I propose to take Questions Nos. 2563 and 2564 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 Childcare Support Act defines what may be considered as income for the purposes of the income assessment. This includes “income whether in the nature of a benefit or allowance arising from social welfare, social insurance or other sources of a similar character”. This category would include payments under a settlement, covenant, estate or a payment in respect of maintenance and also child benefit.
As the definition of income is contained in the Act, “income” is not the subject of a definition in the Regulations to be made. The basis for “allowable deductions” from the income assessment are as described in Schedule 1 of the Childcare Support Act 2018. In short they relate to payments that support participation in employment, education or enable a person meet expenses from exception family or social circumstances.
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 make work pay for parents. Many parents will see an increase to the level of subsidy they currently receive based on an income assessment at the core of the targeted component of the scheme.
By making this shift and by tangibly reducing the cost of quality childcare, the Scheme aims to improve children's outcomes, support lifelong learning, make work pay 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.