By Cate McCurry, PA
Sinn Féin has put forward proposals that would slash childcare fees by two thirds for all parents over the next two budgets.
The party launched its universal proposals to subsidise childcare through a €270 million investment.
Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty said they can cut fees by providing significant additional funding to the sector in exchange for the providers reducing fees by two thirds.
He said the proposal was “in the gift of the Government”.
Kathleen Funchion, the party’s spokeswoman on childcare, said: “We all know people who are struggling to access a childcare place or to keep up with the fees.
“It particularly affects women, and a lot of women are being locked out of the workforce.
“We want to see fees reduced by two thirds over two budgets and we want to start that in September as we think it is really important to start that as soon as possible so parents can see a real difference in fees.
“We know annually parents spend 400 million euro on fees, so to reduce that by two thirds will cost 270 million and that’s what our proposal will do, it will directly put that public investment into the sector so that fees are reduced.
“We will be asking services to opt in, we know that there is huge buy-in for these schemes in the sector and the sector really wants strong, sustainable measures.
“We feel it will help with capacity. Over the last five years 799 facilities have closed and the vast majority have been closed [due] to staffing issues or other complicated issues.”
Mr Doherty said the cost of childcare is, in some cases, equivalent or more than a second mortgage or rent.
“Many parents, especially women, are forced out of the workforce as they struggle to afford to go back to work due to these crippling costs,” he told the Dáil.
“We can cut childcare fees so that they are affordable for the many families who are currently fleeced and this can be done by providing significant additional funding to the sector in exchange for the providers cutting fees by two thirds.
“This is in the gift of the government.”
He said that parents, staff and providers are at their “wits’ end”.
“Parents simply cannot afford these fees that they are being asked to pay,” he added.
“Highly skilled staff are struggling financially to remain in jobs that they love and services are equally under enormous financial pressure to remain viable, so the system is broken, minister.
“Our proposals would cut fees for parents, but also ensure that providers receive crucial funding to invest in their services. It would also ensure fair pay for a highly educated workforce.
“Families simply can’t keep waiting for this government to take this crisis seriously and it’s time to cut childcare fees and to cut them by two thirds.”
Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan said that Government subsidies to parents in this September’s budget will not be “gobbled up” by childcare providers.
“That is strategic thinking, fixing a real problem and causing a huge improvement for households that are in real difficulty,” Mr Ryan added.
Earlier, the Minister for Children vowed to “substantially cut” the cost of childcare for all parents in the upcoming Budget.
Roderic O’Gorman said parents will see the benefit of frozen childcare fees and the investment in the National Childcare Scheme (NCS).
Mr O’Gorman said there is a “very significant pressure” on childcare professionals across Ireland.
He said there is a transition fund to bridge the gap between the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme funding and the new 221 million euro state funding scheme that will take effect from September.
The majority of childcare fees are set to remain at rates that were in place in September last year.
“There are three big challenges in childcare right now. The low rates of pay for staff, the sustainability of providers and the high childcare costs the parents have to pay,” Mr O’Gorman said.
“As minister over the last budget and this Budget, I’m working to significantly address all three elements.
“Core funding was introduced in last year’s budget, €221 million in a full year. That’s to give providers sustainability, help them meet overheads, help them meet costs, but most importantly, help them meet the costs of paying their staff better.
“That’s linked to that employment regulation order that’s been negotiated right now between the unions and employers, that’s going to give us, for the first time, a rate of pay over the living wage of €13 per hour as an entry rate.
“It’s also going to give higher rates for childcare professionals with graduates’ qualifications, room leaders, deputy managers.
“Core funding is going to kick in from this September. We’re hoping to see the employment regulation order negotiated and agreed in the next number of weeks. The funding will allow them to pay their staff.”
He said there is a huge amount of work that will be done over two budgetary cycles.
“In this year’s budget, the focus is going to be on cutting costs for parents, looking at investing in the NCS. That’s the direct subsidy that parents get that reduces the amount that they have to pay,” he added.
“We will be looking to substantially cut the cost of childcare for all parents in Budget 2023.
“We’ll be able to better do that because we now have the fee freeze in place. And again, that was linked to the core funding. We said to providers we will give you this very substantial increase in funding, but you have to agree not to increase your fees.
“So with the fee freeze, when we give this investment in the NCS, parents will actually see the benefit of that, it won’t be eroded away by providers increasing their fees.”