While the means-tested childcare scheme is open to any family with a joint income under €47,500, those earning less than €27,500 will get the maximum benefits, of up to €5.38 per hour for a child aged under one. The Department of Children hasn’t worked out the subsidies for those earning €27,500-€47,500.
Many of the ‘targeted’ or ‘disadvantaged groups’, such as lone parents, and parents who want to go back to education, are already getting affordable childcare at heavily-subsidised community crèches.
But Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone’s new scheme will mean their top-up payments will be slashed, so parents who couldn’t afford such ‘top-ups’ could now seek crèche places. Take one example offered by the Department of Children: a family with a net income of €25,000 and two children, aged 1 and 2, who need 25 hours of childcare, would have received a weekly, €95 subsidy in their community crèche and paid a top-up of €130. Now, their subsidy will be worth €219 and their top-up will be just €6.
Going back to work or education will be far more accessible for low-earning families.
For parents with a joint income over €47,500, there is nothing in the childcare budget, unless you have a child aged six months to three years. Then, you will be given 50c per hour towards your childcare.
The free pre-school scheme and Ms Zappone’s determination to make quality childcare accessible to the most disadvantaged have been welcomed by creche owners, like Sarah O’Leary and Michele Ackerlind, who run Cheeky Cherubs, in Ballincollig, Bishopstown, and at City Hall, in Cork. However, they say the elephant in the room was ignored. State subsidies still aren’t big enough for creches to retain staff who have childcare degrees.
“The childcare developments are positive, in theory, but it’s like the Government announces them and thinks them out afterwards. Crèches are struggling, as schemes like the free school year cost far more in salaries and costs than the capitation fee we are paid by the department; this fee didn’t increase in the budget, despite the sector warning crèches will not be able to stay afloat next year,” said Sarah.
Michele added it was unfair the minister hadn’t levelled the playing field between crèches who only run the free preschool years service and those who run full-time baby-and-toddler rooms and afterschool care.