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Was childcare really that big an issue for voters in the general election?

It was a prominent topic throughout the election but just 3% of voters said it was the most important deciding factor for them.

Image: RollingNews.ie

THIS WEEK THE Early Childhood Ireland Childcare Barometer indicated that 71% of adults in Ireland want the next government to prioritise greater investment in childcare. 

Childcare costs were drawn into the spotlight last year, with some parents claiming they are charged a fee equivalent to their mortgage in monthly childcare payments.

Some childcare providers also went on strike days before the election over low pay and high insurance costs. 

It was a prominent topic throughout the election, with all of the political parties outlining policies to tackle the crisis. But when polling day arrived, it was close to the bottom of the list, according to the Ipsos MRBI exit poll.

When asked about the most important deciding factor in how they voted, 32% said health and 26% said housing/homelessness. This was followed by pension age (8%), jobs and climate change (both 6%). 

According to the exit poll, 6% of people said ‘something else’, 5% had no response, 4% said tax.

Just 3% said childcare was the most important factor for them – the same number who said crime was their top priority.

While childcare was not bottom of the list (just 1% said Brexit and 1% said immigration), it was very close to the bottom. 

It should be noted that this part of the exit poll has a margin of error of around 3%, and of course fewer people are affected by the childcare crisis than health or housing issues.

But with party manifestos and pre-election debates giving such prominence to the issue, it is clear that candidates expected it would be a key policy area for many voters. 

In their manifestos, the parties made a number of commitments in this area:

  • Fine Gael said it would invest an extra €400 million in the National Childcare Scheme, reduce childcare costs for parents and increase parental leave. 
  • Fianna Fáil said it would raise subsidies for middle-income families and provide financial support for families who use registered childminders. 
  • Sinn Féin pledged to reduce the cost of childcare by €500 per child per month and commission a study of childminder-based care to identify supports needed. 
  • The Green Party, which has a 14-page childcare policy document said it was aiming to have publicly run State creches delivered predominantly by local authorities. 
  • The Social Democrats promised to significant improve support under the National Childcare Scheme to allow more families with children under 12 to qualify. 
  • The Labour Party also said it would set up a system where regulated childminding services would be eligible to provide government funded schemes. 
  • People Before Profit said there needs to be a move to free childcare and it would develop a system of publicly run childcare. 

A major protest in support of childcare workers, organised by the Together for Early Years umbrella group, took place in Dublin just two days before voters went to the polls.

Emma Kerins, head of policy and public affairs at Chambers Ireland said there is a distinction between the 2016 general election and this year’s election when it comes to the childcare issue. 

“There has been some progress since the last election with the National Childcare Scheme, it was probably one of the biggest issues for families and even businesses in 2016. 

Now it’s in the second tier, coming up with issues like the economy. Obviously housing and health are huge issues so that’s why they’re in that top tier for people. What we’ve been hearing is that childcare is still a big issue, but it’s not as severe an issue as it was ahead of the 2016 election.

“If childcare is made more affordable and accessible, it will help labour participation and mean people can ultimately stay at work rather than going part time or leaving entirely,” she explained.

“Even though there have been some improvements, it’s still something we keep hearing, those pressure of trying to stay full time.”

The lack of clarity about the new government is cause for concern, Kerins said, as there are some policies the last government had started to roll out that could be stalled or scrapped. 

“There was a report due to be published, the Crowe report on costs to deliver quality childcare – if you don’t know that it’s difficult to know how much to invest – it was due in 2018 so that’s overdue now. I believe it’s nearly ready so we’d hope the new government will look at where the money needs to be targeted,” she said. 

We’d like to see the new government ensure they’re getting value for money, for example better coordination with how we use school buildings, for breakfast clubs and afterschool care. If parents have to leave work to collect children when they finish school to bring them elsewhere that has an impact on labour participation. 

Source: RollingNews.ie

Siptu head of strategic organising and campaigns Darragh O’Connor said the Together for Early Years campaign is not worried that the next government – whoever it is – will think childcare can be left as it is, despite the results of the exit poll. 

“We know that childcare is an incredible important issue for people, but housing affects everyone throughout their whole lives whereas childcare is a real struggle for parents for maybe four, five, six years depending on how many children they have. 

In this election the crises in health and housing are so pronounced and so profound, but childcare is still a big issue. Whatever the exit poll might have said, we still have the highest fees in Europe and the childcare sector is still among the lowest paid.

He said Siptu will be contacting all parties in relation to the programme for government.

“One of the striking things about the manifestos is that all major political parties were addressing childcare in them so there is recognition across the body politic of the benefits of investing in early years and that the current system isn’t working,” O’Connor said. 

If the next government is serious about helping women back into the workforce and long term benefits of childcare for children the crisis needs to be addressed. 

“It’s just a matter now of holding political parties to account and making sure they deliver on their promises. ”

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