For 33-year-old mother-of-two Niamh O’Brien, Budget 2023 was one she had paid attention to like no other.
Her overall verdict?
“It’s crumbs, really. Nice, but not enough.”
Like a huge amount of parents of small children in Ireland, the cost and availability of childcare is a major issue for Niamh and her partner. For the first time in a generation, this budget had promised to be one that makes a difference for struggling parents. And on the face of it, it should, vowing as it does to cut childcare costs by as much as €175 per child per month.
IT manager Niamh and her partner, an electrical engineer, live in Corduff in north-west Dublin. Both work from home. They have two children — a daughter aged two and a little boy aged just 13 months. Both were Covid babies. Neither have ever experienced a creche.
“We first looked at a creche in our area, and were quoted €2,175 for the two of them," she says. "And that’s including corporate and sibling discounts.”
The cheapest they could find was for €1,800. Most came through at the €2,000 mark. Such prices are typical for Dublin. Instead, the pair went for an in-house childminder for about €1,200 per month.
“Both were Covid babies, so even when I was coming on the end of my maternity leave, there was nothing to put them into,” says Niamh.
"The childminder is fantastic, really amazing, but they don’t get the socialisation of being in a group,” she says. “If I had the option, I’d have them in a creche, but I don’t.”
She sees such astronomical fees as the powers that be “just trying to force women out of the workforce”.
The new budget has done nothing to change her mind.
“There’s no cap on childcare fees. And €200 a month last year would’ve made an enormous difference.
“It’s nice, but it’s not enough,” she says. “We’ll be sticking with the childminder.
"To be fair, for some of my friends, the €200 is great. What good it is to single parents though, who are struggling to pay for everything, I’m not sure about that.”
She cites the ongoing issue of insurance options for childcare providers as something not tackled in the budget.
“There's been pretty much a monopoly for three years," she says.
"They’ve had that time to do something about the situation, to entice back brokers, to get another provider into the market. Instead we’re being given a little something to cover a big problem.”