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Sunday 5 February 2023 Dublin: 8°C
As Budget preparations begin, Minister Zappone says she will be arguing for more money come October.

A BIG STEP to more affordable childcare starts in the coming week.

It is good news for hard pressed families – but it must be followed by more Government actions if we are finally to change our childcare from being one of the most expensive in the world to one of the best.

The €19 million extra which will benefit families from September is important – but as we move forward it must be matched with other actions on accessibility and quality. This must include better working conditions in the sector.

The cost burden for parents is a huge challenge and had to be addressed quickly.

Our action on that starts in the coming days with phase one of an extensive information campaign in crèches, early learning centres and community centres.

Letters to 4,000 childcare providers will invite them to work with my Department to make more affordable childcare a reality from September.

For families it means every child aged between 6-months and 3-years in registered childcare will get some level of support.

The child can be in full or part-time registered childcare. There will be no minimum number of hours and no maximum number of weeks for eligibility.

In addition, we are going to cut costs for those families who need it most.

These targeted supports will be enhanced significantly with the top rate of subsidy available rising from €95 per week to €145 per week and part-time rates will increase to €80 per week.

This will help those parents who cannot enter work, training or education because they cannot pay for childcare. Those who are working on low incomes will also benefit.

Very shortly we will also be asking parents to check out a new website which will explain everything.

Budget 2018 

It has been a huge undertaking to get us to this point. However as Minister, I am determined we can and must do more.

The funds secured last year must at the very least be matched in Budget 2018 if we are serious about correcting the years of under-investment by successive Governments.

Reducing the cost is good for families. But those who provide childcare also need support. As a Government we must focus on quality and accessibility as well as affordability.

That means we must ensure our childcare workers are equipped with the skills and qualifications to care for, and educate, our children and receive a proper reward and recognition.

We are at an important stage in the development of childcare in this country. As we prepare for budget negotiations I will be going to the table highlighting the further actions which must be taken.

Low pay and conditions, high turnover of workers, large administration requirements come up time and again when I meet the people who deliver our childcare.

More money is needed 

Overcoming them requires money and an imaginative response.

I will be telling Government colleagues, and those who sit opposite us in the Dáil chamber, that this will require continuous and not a once-off investment.

Together with my officials we have begun preparing the arguments, with input from the sector, children’s rights campaigners and others.

It is true that there are many pressures on the public purse. But we cannot take childcare and the positive impact it has on families for granted.

The first step has been taken. There can be no going back.

As Minister I am encouraged that other ministers and politicians are engaged.

The long overdue national debate on childcare is underway – and that is good.

However we risk wasting this opportunity unless there is sustained investment. That is the argument I will be bringing to the negotiation table.

Dr Katherine Zappone is the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs.

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