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Childcare provisions in Budget ‘almost totally exclude’ stay-at-home parents

Day-care provisions in Budget 2023 have been described as “unfair and discriminatory” towards stay-at-home parents by Christian think tank and advocacy group, The Iona Institute.

The organisation today pointed to polling it commissioned which showed that the majority of people do not want children under five to be placed in day-care during the working day, with many preferring the idea that one parent stays home to care for the child.

The advocacy group made the comments following the announcement of an €11bn Budget on Tuesday, the biggest in the history of the State. The ‘cost-of-living’ Budget sought to respond to the challenges facing the people of Ireland amid the prospect of winter uncertainty, however, it is clear that it has failed to meet the needs of some. 

Criticism from the organisation came as Minister Michael McGrath said that the childcare budget would reach €1bn next year, five years ahead of target. The budget included extra funding to support a reduction in the cost of childcare. 

The scheme, which will cost a total of €121 million, will mean a reduction of up to 25% in the weekly cost of those availing of the National Childcare Scheme. “This measure will put up to €175 a month, or €2,106 a year, back in the pockets of parents next year,” Michael McGrath told the Dáil. The measure is set to come into force from January. The average saving for qualifying families will be €1,200 per child per year.

However, it has been pointed out that many people will not see any reduction like this to childcare fees, and it has also been queried whether any assistance at all will be provided to parents and children who do not avail of the National Childcare Scheme.

The Iona Institute said in a statement: “Budget 2023 is unfair and discriminatory towards all parents who do not use day-care. By allocating €121 million in public funds towards a big reduction in day-care fees, the Government has badly overlooked the big majority of parents of pre-school children who do not use day-care or wish to do so”.

The organisation pointed to a recent Amarach poll which it commissioned, which said that only one in five people want children under the age of five placed in day-care during the working day:

“Almost half (45pc) think the ideal is that one parent stays at home with the child during the day, while 24pc say their preferred option is for the child to be looked after by another family member, such as a grandparent”. 

Commenting on the Budget, David Quinn of The Iona Institute, said:

“Government policy repeatedly discriminates in favour of parents who put their children in day-care and against the big majority of parents who do not want day-care. One reason for this approach is almost undoubtedly that the Government wants as many parents out in the workplace as possible, regardless of their own wishes about what is best for them and their children”.

He continued: “It would be much fairer if the Government restored the Early Childcare Supplement that was abolished in 2009 during the economic crash of that time. This consisted of a payment of over €1,000 per annum for all children under six and parents could spend it at their own discretion on the childcare option that suited them most. This was non-discriminatory.”  

The Iona Institute also said the Budget also worsens effects of tax individualisation, with Mr Quinn stating: “In addition, the tiny increase of €100 in the Home-Carers Credit leaves single-income couples even further behind their double-income counterparts therefore exacerbating the effects of tax individualisation which caused such controversy when it was first introduced”.

Meanwhile, Childhood Services Ireland also said that there was “still a long way to go for the childcare sector” in Ireland in a statement released following Budget day. Director, Darragh Whelan, said that while the investment of €121 million was “a good start and something we called for in our Pre-Budget Submission”, there is more work to be done.

“There is a long way to go for the childcare sector. All of our members are still being hammered by inflation and are unable to raise fees. We need continued investment in the sector to ensure affordability for parents, fairness for staff and sustainability for providers. One of the biggest issues is availability of childcare places and we would encourage the Government to make it more attractive for childcare providers to open more services,’ he said. 

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