Parents counting the costs of childcare

FINANCE Minister Brian Cowen got it in the neck on Budget Day from organisations such as SIPTU, the National Women’s Council and the Chambers of Commerce of Ireland (CCI) for neglecting the childcare issue.

Looking at the figures, it is easy to see why.

SIPTU, for example, had argued a minimum tax credit for parents of €80 a month was necessary to offset childcare costs.

But there were no tax relief measures for childcare in the budget.

The minister did announce increases in Child Benefit, the State’s principal means of support for families. The monthly payment for the first and second child will increase by €10 to €141.60 in 2005, while the payment for third and subsequent children will rise by €12 to €177.30.

But SIPTU and other groups lobbying him on the childcare issue argued this did not go far enough.

A working couple with two pre-school children, for instance, will receive just under €4,000 in Child Benefit next year.

But if that family is living in Dublin, they could pay more than €20,000 in childcare costs, based on a snap survey of crèche charges carried out by this paper yesterday.

The same family in Cork could pay €16,000 or more, or at least €14,000 in counties Limerick and Kerry.

A recent report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimates that there are about 63,000 children up to the age of five in full-time nursery care in Ireland.

Another 50,000 to 70,000 children of the same age are being cared for by private childminders.

The childcare market, the report noted, is “dominated by private providers”, be they crèches or childminders working from home.

The report acknowledged that “considerable investment is being made available to community-based, non-profit groups” by the State to develop affordable childcare facilities at local level.

But even accounting for that investment, the OECD estimates that there will be a shortfall of 40,000 childcare places by 2010, as the employment rate of Irish women aged between 25 and 29 is higher than most Western countries.

“In future, working Irish mothers will be far more dependent on formal childcare,” the OECD says.

Barring additional State investment, the onus will fall on the private sector to make up the shortfall. As rising demand usually fuels price hikes, the cost of childcare is set to increase steadily in the years ahead.

Many parents already find it a burden: three in five respondents to a survey organised by the website earlier this year said they paid the same amount or more on childcare each month as they did on their mortgage or rent.

Hence the disappointment over the minister’s failure to introduce some form of tax relief on childcare costs.

The weekly cost of childcare*:

Harcourt Crèche, Dublin 2: €210** and €185***.

Beginners’ World Crèche, Dublin 1: €160 and €150.

Rathfarnham Day Care Centre, Dublin 14: €185 and €160.

Cogan Childcare, Donnybrook, Cork City: €170 and €164.

Clonakilty Crèche, Co Cork: €143.75 for both.

Daydreams Crèche, Raheen, Co Limerick: €150 and €140.

ABC Crèche, Shantalla Road, Co Galway: €120 for both.

ABC Nursery, Tralee, Co Kerry: €146 and €136.

Peek-a-boo Crèche, Enniscorthy, Co Wexford: €125 and €120.

Little Dreamers’ Crèche, Letterkenny, Co Donegal: €120 for both.

* Based on full day, Monday to Friday. Most crèches offered discounts for families with two or more children.

** Based on rates for baby aged six months.

*** Based on rates for toddler aged three years.

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