meet the cost of childcare and ease the financial burden. For the State to support families with childcare in this way is a progressive move, and it is the first step towards a single affordable childcare scheme that will eventually encompass all childcare options into one simple system.
So what does this mean for families this coming September?
In a new universal benefit, children aged between 6 – 36 months in Túsla registered childcare, will qualify for childcare supports worth up to €1,040 per year. This will bring them up to the point where they can access the ECCE (free pre-school programme).
In addition to this universal payment, there will also be further childcare supports for families who need them most. Families on lower incomes who qualify by way of a means test, will be eligible for supports worth up to €7,500 per year for children aged 6 months to 15 years of age.
Children will of course also continue to benefit from the free pre-schooling that has been a great help to families across Louth. The take up of this scheme was so high that the Government recently extended it to a second year of free preschool for all children. This extension is estimated to provide an average saving of €4,000 per child. Despite the success of this programme however we know that families with children under 3 years of age are struggling to meet the costs of childcare. That is exactly why we are taking action now to help families meet these costs.
Since Fine Gael entered Government in 2011, we placed major emphasis on job creation and getting people back to work. We’ve had good success in this with unemployment now down to 6.3% from a high of 15.1% in the dark days of the recession. There is no room for complacency however and we remain committed in our efforts to boost job creation across all regions of Ireland. We simply cannot have a situation whereby people are unable to take up work because they cannot afford the childcare they will need in order to start a new job. The new targeted childcare support in particular is designed to prevent this problem.
The new childcare supports will be available to every family here in Louth and across every region of the country.
The reason the new subsidies will apply only to children in Túsla registered childcare is because the Government must be able to stand over the quality of the childcare given where tax payers’ money is being invested.
This is exactly why the Government is investing in the quality of those services.
Just last week, funding of almost €30,000 has been made available to help improve the quality of school age childcare in Louth.
This funding comes from the Government’s School Age Childcare Capital Scheme and is designed to improve quality and standards, helping childcare providers to replicate the home environment for children in their care, through for example, age appropriate play equipment to stimulate children mentally and physically.
This builds on the recent allocation of funding for Louth to help new and existing services to increase the number of childcare places that they provide here. Under this funding strand, almost €95,000 was provided to crèches and Montessori groups in Louth.
So in total, Louth is receiving €125,000 in funding this summer alone to increase capacity and improve the quality of childcare services.
I encourage families to visit www.affordablechildcare.ie for more information. You can find out about eligibility, the application process and which childcare providers are included.
Busy parents will be glad to hear that access to these new supports is designed to be as simple and hassle free as possible. So check out the website and avail of affordable high quality childcare, designed to ease the burden on your family and give your children that ‘tús maith’ they so deserve.