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Childcare Services

Dáil Éireann Debate, Wednesday - 16 June 2021

Wednesday, 16 June 2021

Questions (181)

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

181. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if his attention has been drawn to the spiralling costs of childcare in particular in the Dublin 8 area in which parents are being faced by a €200 or 20% increase by some service providers without explanation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32194/21]

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Written answers (Question to Children)

I am very concerned to hear of any individual provider proposing to increase charges to parents at a time when the Government continues to support early learning and childcare providers very significantly. In view of the extent of State support, increases are not justified at this time.

One of my key priorities in Government is to achieve affordability of early learning and care and school age childcare. The Programme for Government commits to substantially reducing fees to parents while supporting quality service provision. The Government has been strongly supportive of the sector, particularly since the onset of Covid-19. We have provided substantial additional supports to allow services to operate sustainably throughout the pandemic, acknowledging that there are higher delivery costs and many extra practical and financial challenges to be met. One of the objectives of these supports was to ensure that the higher delivery costs due to public health requirements and lower occupancy were not passed on to parents.

In addition to my Department's funding schemes, all services can currently participate in the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) which provides an average of 50% of normal operating costs for services, at a value of some €35m to the sector each month. The EWSS has been paid at enhanced rates since October 2020, and is due to continue until the end of December 2021. Most businesses must demonstrate a 30% reduction in turnover to be eligible for supports under the scheme. When the EWSS was introduced in August 2020, I negotiated a special arrangement for registered ELC and SAC services to be exempt from this turnover test and I can confirm that these special arrangements will be extended for Quarter 3 of 2021. Officials in my Department are engaging with the Department of Finance in the context of wider proposals for the EWSS in Quarter 4.

I recognise that early learning and care and school age childcare services are private businesses and are free to set their own policies regarding the charging of fees and contract conditions and I am aware that there are service providers notifying parents of a future significant increase in fees. Given the substantial additional supports allocated to the sector, and the assurance that there will be no sudden withdrawal of Government supports, there is no case for an increase to fees paid by parents.

I might add that where providers require further financial assistance in addition to current supports available, my Department operates a Covid-19 Impact Support Scheme. I would urge providers to apply for funding under this Scheme before taking steps to increase fees charged.

For parents who might wish to find an alternative provider, there are 30 City/County Childcare Committees around the country who can assist in identifying services in their areas. Information on these is available at myccc.ie. Information on services registered with Tusla, including contact details and inspection reports, is available on Tusla's website.

There are a number of measures in place to ensure affordability for parents. Families may be entitled to subsidies under the National Childcare Scheme (NCS), which aims to improve outcomes for children, reduce poverty, facilitate labour activation, and tangibly reduce the cost of early learning and childcare for tens of thousands of families. The scheme comprises of two types of subsidies:

- A universal subsidy for children of pre-ECCE age who are availing of early learning and childcare services from an approved provider. The universal subsidy is not means-tested and is available to all qualifying families of any income level.

- An income-assessed subsidy is payable for children from 24 weeks to 15 years of age who are availing of early learning and childcare services from an approved provider. The level of subsidy is determined by the family's reckonable income.

NCS subsidies are awarded as an hourly rate for a maximum number of hours per week. Where parents are not engaged in work or study, the NCS subsidises up to 20 hours per week. Where parents are engaged in work or study, the NCS subsidises up to 45 hours per week. The definition of work or study is broad, covering all forms of work or study arrangements, and engagement in work or study for just 2 hours confers entitlement to higher maximum hours of subsidised provision. This makes the scheme as flexible as possible.

Looking to the future, my Department will be developing a new funding model for early learning and care and school age childcare that provides additional resourcing to services subject to quality and affordability. An Expert Group has been progressing this work since late 2019 and I expect their report to be finalised in November. An essential and top priority for this Group will be to make recommendations on a mechanism to control fee rates for different types of provision for ELC/SAC.

Extensive research has already been commissioned to inform the work of the Group. Frontier Economics, the Research Partner, have produced and published eight working papers, with three that directly address affordability issues including international comparisons of fees and public investment, approaches to funding the early learning and care sector, and mechanisms to control fees charged to parents. This research identifies international practice and learning that will be of value for the new funding model.

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