I propose to take Questions Nos. 2537 and 2538 together.
Through the National Childcare Scheme 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 National Childcare Scheme, 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.
The National Childcare Scheme will ultimately replace the current targeted childcare subsidy schemes which are no longer fit for purpose in the context of our current efforts to support access to education and employment, and to reduce poverty. However, these schemes remain open to parents until the end of October. Anyone availing of one of these schemes at that point can choose to either switch over to the national Childcare Scheme or can remain on their current subsidy payment until at least the end of August 2020. No-one will lose out in the initial transition to the new scheme and many will be better off.
In addition, I have asked my officials to undertake further analysis to identify if any refinements are required to the NCS in order to ensure that we fully achieve our aim to deliver quality, accessible, affordable childcare for families in Ireland and to examine all options that may be available for the small number of cases where people could receive a smaller subsidy under the National Childcare Scheme than they currently receive under the existing schemes.
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 appropriately incentivise employment and education / training for parents. Many parents will see an increase to the level of subsidy they currently receive.
From the perspective of one particular cohort, the Deputy might note the OECD's 2017 Faces of Joblessness report compared the child care supports for lone parents previously available in Ireland with the expected impact of the National Childcare Scheme.
It found significant improvement for lone parents. It found for example, that for certain lower paid lone parents working full time, the Scheme will bring net child care costs down from being the highest across the OECD, to 11th highest.
By making this shift and by tangibly reducing the cost of quality childcare, the Scheme aims to improve children's outcomes, support lifelong learning, incentivise employment and education / training and reduce child poverty. It is also designed to have a positive impact on gender equality in relation to labour market participation and employment opportunities.
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. 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.