High-earning families could net €2,000 per year

Families better off after extension of free pre-school education and child benefit rise

The new range of specific childcare measures, worth €85 million a year, have been welcomed as a “big step in the right direction for children’s early years” by organisations in the sector.

The new range of specific childcare measures, worth €85 million a year, have been welcomed as a “big step in the right direction for children’s early years” by organisations in the sector.

 

Families were a key target for the Budget tax and spending measures, with an increase in child benefit, an extension in pre-school childcare supports and a breadening of free access by children to GPs.

And that is before factoring in the gains from lower universal social charge contribtions.

The cash gains for most families with two or more children from the USC and child benefit changes will be at least €600 per year: for many the gains will exceed €1,000 a year.

A key target of the scheme is what the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform called “ working families”. From now on, children will be eligible for free childcare from three years of age up until they are five and a half, or start primary school, whichever is earlier.

The Free GP scheme is to be extended to children between six and 12 which could save affected families a further €200 a year, assuming two GP visits per child per year.

The Budget also delivers additional cash benefits to families, increasing monthly child benefit by €5 a child. Next year child benefit will amount to €140 per month for every child.

An analysis of the gains from the Budget show families with children are generally among the more significant gainers. The highest cash gains go to families earning enough to get the full benefit of the USC cut, which is €70,000 for a single income couple.

Families with one parent at home also get a €190 annual boost from the increase in the home carer tax credit from €810 to €1,000. The home carer’s income threshold is also increased from €5,080 to €7,200, allowing this parent to earn more outside the home while still qualifying for the credit.

Depending on the exact circumstances of the family and how many children they have, the total gain for many families exceeds €1,000 a year and for some will rise to almost €2,000.

The new range of specific childcare measures, worth €85 million a year, have been welcomed as a “big step in the right direction for children’s early years” by organisations in the sector. However they said the measures, which include the provision of an additional 8,000 childcare places under the Community Childcare Subvention scheme, must be seen as “only a start” and continued significant investment would be required.

Also included is an extension to the provision of free pre-school to all children from the age of three, until they start primary school. Currently children can enrol for the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme at three years and two months and stay for 38 weeks, up until the age of four years and seven months.

The length of time they may be enrolled is increasing from January, to 61 weeks on average. Under the new rules, as soon as they turn three, they will also be eligible to enrol . From next year, they will be able to start attending pre-school in January or April, as well as September. Currently, only September enrollment is permitted.

Capitation payments to providers of the scheme will also be restored to pre-2012 levels.

Minister for Children James Reilly, detailing the measures, said they represented “the beginning of a multi-annual programme of investment in this strategically important area”.

He said the childcare measures should be seen as part of a “wrap around” package for families with children that also included the extension of the free GP service for children up to age 11, a new paid two weeks of paternity leave from January and “a step along the road to shared paid parental leave”.