Budget 2022 introduces a ground-breaking package of measures for the early learning and childcare sector - designed to deliver quality for children, affordability for parents, stability for providers, and support employers to improve pay and conditions for staff.
In Budget 2022 I have secured an additional €78m in early learning and care (ELC) and school age childcare (SAC) funding, bringing the total investment in the sector to €716m next year.
The €716 million investment in ELC and SAC includes €69 million for a new Core Funding stream for providers in 2022, equivalent to €207 million over a full year - this will ensure sustainability of services and support the introduction of an Employment Regulation Order (ERO) to determine minimum rates of pay for workers as well as conditions of employment.
In return for this funding, there will be a commitment from providers not to increase parental fees, meaning the full affordability effects of the NCS and the universal ECCE Pre-school Programme will be felt by parents.
In advance of the introduction of the Core Funding Stream, a Transition Fund, of up to €37m, will be available to providers, also contingent on an agreement not to increase fees from September 2021 levels. This fund will operate between May and August 2022 between the end of the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (April 2022) and the introduction of Core Funding (September 2022).
Following Budget 2022, two significant reforms will be introduced to the operation of the National Childcare Scheme (NCS). It is intended that these reforms will make it possible for significantly more families to benefit from the NCS.
The first change is the discontinuation of the practice of deducting hours spent in ECCE or school from the entitlement to NCS subsidised hours.
Currently, where both parents in a household are in work or study, eligible families can receive a subsidy for up to 45 hours (enhanced hours) per week and, for households where a parent is not in work or study they can receive up to 20 hours (standard hours) per week of subsidy. Where a child is in pre-school, ECCE or school these hours are currently subtracted from their entitlement to NCS subsidised hours.
The discontinuation of the practice of deducting hours spent in ECCE or school from the entitlement to NCS subsidised hours will allow parents to avail of all these hours regardless of time spent in school or ECCE.
It is anticipated that this will have the most significant impact on children in socio-economically disadvantaged communities and, on services with high concentrations of families from socio-economically disadvantaged communities.
This change will require adjustments to secondary legislation and to the scheme operating system. This work is expected to be completed in spring 2022 and the change will then be implemented.
The second change is that the universal subsidy will be made available to all families with children up to the age of 15 from September 2022. Parents do not have to undergo an assessment to avail of this subsidy.
The universal subsidy provides €0.50 cent per hour towards the cost of a registered childcare place up to a maximum of 45 hours a week, which totals €1,170 per annum. It is estimated an additional 40,000 children may benefit from the extension of the universal subsidy.
Work on a new Workforce Development Plan nears completion, with the final report due imminently. Additional funding has been secured in the Budget 2022 allocation to finance initial actions from the Workforce Development Plan in 2022, which will aim to support the achievement of qualification targets for the workforce, establish role profiles and a career framework for the profession, and set out plans to develop a national system of Continuing Professional Development.
The strengthening of a career framework and clear career pathways should complement the efforts underway to improve pay and conditions of employment in the sector.
A process to examine the possibility of regulating pay and conditions in the sector and the suitability of a Joint Labour Committee (JLC) began last December. The JLC Establishment Order came into effect at the beginning of July 2021.
The JLC will provide an opportunity for unions and employer representatives to work together to determine wages and working conditions for ELC and SAC. The Labour Court has now appointed all members of the JLC and it is expected the committee will commence its work in the coming weeks.
As announced in Budget 2022 an ERO agreed by the JLC will be supported by the Department through the new Core Funding scheme.