Social Democrat Cllr. Jennifer Whitmore has called on the Government to take childcare provision seriously, as difficulties in the roll-out of the new Affordable Childcare scheme become apparent. The Scheme, which comes into force this week, provides subsidies to parents to assist with childcare costs.

Whitmore said “For working parents struggling with childcare, the new Scheme offered some hope that they were going to get some help with their very high childcare costs. However, in some instances it appears that centres are putting up their prices, essentially negating the subsidy.

“To get a sense of what was happening on the ground, I conducted a consultation with parents and childcare providers across Wicklow. The feedback I received showed that the main problem is that childcare in Ireland is still seriously underfunded and that the new scheme is putting additional pressure on a sector that’s at near breaking point. Childcare operators have told me that they are implementing the scheme in the dark, with little guidance and support. They won’t receive their contracts until October and the additional administrative burden, as a result of the new scheme, was putting pressure on their businesses. These issues particularly impact on those smaller creches and facilities that wouldn’t have the staff resources of the larger providers. 

“We are expecting more and more out of a chronically underfunded childcare sector. Ireland only spends between 0.2% and 0.5% on early years education, despite UNICEF’s international benchmark being 1% of GDP.  And we are well below that of the 1.8% of GDP spent in Iceland, the 1.6% in Sweden, or 1.4% invested by the Danish.”

“This makes for a very precarious industry. Amongst the estimated 22,000 workers in the sector, many are employed for just 15 hours a week, or only on contract for 39 weeks a year. This forces thousands of trained workers to sign on to social welfare each summer. Despite the fact this is a well-qualified workforce, with a minimum qualification of a level 5 QQI award, they earn an average of €10.27 per hour.”

“This situation is appalling for staff moral and retention levels, but it’s also bad for our children. The first five years are the most important in a person’s life, when the future emotional, social and educational well-being is laid down. “

“I call on the Government to recognise the importance of early childhood education and to provide sufficient funding to ensure that the people that we entrust to look after our children are treated fairly and their professionalism is respected and valued.”