herald

Wednesday 16 October 2019

Nothing likely to help parents struggling with massive childcare fees

Katherine Zappone
Katherine Zappone

Parents hoping for extra help with rising creche costs are set to be left disappointed in today's Budget.

The Herald understands there will be no significant changes to the universal and targeted childcare creche subsidies available to parents.

Instead, the childcare package secured by Children's Minister Katherine Zappone will be focused on extended hours and support for children with disabilities.

It will be a blow to parents struggling to cover the massive costs of childcare.

The Budget comes days after it emerged childcare fees have risen by more than €10 a week over the past two years, despite government subsidies aimed at slashing costs.

The new National Childcare Scheme (NCS) is to begin operating next month.

The universal subsidy currently stands at €20 a week.

Meanwhile, the targeted means-tested subsidies range from €33.60 to €204 a week depending on the family's level of income, the child's age and their stage in education.

It is understood there will be moves to extend the hours that subsidised childcare is available to families.

Minister Zappone has been pushing for families with gross incomes of up to €100,000 to qualify for an additional five hours a week from September 2020.

At present, parents can avail of as much as 40 hours of childcare a week under the NCS and Ms Zappone's proposals would see this extended to 45 hours.

Sources remained tight-lipped last night on the details of any extended hours but they were said to be limited.

One detail of the childcare package that did emerge is a plan for around 1,400 children with disabilities to benefit from a 25pc increase in supports for access to pre-school services.

Targeted

This will happen under the Access and Inclusion Model (AIM). It provides targeted and universal measures to help children with disabilities to take part in the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) scheme in mainstream settings.

Under the ECCE, the Government pays for two academic years of pre-school for children aged two years and eight months until primary school. It is offered for three hours a day, five days a week.

Around 5,600 children with disabilities received targeted support under AIM this year. The Budget move is expected to see this rise to 7,000 children starting in September 2020.

Despite the limited nature of the childcare package, the Government will pitch the Budget as family friendly.

Free GP care for children up to the age of eight will be introduced from September next year and there will be free dental care for the under-sixes from the same month.

Meanwhile, there will be a boost in the Qualified Child Allowance as part of a reduced social welfare package.

Increases to social welfare benefits will be targeted, with no repeat of the €5 a week across-the-board hikes of recent years. However, there will be an increase in the Qualified Child Allowance, which currently stands at €34 for under-12s and €37 for teenagers.

It is understood the increase will be at least €2 a week, and parents with over-12s will get a larger hike than those with younger children.

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