Ireland remains "at the bottom of the class" when it comes to investment in childcare, and must double its outlay in the sector by 2028, Early Childhood Ireland has told the Government in its Budget 2022 submission.
The group’s submission, which is published today, calls on the Government to meet its commitment to that effect in the national early years strategy, First 5.
It says the Government must begin to meet the target by increasing funding and announcing the plan on how it will achieve that over the following six years.
Early Childhood Ireland supports 3,800 childcare members nationwide, who – in turn – support more than 120,000 children and their families.
Frances Byrne, director of policy with Early Childhood Ireland, said: "We are calling on the Government to take real and immediate action to increase public investment in childcare.
“The Government has committed to reforming and investing in childcare, yet in Budget 2021, despite significant investment in other essential services, childcare funding was not increased.
“We are still without a plan or proposal for adequate funding our sector. Families are poorly served and have waited too long.
“Ireland has consistently remained at the bottom of the class when it comes to investment in childcare. According to the OECD, we invest the least amount in early years of any developed country as a percentage of GDP.”
Ms Byrne said the call for the Government to double its funding is based on 2018 expenditure which stood close to €485million, and so funding of €970 million would be required by 2028.
Ms Byrne said the lack of investment “costs us all”, and that parents pay the highest childcare fees from take-home pay in the European Union.
Average fees for full-time childcare is €186.12 per week, according to a recent report by Government-funded organisation Pobal. The cost of childcare in other EU countries is substantially less. In Finland, Denmark, Belgium and France, weekly full-time fees range between €60 and €70 per week with Sweden as low as €30.
“Providers operate precariously in a highly complex funding model which benefits no one,” she said.
‘Poor pay and conditions’
“Average pay and conditions of employment in the sector remain poor, leading to serious challenges in staff recruitment and retention. All of this impacts on the quality of childcare which our youngest citizens deserve as a fundamental public good.”
Ms Byrne said the Government’s recognition and support of the childcare sector as an essential public service in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic must be continued to ensure the sustainability of childcare services.
“Covid-19, while highlighting early years and school-age care as essential, also exposed a sector facing major sustainability challenges,” she said.
“Historical State underinvestment, complex funding streams and dependence on high parental fees have created an operating model so fragile that it warranted a sector specific version of the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme in order to remain viable.
“The scheme currently supports 80 per cent of salaries in childcare settings, more than in any other sector.
“What’s more, the security created by the scheme has enabled childcare providers to invest in measures that have improved quality, ensuring better experiences for children during this terrible global crisis.
“The Government has committed to a new, fit-for-purpose model. We are calling on them to retain these essential supports until such a model can be properly implemented.”