In recent years, I have secured significantly increased investment in key early learning and care (ELC) and school age childcare (SAC) areas. The measures announced as part of Budget 2018 formed part of a trend in continued growth in early years investment.
The increase in supports I announced in April 2017 represented a major step towards accessible, affordable and quality ELC and SAC after decades of neglect and under-investment by successive Governments. These increases reflect my ambition to support quality ELC and SAC services with appropriately supported staff.
These increases were considerable, up to 50% in the targeted subsidies, which significantly decreases the amount of payment required of low income families or parents in education or training.
As part of the Government policy to make ELC and SAC more affordable, I introduced a universal childcare subvention payment, in September 2017, of up to €20 per week (up to €1,040 per annum) for families using eligible ELC providers for the care of children aged from 6 months to the first eligible point of entry of the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme.
These changes are waypoints towards our goal to deliver genuine affordable, accessible, quality ELC and SAC. My Department is also progressing with the wider Affordable Childcare Scheme (ACS) Project.
The ACS is a radical new approach to how we deliver accessible, affordable, high quality ELC and SAC to families in Ireland. The scheme will open to applications in October 2019, with payments flowing from November 2019. Its launch will mark a milestone in our quest to transform Ireland's ELC and SAC system from one of the most expensive in the world into one of the best.When introduced, it will represent a major landmark for all children and families in Ireland, and especially for lower income families and lone parents. It may be accessed by all families and not just those working or studying full time. International reports have stated that ACS will significantly address affordability for lower income families and, for example, Ireland will change from being the most expensive country in the OECD for ELC and SAC for lone parents, to 11th position. In the last 4 years, the DCYA has increased funding for ELC and SAC by 117%. This has doubled the number of children accessing subsidies.Under the ACS, all families with a net annual income of up to €60,000 will be able to claim income-based subsidies, an increase of 26% to the original threshold. The scheme’s lower income thresholds have also been adjusted, meaning that maximum subsidy rates will now be paid to all families with a net annual income of up to €26,000 (the previous proposed threshold stood at €22,700). The increase in the lower threshold is important in terms of benefitting the people at the lower end of the income spectrum, by ‘poverty proofing’ the scheme by ensuring that families at or below the relative income poverty line will benefit from the very highest subsidy rates under the scheme. For those above the net income threshold of €60,000, but with a child under 3 in regulated childcare, the scheme will continue to make up to €1,040 per annum available. These increased thresholds will mean that thousands more families will benefit from the new Affordable Childcare Scheme once launched at the end of 2019 and will see their childcare costs tangibly reduce.
The recently launched Whole of Government Strategy for Babies, Young Children and their Families, First 5, identifies an action to develop and introduce a new funding model for early learning and care to support improved quality of provision, whilst also improving affordability for parents.
As part of the development of a new funding model for Early Learning and Care, mechanisms to control fees charged to parents will be explored.
This new approach will complement the Affordable Childcare Scheme, launching in October 2019, to subsidise the cost of provision for parents and the universal pre-school programme (ECCE) which provides for a fully funded provision for 15 hours per week for children in the two years before they begin primary school.