Budget 2017: Katherine Zappone admits it will be a challenge to keep costs down

Keeping childcare costs down will be a challenge when a range of subsidies are introduced next September, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Katherine Zappone, said last night.

Dr Zappone was asked if she was confident there were enough measures in her new affordable childcare scheme to ensure childcare would not become even more expensive.

“We are aware that that will be a challenge but in order to address that we are going to be implementing an independent study examining the cost of childcare,” she said.

Dr Zappone also said that parents would be able to access a website and see fees charged by registered childcare providers in their area.

Asked about extending the scheme further, she replied: “Clearly, the more the State can afford to invest in childcare, the better it will be for families”.

Earlier, Dr Zappone said Budget 2017 set a course to turn one of the most expensive childcare systems in the world into the best. Under the new Single Affordable Childcare Scheme parents will qualify for a targeted subsidy based on their net income.

The highest levels of subsidies will be provided to those on the lowest incomes — about €8,000 a year based on the maximum of 40 hours of childcare per week.

Dr Zappone said the subsidies would help families overcome disadvantage and contribute to a reduction in child poverty.

“220,000 children are at risk of poverty, and the childcare measures will support their families,” she said.

From next September, a universal subsidy of up to €80 a month will be provided towards childcare costs. The maximum rate will be payable to parents with an annual net income of up to €22,700.

The rate will decrease as net income rises, with no targeted means-tested subsidy payable when the net income reaches €47,500.

The maximum subsidy per hour will depend on the age of the child and the net income of the parents but will range from €5.38 for a baby under 12 months to €3.96 for a school- age child.

The scheme will be open to all childcare providers which are registered with Tusla, including centre-based childcare providers, such as creches, pre-schools and daycare centres and child-minders. Currently, only around 160 childminders are registered.

Around 23,000 extra children are expected to be in childcare as a result of the provision of subsidised places, but the minister is confident there are enough vacant places across the system to accommodate them.

The National Women’s Council described the package as “a breakthrough for the provision of childcare” in Ireland. Director Orla O’Connor said making the payments directly to the service providers would increase the quality of services and avoid a situation where providers would just increase costs.

“The fact that the means-tested part of the scheme will cater for children up to 15 years is very positive as it recognises the need to provide childcare costs outside of school hours. While we believe the new approach to childcare is right, we are calling on the Government to increase funding for it significantly,” said Ms O’Connor.

Early Childhood Ireland welcomed the new childcare scheme but warned that the overall package would not address the sectors’ sustainability crisis. Its chief executive Teresa Heeney said they were concerned that the budget would increase parents’ childcare expectations, putting pressure on a sector unable to cope due to the inability to attract staff.

The Stay-At-Home Parents Association said the universal childcare payment robbed childcare choice from low- income families. Spokesperson Catherine Walsh said stay-at-home families would be offered an extra €100 a year as part of the home carer tax credit but that did not even come close to matching the tax credits that dual-income families were entitled to.

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