I assure the Deputy that the enhanced subsidy proposed under the affordable child care scheme will not be limited to parents in full-time work or education.
The Government policy on the new affordable child care scheme was informed by evidence with the best interests of children and families in mind. When introduced, the affordable child care scheme will represent a major landmark for all children and families in Ireland, especially lower-income families and lone parents. It will be available to all families and not just those working full-time or studying full-time. I will explain this further.
Support for labour market participation as a route out of poverty is central to assisting low-income families and lone-parent households. Consistent with this objective, participation in work, education or training by parents will determine the maximum number of hours of subsidy available under the new affordable child care scheme.
When parents are engaged in work, education or training, they will be eligible for what we call an enhanced subsidy of up to 40 hours per week. The enhanced subsidy of 40 hours per week will be awarded to parents in full-time or part-time work, including those on zero-hour contracts as well as those in full-time or part-time education and those participating in labour market activation programmes. Indeed, it is my intention to define work and study in regulations made under the Bill in broad inclusive terms to recognise the diversity of progression routes to labour market participation. As such, it is not the case that the enhanced subsidy of 40 hours per week will be limited to parents in full-time work or education. That is my point.
When parents are not engaged in any form of work, education or training, child care will be subsidised on a standard basis of up to 15 hours per week. This reflects international evidence that the child development benefits of early childhood care and education are, in most cases, realised through this level of participation.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
I am committed to keeping this aspect of policy under close review. Indeed, I plan to commission further research exploring the labour market status and child care needs of those currently using child care services, especially in disadvantaged communities.
There is a small but important group of families for whom child care is needed on child welfare or child development grounds or for whom child care is necessary as early intervention support. Where this is the case, a referral system under the affordable child care scheme will ensure that families will automatically qualify for a subsidy without having to satisfy any income, work or study test. Schedule 2 of the Childcare Support Bill lists five statutory bodies with which the Department of Children and Youth Affairs may make agreements on referral procedures for such families. My officials are currently in discussion with relevant statutory bodies on how this referral process will operate under the affordable childcare scheme.