Tuesday, 29 September 2020

Ceisteanna (594, 596, 597, 619)

Brendan Griffin

Ceist:

594. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration if he will consider a proposal (details supplied) in Budget 2021. [26593/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Brendan Smith

Ceist:

596. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration if he will consider the issues raised in correspondence (details supplied) in relation to early education; and if additional funding will be provided in Budget 2021 for the sector. [26845/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Brendan Smith

Ceist:

597. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration if he will consider the issues raised in correspondence (details supplied) in relation to early education; if additional funding will be provided in Budget 2021 for the sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26857/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Brendan Smith

Ceist:

619. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration if consideration will be given to matters raised in correspondence by a person (details supplied) in relation to early education; if additional funding will be provided in Budget 2021 for the sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26841/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 594, 596, 597 and 619 together.

I acknowledge that low pay and poor working conditions in the sector remain a serious concern and impact on the quality of provision to children through their effect on the recruitment and retention of qualified staff. The lack of consistency of care caused by high staff turnover impacts directly on quality, while low wages are a constraint on plans to upskill and professionalise the workforce. I have met with employee and employer representatives on a number of occasions and have listened to their concerns. I will consider any proposals which seek to resolve the difficulties faced by the sector, including the proposals for Budget 2021 shared with me by the Deputies.

However, there are significant challenges associated with implementing the proposals put forward in the SIPTU Big Start Campaign, including the current economic context in which Budget 2021 is being prepared. In particular, as the State is not the employer, my Department does not pay the wages of staff working in early learning and care settings, and cannot set wage levels or determine working conditions for these staff.

I am, however, doing all that is in my power to improve wages and working conditions in the sector in the context of the wide range of policy ambitions of Government and likely budget constraints from 2021 onwards.

Overall, Budget 2020 saw a 9% increase in investment in early learning and care and school age childcare. Additional investment of €63.6m brought spending to €638m in 2020, a 141% increase in investment over five budgets. This increase has included specific measures to assist employers to improve the pay and conditions of their staff whilst also addressing administrative demands, such as: a 7% increase in ECCE capitation in 2018; higher capitation payments for graduates and Inclusion Coordinators; support for school-age childcare which will make it easier to offer full-time, full-year employment contracts; and a pilot measure to fund participation in CPD.

Nevertheless, whilst this welcome level of investment needs to continue if we are to offer services that are of high quality, affordable and accessible, increased investment by itself will not ensure that staff wages and conditions will improve.

Work continues to progress the Workforce Development Plan, which will set out plans to raise the profile of careers in the sector, establishing role profiles, career pathways, qualifications requirements, and associated policy mechanisms along with leadership development opportunities and working towards a more gender-balanced and diverse workforce.

I launched an extensive consultation with the sector on the Workforce Development Plan on 19 August. The consultation process includes a call for submissions/survey which is available to anyone who wishes to provide feedback. On 22 September, I addressed an online information webinar on the consultation process, which was very well attended. This event provided an update to the sector on the consultation process and how those working in the sector can take part.

Delivering on a further commitment in First 5, an expert group has been appointed to examine the current model of funding for early learning and care and school-age childcare and its effectiveness in delivering quality, affordable, sustainable and inclusive services. The Expert Group is independently chaired and includes national and international experts in early learning and care systems, funding and quality, economics, and policy experts from a number of Government Departments. A public consultation process on the development of a new funding model is taking place in parallel to the public consultation on the Workforce Development Plan.