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Unicef: Ireland one of the most expensive countries for childcare as half of salary is average cost

Ireland is in line with other rich countries such as Switzerland and New Zealand in the cost to care for two children.

Childcare workers take part in a protest in Dublin's city centre in February 2020 over low wages and to highlight the childcare crisis.
Childcare workers take part in a protest in Dublin's city centre in February 2020 over low wages and to highlight the childcare crisis.
Image: PA

IRELAND RANKS AMONG the world’s most expensive countries for childcare as families are forced to spend half of their salaries on average for the service, a Unicef report has found.

The report, entitled Where Do Rich Countries Stand on Childcare, found that Irish families of average income spend up to half of one salary to put two children in childcare. 

Unicef researchers also found that Ireland, New Zealand and Switzerland, a couple with an average income would need to spend between a third and a half of one salary to pay for two children in childcare.

Affordable, quality childcare is inaccessible in many of the world’s wealthiest countries. 

Luxembourg, Iceland, Sweden, Norway and Germany rank the highest on childcare provisions among high-income countries. Slovakia, the United States, Cyprus, Switzerland, and Australia rank the lowest. 

Henrietta Fore, Unicef Executive Director said the highest-ranking countries in the report’s league table combine affordability with quality of organised childcare.

She said they combine this with long and well-paid leave to both mothers and fathers, giving parents a choice in how to care for their children.

“To give children the best start in life, we need to help parents build the nurturing and loving environment that is so critical to children’s learning, emotional well-being and social development. “Government investment in family-friendly policies, including childcare, ensures parents have the necessary time, resources and services they need to support their children at every stage of their development,” Fore said.  

The report notes that less than half of countries offer at least 32 weeks of leave at full pay for mothers. When paternal leave is offered – always substantially shorter – few fathers take it because of professional and cultural barriers, though this trend is changing. 

Fore said that while well-designed leave helps parents during the early moments of a child’s life, once this support ends and parents are ready to return to work, childcare can help parents secure a balance between caring for their children, paid work, and taking care of their own well-being. Yet, the end of paid leave rarely coincides with the start of entitlements to affordable childcare, leaving families struggling to fill this gap. 

The report noted that COVID-19-related closures of childcare facilities have pushed families of young children into further difficult circumstances.

Many parents have been struggling to balance childcare and the responsibilities of their employment, while others have lost their jobs entirely.  

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Fore said that Unicef advocates for at least six months of paid parental leave and universal access to quality, affordable childcare from birth to children’s entry into the first grade of school. 

“Giving parents the support necessary to provide children with a strong foundation is not just good social policy, it is good economic policy,” added Fore. 

The body also called for investment in the childcare workforce, their qualifications and their working conditions, to encourage the highest possible standards.

It also suggests encouraging employers to provide inclusive and gender-sensitive paid leave entitlements, flexible work arrangements and childcare support systems.  

The report also called for greater alignment of childcare services with other family care policies, such as universal child benefits, to reduce the risk of children’s existing inequalities being replicated in public childcare settings. 

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