The introduction of the National Childcare Scheme (NCS) was a landmark moment for making high quality childcare more affordable and accessible to families in Ireland. It entails a fundamental shift away from subsidies grounded in social protection entitlements, and towards a comprehensive and progressive system of universal and income-based subsidies.
The universal subsidy is available to all families with children aged between 24 weeks and 36 months (or until the child qualifies for the Early Childhood Care and Education programme if later). The universal subsidy is based on the child’s age, and not on income. Parents do not have to undergo an assessment to avail of this subsidy.
The universal subsidy currently provides 50c per hour towards the cost of a registered childcare place up to a maximum of 45 hours a week. The current cost of this subsidy is €22.50 per week, which costs €11 million per year. Doubling this would amount to €45 per week which in turn, would equate to an annual cost of €23 million.
As the universal subsidy is underpinned by age, an increase in payment does not increase eligibility. There are currently 11,000 children on universal. The cost modelling reflects a maximum universal participation rate of approximately 15,800. Increases to the value of universal payments may add 3-400 children to this number based on increased incentives to avail of the higher subsidy.