Over the past four budgets, State investment in early learning and care and school age childcare has increased by some 117% - rising from €260m in 2015 to €574m in 2019. This investment has been targeted at improving access to high-quality, affordable early learning and care and school-age childcare. All three objectives - access, affordability and quality - are critical to parents and children and one impacts on the other, hence a comprehensive response is required.
In terms of affordability, the numbers of children benefitting from State supported early learning and care and school age childcare in Ireland has doubled since 2015. Free preschool provided under the ECCE Programme has increased from one year to two, saving working parents €5,000 over the two years. This Programme benefits over 100,000 children annually. There have been significant increases in subsidies for families on lower incomes, rising from €95 per child per week in 2016 to as much as €145 per child per week from 2017. A new universal subsidy for under threes was also introduced in 2017 totalling €1040 per annum. The latter two measures benefitted approximately 80,000 children last year.
Affordability does remain an issue. Indeed, new data from Pobal’s Annual Sector Profile 2018/2019 shows the average fee for full-time provision now stands at €184 per week - an increase of 3.6% since last year. The lowest full-time fees were recorded in Co. Leitrim at €148 per week, with the highest full-time fees recorded in Dublin (Dun Laoghaire Rathdown), at €246 per week for children
The National Childcare Scheme (NCS), when introduced shortly, will see further progress on this. On its introduction, the NCS will ensure that families on NET household incomes of less than €60,000 will receive some type of subsidy, with those on less than €26,000 (NET) receiving the maximum subsidy which is as much as €200 per child per week.
The OECD has compared the supports for early learning and care and school-age childcare previously available in Ireland with the expected impact of the NCS. For a lone parent working, net costs in Ireland in 2015 were the highest among all OECD countries ( and second highest for couples). The OECD estimated that NCS will bring net costs down to make Ireland only the 11th highest in the OECD for lone parents, or closer to the OECD average.