I understand that Early Learning and Care and School Age Childcare costs can be a significant burden for families. I and officials in my Department are working towards alleviating this financial strain for all families.
The National Childcare Scheme (NCS), which will be introduced later this year, is a new user-friendly scheme to help parents meet the cost of quality childcare. The development of this Scheme is a significant move forward in delivering quality, accessible, affordable childcare to families throughout Ireland.
Through the NCS, and a range of other measures, I am committed to changing Ireland’s childcare system from one of the most expensive in the world to one of the very best. In designing the NCS, extensive research and consultations have been carried out to ensure that this goal is achieved and that the scheme can help as many families as possible.
Under the Scheme, a Universal subsidy is available to all families using registered childcare with children aged between 24 weeks and 3 years. An Income Assessed subsidy will be available to families with children aged between 24 weeks and 15 years. This subsidy will vary depending on family income, the child’s age and their educational stage. It can be used towards the cost of a registered childcare place for up to a maximum of 40 hours per week where parents are working, studying or training, or in circumstances where a parent is unavailable to care for a child. Where parents are not working, studying or training, the subsidy will be paid for up to a maximum of 15 hours per week. A priority for me in last year’s budget was to increase the lower income threshold under the NCS from €22,700 to €26,000 per annum. This will ‘poverty-proof’ the Scheme, ensuring that families at or below the relative income poverty line will benefit from the highest subsidy rates under the Scheme, over €200 per child in some instances.
A second priority was to increase the Scheme’s maximum net income threshold from €47,000 to €60,000 per annum in order to benefit moderate and middle income families struggling with the cost of childcare.
These enhancements will ensure that 7,500 more children will now benefit from the Scheme relative to the original proposals. Over 40,000 other children, already eligible for support, will see increases to their subsidies.
The NCS will greatly increase the number of families who can access financial support. The Scheme removes many of the restrictive eligibility requirements of the existing support programmes, whereby a parent must be in receipt of certain Social Protection payments or a Medical Card in order to receive targeted supports. It will also make work pay for parents trying to get back into employment or training as they will now be able to avail of help with their childcare costs. Many working families will, for the first time, be entitled to subsidies which will reduce their childcare costs significantly. Others will see an increase in their level of subsidy.
The Early Childhood Care and Education Scheme, or ECCE as it is known, is a universal scheme available to all children in Ireland for the two years prior to them starting in primary school. It is estimated that this scheme can save parents who require full or part time childcare approximately €5000 over the course of the two years.
Over the last four budgets, investment in childcare has risen by nearly 117%. However, I acknowledge that more investment will be needed. Historic under-investment in early learning and care has created a situation that has no quick solution. The new National Childcare Scheme will establish a sustainable platform to enable us to continue investing for years to come, and the Scheme is designed to be flexible, allowing income thresholds, maximum hours and subsidy rates to be adjusted in line with Government decisions and as more investment becomes available.