The National Childcare Scheme is fairer and more far-reaching than the current schemes and was sought after for many years. It removes many of the restrictive eligibility requirements of the current schemes, linked to Social Protection payments or a Medical Card in order to receive supports. Moving to this new system will be a significant step forward in combating the poverty traps inherent in the current schemes.
Under the current targeted schemes, there are many families with low income-levels who are not currently able to access subsidised childcare, either because they are in low-paid employment or because they are rotating between short periods of employment, unemployment and training. The new Scheme will change this.
At a broad and simplified level, the NCS's maximum subsidy rates compare very well overall with existing targeted scheme subsidy rates, while acknowledging that the schemes do not lend themselves to easy comparison.
The NCS is based on the principle of progressive universalism – providing a level of support to all families while providing additional targeted support to families with lower incomes. As a result of this measure, all families will be able to take part in the NCS.
This widens participation and removes any potential stigma that may attach to families who benefit from the Scheme, increasing the likelihood that all service providers will choose to participate.
In response to the concerns expressed, I increased the available enhanced hours from 40-45 hours and standard hours from 15-20 in Budget 2020. These extra hours will become available in September 2020.
Also, under Budget 2020 I negotiated additional funding to extend the existing ‘saver’ arrangement beyond August 2020. This means that persons who are registered on the CCSP or TEC schemes before they close, and who retain their eligibility, will be able to remain on them indefinitely, for example, until they no longer require early learning and care or school age childcare.
New applications for CCSP closed on 15th November, and applications to the TEC schemes will close from 14th February 2020. Parents using the saver arrangement can of course move over to the NCS at any point. The Parent Information line can help parents to understand which scheme will serve their family better.
The Childcare Support Act also makes provision for referrals from sponsor bodies for children in certain disadvantaged or challenging circumstances. Where such a referral is made by a sponsor body, the family will automatically qualify for a subsidy for the number of hours considered appropriate by the sponsor, up to a maximum of 40 hours per week, without having to satisfy the scheme’s eligibility, income or enhanced hours requirements.
These arrangements are based on referrals from sponsor bodies against specified criteria. The broad purpose of these (by sponsor body) is as described below
- Minister for Education and Skills – for teen parents who are still in education or training
- Minister for Justice and Equality – for programme refugees to enable parents’ participation in education, integration and other relevant supports
- Child and Family Agency – to promote the welfare of children, either where there is a child protection concern, or as a form of early intervention or family support
- HSE – where there is an identified need for childcare as a support to the home environment to meet child developmental needs
- Local authorities – to support homeless families or families transitioning out of homelessness.
The OECD's Faces of Joblessness report welcomed the new scheme and analysed the impact it will have on certain groups. For example, it stated that the cost of childcare for certain lone parents will move from being the most expensive in the OECD, to 11th position. It is important to note that this was before Budgets 2019 and 2020 introduced further investment and improvements to the scheme.
I would finally note that my Department will be continually monitoring the scheme and will examine any adjustments which might be required to address unusual or anomalous cases, where this is the right thing to do to protect and benefit lower income parents. In this regard, it should be emphasised that the new National Childcare Scheme has been designed to be flexible, with income thresholds, maximum hours and subsidy rates which can be adjusted in line with Government decisions and as more investment becomes available. As such, any adjustments deemed necessary by Government can be carried out in a quick and responsive manner.