Parent? Here’s what Budget 2017 will mean for childcare

Greater funding will "increase women’s participation in employment and civic life"

Parent? Here’s what Budget 2017 will mean for childcare

File photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire/Press Association Images

Childcare is among the government's big ticket issues today, with newly announced subsidies bringing not insignificant savings for families.

The programme for government committed earlier this year to introducing targeted measures to reduce costs, broaden parental choice and increase supports for stay-at-home parents.

But Minister for Children Katherine Zappone had pushed for a stronger package to address the needs of low-income families.

She welcomed the new provisions this afternoon, describing them as forging a "radically new path for investing in children".

So how does the budget measure up? Means-tested childcare subsidies, based on income, will be available for children between six months and 15 years from September 2017.

This is in addition to universal weekly payments of up to €20 for all children from six months to three years, which will be set in line with the number of childcare hours taken up by parents.

Full grants will only be provided to those in childcare for 40 hours a week, according to Minister Zappone. 

The subsidies will be paid for children and young people attending a Tusla-registered childcare facility or childminder.

Early years funding will rise from €345 million in 2016 to €465 million in 2017, while an extra €86 million has been provided to extend measures such as the Early Childhood Care and Education Scheme and free pre-school scheme.

'Regressive' tax cuts

The National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI) welcomed the announcement this afternoon but called for greater investment in services.

Director Orla O’Connor said: "The provision of childcare is the most important public service in order to increase women’s participation in employment and civic life.

"This applies to women across all income groups as they are the most likely to drop out of employment when they have children.

"We therefore particularly welcome the start of a universal payment that will be available to parents in all income groups.

"While funding is still very limited at this point, the scheme has the potential to have an enormous positive impact on women’s equality if further funding is provided."

The means-tested part of the scheme will particularly benefit lone-parents, who are often on low incomes, she added.

But Ms O’Connor said the provision of quality public services could not be combined with "regressive" tax changes such as cuts to the USC for high-income households. 

"All countries that have comprehensive childcare provision in Europe have a much more progressive tax system," she said. 

Newstalk Drive Henry McKean spoke to working mothers and commuters near Connolly train station in Dublin about what the scheme will mean for them: