Childcare and early years education

 

Sir, – I read with great interest Darragh O’Connor’s opinion piece on childcare and early years education in Ireland (“State is ignoring early childcare at its peril”, September 3rd). I also concur with the author’s argument that we need to triple investment in the sector, but also to radically reform the childcare model that, as your writer correctly puts it, is currently “patchwork policymaking”.

TASC (Think-Tank for Action on Social Change) has recently released a report on precarious work in Ireland called Living with Uncertainty: The Social Implications of Precarious Work. We interviewed 40 workers who worked on a temporary, part-time and/or self-employed basis. Childcare workers and early years educators formed a part of the sample we interviewed because the majority of workers in this sector are precarious, working on temporary part-time contracts.

It emerged from our interviews that having children was often challenging for precarious workers. The majority of our participants who didn’t have children continued to postpone childbearing. The expense of formal childcare was often cited as a reason for this.

For those who already had children, maternity leave and childcare are the most important issues that they face. Formal childcare is too expensive for participants who have insecure incomes and thus alternative arrangements are often necessary. In the most extreme cases, one of the parents has no other choice but to quit their job.

It is urgent that the Government takes action not only to increase investment into the sector, but that it also produces an early years strategy; there is a gaping hole when it comes to a vision for the future planning, investment and development of the sector. Local planning and development is in place for the primary and secondary education sectors, and this should be extended to early years. As part of this future vision, we need to move away from funding models that promote precarious and low-paid working conditions in the sector; the ECCE scheme, for example, which gives a free pre-school year to all children, employs early years educators on a fixed-term contract of 38 weeks a year, working part-time for 15 hours per week (three hours per day). Once the 38 weeks are over, educators go on the dole for the summer months, after which they will either be issued with another 38-week part-time contract or not; there is no guarantee they have a job to go back to. Not only do we need a sustainable and affordable approach to childcare, but we need secure and well-paid working conditions for the staff who educate our children. – Yours, etc,

Dr SINEAD PEMBROKE,

TASC,

101 Baggot Street Lower,

Dublin 2.

Sir, – In the recently published report of the ESRI/POBAL into childcare costs, there appears to be an underlying implication that the economy is better off if mothers of small children are out in the labour force full-time, rather than at home caring for their families, a view that is highlighted in your report (“Childcare cost ‘keeping women at home’”, News, September 4th). Government policy to encourage more women to work outside the home is based on the belief that work within the home is not as valuable to the country as work done in employment. This is due to seeing the gross national product (GNP) as the only criterion of economic success.

However, this narrow view of what makes up total national welfare is deficient as a touchstone for government (and EU) policies. The GNP is only part of the total output of goods and services produced by any country over a period of time. It does not include voluntary work, goods produced and consumed within the same household (such as vegetables from the garden).

It doesn’t include the great work done by family carers of dependent relatives, nor the big commitment of time and labour given by women looking after their children and spouses at home.

All of which are as much part of the “true” national income as is the limited amount of it measured by GNP.

Those elements are excluded from GNP by convention, because of the practical difficulties of their measurement.

It cannot be concluded that encouraging mothers to leave high-quality caring of their children at home to enter the labour force is necessarily a net gain for the country. – Yours, etc,

DONAL NUNAN,

Mallow,

Co Cork.

Sir, – Growth economists have long identified the link between the cost of childcare and labour force participation rates for women. The recent ESRI report establishing the cost of childcare as a major barrier to employment in Ireland is therefore welcome. Ireland’s female employment rate was 67 per cent in 2017. This rate was over 12 percentage points below Sweden and lower than in 16 other EU countries.

For context, Ireland’s employment rate for males was seven percentage points off the leader and ranked 11th in the EU.

OECD data from 2013 shows that public spending on early childhood education and care per child aged zero to five was lower in Ireland than in any other high-income European country on a US dollar basis. Spending was less than one-third the level of spending per child in Norway, Sweden and Denmark.

This is a false economy, and Ireland is now the second most expensive of all OECD countries for couples.

Darragh O’Connor correctly points out that the economy is losing out on talented workers while many are losing out on a career. Recent budgets have increased public spending on childcare but it is abundantly clear that significant additional public funding is needed. – Yours, etc,

Dr TOM McDONNELL,

Senior Economist,

Nevin Economic

Research Institute,

31-32 Parnell Square West,

Dublin 2.