I propose to take Questions Nos. 85, 88 and 90 together.
The National Childcare Scheme is fundamental to delivering quality, accessible, affordable childcare to families throughout Ireland.
I am pleased to say that we are making good progress on the development of the Scheme. Many of the major elements are now in place in preparation for the Scheme’s opening in October 2019.
Following the enactment of the Childcare Support Act 2018, detailed secondary legislation and policy guidelines are now being finalised for my approval and signature.
I have formally appointed Pobal as Scheme Administrator under section 3 of the Act. This has enabled Pobal to open a Parent Phoneline. The phoneline is now available to assist parents or guardians with any queries on the new National Childcare Scheme.
Providers have been invited to sign-up for the Scheme and I am delighted that, to date, over 2,300 have done so.
A national communications campaign is underway. As part of this, my Department launched a dedicated website, which has received over 185,000 hits, and distributed over 60,000 parent information booklets nationwide. It also delivered a nationwide training programme to over 3,500 Early Years professionals.
In September and October, my Department will undertake further training for providers and will run a large multimedia information campaign to ensure parents are aware of their potential entitlements.
Of course the development of the Scheme is highly complex and has thrown up challenges. This would be expected with a scheme of this size which will benefit so many families across Ireland.
We are designing a highly innovative supporting IT system for the Scheme so that we have the option of a user-friendly, paperless, automated assessment process for parents. While the main IT system to deal with online applications is largely built, work is continuing on the supporting structures to deal with postal applications. With this in mind the experts overseeing development of the Scheme have recommended a phased launch approach.
In accordance with the expert advice, we are working towards delivery online, on time, in October. The paper based system will be available in January for those who do not wish to apply online.
I believe that this is the best way to proceed, so that the maximum number of parents can benefit from the new scheme at the earliest possible date.
The Deputy has also asked about supporting low income parents.
The National Childcare Scheme 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. In this way, it aims to combat the poverty traps which may exist within the existing schemes, and to incentivise work and training or education for those parents who can engage in same.
Many parents will see an increase to the level of subsidy they currently receive. For example, a family with a child aged two in full-time care (40 hours) and currently benefiting from the maximum subsidy of €145 per week under CCS Band A, would see their subsidy increase to €174 per week, an additional subsidisation of €1,500 per annum.
I have also worked to poverty-proof the Scheme by ensuring that families at or below the relative income poverty line will benefit from the highest subsidy rates under the Scheme. Indeed, international reports have stated that the Scheme will significantly address affordability for lower income families, with analysis showing that Ireland will, for example, change from being the most expensive country in the OECD for childcare for lone parents, to 11th position.
Finally, arrangements are also in place to ensure that no one loses out in the initial transition to the new Scheme. Once the National Childcare Scheme launches, families can choose to switch over to the new Scheme or can continue to access their current targeted supports (i.e. effectively remain on their current payment) until the end of August 2020. My Department has committed to a review of the scheme one year after its commencement,and again at three years, but we will be closely monitoring the scheme and its impact on families from day one.