The publication the Deputy is referring to is the OECD Education at a Glance Report 2018. This publication, which estimates that Ireland spends 0.1% of GDP on pre-primary education, is based on public investment levels from 2015. I understand the OECD Education at a Glance Report 2019 is currently being drafted.
The OECD adopt a number of approaches to calculate Ireland’s expenditure on early learning and care. One approach includes an estimate of the cost of primary school for children under 6 as well as other early learning and care costs: this is to account for the fact that many children in Ireland start primary school at an earlier age than in some other countries. Using this approach, the OECD estimates that Ireland spent 0.5% of GDP on early learning and care in 2016. The OECD indicates that every .1% of GDP increase above this will cost €300 million. If the cost of primary school for children under six is excluded, Ireland spent just 0.2% of GDP on early learning and care. This level of investment in 2016 investment compares poorly to other European countries where the OECD average investment on children under six is 0.8%. It also falls short of the UNICEF-recommended investment level of 1% of GDP.
Historically, there has been low levels of investment in early learning and care in Ireland. Since 2015 however, we have started to address this. Over the past four budgets, investment in early learning and care and school age childcare has increased by some 117% - rising from in €260 million 2015 to €574 million in 2019. Notwithstanding this very significant progress, investment remains relatively low to other developed countries.
The OECD in its report - Faces of Joblessness - compared the Early Learning and Care and School Age Childcare supports previously available in Ireland with the expected impact of the National Childcare Scheme. For a lone parent working full time at the 25th percentile of the full-time earnings distribution, Early Learning and Care costs in Ireland were the highest among all OECD countries in 2015. The Faces of Joblessness report estimated that NCS will bring net ELC costs down to make Ireland only the 11th highest in the OECD, or closer to the OECD average. This analysis was performed before Budget 2019 which increased the NCS thresholds at both ends and which would have enhanced the results further if included.
First 5: A Whole of Government Strategy for Babies, Young Children and their Families published in November 2018 sets out an ambitious programme of work across Government Departments to improve the experiences and outcomes of children in Ireland from birth to age 5 across all aspects of their lives in the coming ten years. One of the major objectives is that babies and young children have access to safe, high-quality, developmentally appropriate Early Learning and Care which reflects diversity of need. Allied to that objective, First 5 identifies as a key building block additional public funding, strategically invested to achieve the best outcomes for babies, young children and their families. Under this objective, First 5 commits to at least doubling investment in Early Learning and Care by 2028.