The National Childcare Scheme (NCS), which will be introduced later this year, is a new user-friendly scheme to help parents meet the cost of quality childcare. The development of this Scheme is a significant move forward in delivering quality, accessible, affordable childcare to families throughout Ireland.
The NCS will greatly increase the number of families who can access financial support for Early Learning and Care (ELC) and School Age Childcare (SAC) cost. The Scheme removes many of the restrictive eligibility requirements of the existing support programmes, whereby a parent must be in receipt of certain Social Protection payments or a Medical Card in order to receive targeted supports. It will also make work pay for parents trying to get back into employment or training as they will now be able to avail of help with their childcare costs. Many working families will, for the first time, be entitled to subsidies which will reduce their childcare costs significantly. Others will see an increase in their level of subsidy.
I am committed to transforming the Irish childcare system from one of the most expensive in the world to one of the best. This requires sustained investment over several years. Over the last four budgets, investment in childcare has increased by 117%, while over past four years, childcare places in Ireland have doubled and the overall number of children supported by State subsidies has doubled.
I will continue to support providers with regard to increased provision of early learning and care and school age childcare places. In 2019, I have secured a capital budget of €6.25m for the sector which will enable a focus on further increasing the number of places available, and supporting the transition of services to the forthcoming National Childcare Scheme.
In terms of specific capital funding made available for School Age Childcare services, €1m was allocated, with individual grants of up to €20,000 in value available for providers for the creation of new school age places. It is anticipated that this funding will assist in the creation of more than 2,300 additional school age places.
I am also very pleased to have ensured that childcare was identified as a strategic priority in the National Development Plan ( 2018-2027) and to have secured €250m in capital funding for early learning and care and school age childcare under the plan. This represents the kind of large-scale investment in the sector by the State that has not been undertaken since the National Childcare Investment Programme that concluded in 2010.
This capital investment will, I believe, be essential to respond to the increased demand in the years ahead. Research is on-going in my Department to determine areas of specific need that the National Development Plan funding will address when it comes on-stream.