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Members of SPARK Ireland during a protest in Dublin

Opinion Single parents will be forced onto social welfare if childcare costs are not addressed

The new National Childcare Scheme could see lone parents losing out on subsidies.

Louise Bayliss is from the single parents group ‘Spark Ireland’.

Ahead of Budget 2o20, she writes that the newly introduced National Childcare Scheme could be detrimental to single parents. 

IRELAND HAS SOME of the highest childcare costs in the OECD and it’s likely that another budget will saunter past without addressing this urgent and worrying problem for most families.

This month, the National Childcare Scheme (NCS) was launched and for the first time it offers a streamlined framework which will provide subsidies to most parents.

While I welcome the additional investment into childcare provision, the scheme is chronically underfunded, poorly designed and gravely flawed. It offers good subsidies for working parents with pre-school children; however, provisions for school-age children and vulnerable children with non-working parents will suffer.

Scheme designed to have losers

In February 2017, Minister Katherine Zappone stated in the Joint Oireachtas Committee of Children and Youth Affairs that 90% of current recipients will benefit from the scheme and that for the 10% who will lose out, there would be a transitional phase for a year. We now know that those that will lose out are families who currently benefit from targeted schemes, the most vulnerable families in our country.

The Department of Children and Youth Affairs has stated that the scheme has been poverty-proofed as lower income families will receive the higher subsidies. The scheme is based on income, and a major flaw of the scheme is that it does not incorporate a needs assessment and therefore is not poverty-proofed but income-based.

This means that a couple on €26,000 will receive the same subsidy as a lone parent on the same income.

This ignores the fact that if a couple has earnings of €26,000 they are likely not both working full time and they may have no actual childcare needs. If a lone parent has similar earnings, they will require full-time care to allow them to continue to work.

Poverty among working lone parents has doubled

In February this year, a report from St Vincent De Paul showed that poverty among working lone parents more than doubled between 2012 and 2017.

Previously, lone parents who had been out of paid employment either re-trained or worked in government schemes to become job ready. Under existing schemes, they can avail of after-school care for a guaranteed payment of €15 per week.

Under the new National Childcare Scheme, the maximum subsidy a parent can receive during term time for a child in first class and upwards will be €45 per week towards childcare.

After-school care costs between €120 to €150 per week which will leave lone parents struggling to pay for childcare. Many of our parents at SPARK believe this will make paid employment unviable and will force them onto social welfare dependency.

Families in dire need

We are facing turbulent times with Brexit looming but it is essential that Budget 2020 is not electioneering-based but uses evidence-based research to target the limited available resources to where it is needed most and where it will have the most impact. Parents in work need to be supported to stay in work. Children who need creche hours for their wellbeing should receive these hours based on their needs and not their parent’s activation.

This new childcare scheme will offer very little financial support to parents on higher incomes who will see no real difference but it is taking targeted resources from families in dire need and who will feel real losses.

The Government needs to use any and every available resource to target the areas where they are needed most in our country and that is in affordable childcare in Ireland. 

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