Zappone: Poorest families will not lose out over new childcare support scheme
Single parents’ support group expresses scepticism over Minister’s promise
Minister for Children Katherine Zappone: ‘No one will lose out, especially those at the lower end of the income scale, as we transition to the new scheme.’ Photograph: Eric Luke
The poorest families will not “lose out” as a raft of childcare supports are phased out later this year, Minister for Children Katherine Zappone has promised.
She was speaking following reports that some of the “poorest single parents” would lose up to €80 a week and could be forced to give up work as the new National Childcare Scheme (NCS) begins from October replacing a range of childcare support schemes.
Though the Department of Children says the new “streamlined” scheme will benefit more families including those on up to €90,000 a year, with means-tested financial supports to access private and community childcare facilities, many single parents on low incomes needing pre- and after-school care are set to lose out.
One single mother living in south Dublin, working in healthcare and taking home €26,000 per year, told The Irish Times the €145 a week she gets towards care for her eight-year-old son will be cut to €63.75 per week. This is because the Community Childcare Subvention programme she and her son are currently entitled to is being phased out. Under the new scheme she will be entitled only to 17 hours of after-school care per week, paid to the care facility at €3.75 per hour.
Ms Zappone said she had told officials to look at adjustments to the NCS that might be needed “to protect and benefit lower income parents”.
“I want to confirm that no one will lose out, especially those at the lower end of the income scale, as we transition to the new scheme,” she told the annual conference of Early Childhood Ireland, the representative body for childcare providers, at the weekend.
“By removing many of the restrictive eligibility requirements of the existing programmes, a far greater number of families will have the ability to apply for and receive targeted, income-related subsidies. Many families will, for the first time, be entitled to subsidies which reduce their childcare costs significantly.
“There may, however, be a small number of cases where a family who is currently receiving the maximum rate for full-time childcare under an existing programme may receive less under the National Childcare Scheme, particularly if their child is, in reality, receiving afterschool care rather than full-time childcare.”
She said families could choose to stay on their existing scheme for a year, until August 2020.
“I have also directed my officials to undertake research and analysis to examine any adjustments to the NCS which might be required to address unusual or anomalous cases, where this is the right thing to do to protect and benefit lower income parents.”
Louise Bayliss, co-founder of Spark (Single Parents Acting for the Rights of our Kids) however said she remained sceptical.
“I find it hard to believe she’s suddenly concerned. She has known about this since 2016 and only moves to do something about it now after it has been in the media. What is needed is a cap on what low-income households will have to pay for childcare, and that is very complex.”