The National Childcare Scheme’s (NCS) use of the public services card (PSC) as the sole means by which parents can access its subsidies is highly discriminatory” and will violate the rights of those living in poverty, according to an advocacy group.
The scheme, which has been more than three years in development, is set to finally go live today, offering increased childcare subsidies to parents, particularly those in middle-income families.
However, the only means for utilising the NCS until at least late January of next year will be via the Government’s MyGovID online portal, which can only be accessed by those who hold a PSC, thus inviting accusations that the card is being forced upon vulnerable people who may not necessarily wish to have one.
Meanwhile, applications via the postal system which is set to launch in January will not be backdated.
“Who are the people who cannot afford to lose one month in childcare payments? Those who are living on the breadline, of course,” said Elizabeth Farries, information rights project manager with the Irish Council for Civil Liberties.
“We’ve seen this for a number of years now, that the PSC targets those who can least afford to fight it. Those in receipt of social welfare payments, pensioners, students who need maintenance grants, they’ve all been forced to hand over their personal data in exchange for services to which they are already entitled.”
Earlier this week, the Irish Examiner reported the case of an injured teacher who was denied welfare benefit due to her unwillingness to get a PSC.
“The Department of Social Protection continue to ignore the State’s independent regulator ... and continues to force it [the PSC] upon people who need welfare services the most, including those dependent on the National Child Care scheme,” Ms Farries said.
The NCS had been due to go live for the first time on October 29, only for that date to be pushed back by a number of weeks after a “snag” was discovered with regard to how the pilot system handles applications from families of four or more children.
In the meantime, the scheme drew the attention of the data protection commissioner, who requested from the Department of Children and Youth Affairs on what legal basis the scheme was being rolled out with the PSC as the sole means for accessing it.
The Department said that all concerns expressed by the commissioner over data protection issues regarding the childcare scheme were subsequently “addressed” in full. The DPC has, as yet, taken no further action regarding the scheme.
The commissioner’s own report into the PSC, which deemed its use to be illegal for all services other than that of welfare, was finally published in September.
As per that report, the National Childcare Scheme’s use of the card as the exclusive means by which it can be accessed has emerged as something of an outlier, with the majority of other Government services, such as passport applications, since rolling back on that stipulation.
The Government has vowed not to comply with the findings of the DPC’s report, and said it will challenge them in court as soon as the commissioner issues enforcement proceedings against it. An enforcement notice has, as yet, not been lodged by the regulator.