What issues will be key to winning the votes of parents of young children?
If there was any doubt about how seriously the major parties are taking the battle for the votes of young parents then the 2016 Budget firmly dispelled them.
With a €5 increase in Child Benefit payments, the promise of two weeks parental leave and the extension of free GP care up to 12 years old, there was no doubt about the target demographic being primed by Budget 2016.
In Budget 2016 the Government gave the following to young families:
• Free childcare from age three to five and a half, or until start of primary school
• 8,000 childcare places to support parents in low paid employment
• €3m being provided to develop afterschool in school buildings.
• Child Benefit to go up by €5 to €140 next year
• Fuel allowance to increase by €2.50 a week to €22.50
• GP care to be extended to under 12's next year (subject to negotiation with doctor representatives)
• Statutory paternity leave of two weeks
So while there’s a lot already underway from the Coalition, what issues will still be major battlegrounds come campaigning time?
The costs of childcare in Ireland are astronomical, and a huge financial burden on those who work and also have small children. A survey by the Irish Independent in September 2015 found that childcare for two toddlers can be as much as €25,200 – with the average €19,600 for two kids under the age of three. When half of those at work in Ireland in 2014 earned €28,500 before tax it shows that childcare can be an almost impossible cost for those on average salaries.
In the most recent Budget the Government has promised to introduce free childcare for children aged three to five and a half, or until they begin primary school.
Such is the scale of the costs as a portion of annual income that solving this issue – or even coming close – could prove a major requirement for any would be Government.
In December 2015 the Education Minister, Jan O’Sullivan, admitted that the long-awaited overhaul of school admissions rules would not change under the current government.
The Second Admissions Bill – which was originally published by Ruairi Quinn in 2013 – has faced criticism from both the Catholic Church and the past pupils unions of some fee paying schools – but the wider clamour for real reform of laws giving priority to children who have been baptised as Catholics. With 95% of Ireland 3200 primary schools belonging to the Catholic Church this is a problem that requires drastic action.
Critics of the rule point out that not only is it unfair for tax funded schools to exclude children of the State, but it is also cheapening the sacrament of baptism as parents have their children inducted into the Catholic Church for no reason other than to gain an admissions spot in their local school.
The UK introduced paternity leave over a decade ago, and Ireland finally seems to be coming around to the idea as the Government will introduce two weeks paid leave for all new fathers.
Until now Ireland has lagged far behind fellow EU states with new fathers forced to use days from their annual leave allowance following the birth of a child.
While 14 days is a major improvement it still sits somewhere of the top of the European pile, with Sweden offering 60 and Norway fiving new fathers a massive 70 days paid leave.
The new scheme will see fathers paid €230 per week, the same as maternity benefit, and it will come into effect in September 2016.