As I said in response to Deputy Funchion, the issue of affordability of early learning and childcare for parents is a key priority for me. We need to achieve this alongside our continuing work to improve quality, sustainability and accessibility. This year, my Department is investing €638 million into the sector and affordability for parents is a key policy objective in the context of that investment, separate from the Covid supports I mentioned.
There are two major schemes we use in regard to the direction of that money, namely, the early childhood care and education scheme, ECCE, and the national childcare scheme, NCS. Together, these schemes provide for two years of free preschool education, with more than 100,000 children benefiting from ECCE each year, universal NCS subsidies of up to €1,170 per year for up to 16,000 children under three years of age, and the income-assessed NCS subsidies, which can be up to €11,934 per year for up to 64,000 children up to the age of 15. This combined approach to funding seeks to provide support for all children and families while offering progressively greater supports to those who have the greatest need.
I am proud the Government has committed to that increase to an investment of €1 billion per annum by 2028, and I am determined to play my part in achieving that. The new funding model, which I discussed earlier, will be a key vehicle to ensure this. I referred earlier to the expert group established in 2019 that has been working on this new funding model based on the idea of progressive universalism, which it is seeking to achieve and deliver through its report. Extensive research has been commissioned by the expert group, all of which is available on the First 5 website. It covers various issues, such as a delivering equality of opportunity in schools, DEIS, model, control of parental fees and so on. The expert group will send its report to me in November and I will publish it subsequently. In the meantime, I am using its influence in my budget bid this year.