If I’m elected to the Dail in the General Election next year, a key priority for me will be working to achieve much greater public investment in early childhood care and education. This money should be spent on introducing paid parental leave, subsidizing approved childcare facilities and providing afterschool facilities for primarily school pupils.
On Saturday, I held a public meeting on the issue. The meeting was addressed by childcare experts from Start Strong and Early Childhood Ireland.
The statistics they outlined are genuinely shocking. When it comes to childcare costs, Irish families bear a massively disproportionate share compared to other countries. For example, in Ireland, lone parent families spend 40% of their net income on childcare. This compares to an EU average of 12%.
When it comes to paid leave for mothers, the figures are equally poor. Ireland supplies 6 ½ months paid leave (26 weeks maternity leave). Across the EU, this compares with an average 18 months. Some EU states, such as Finland and Poland, provide up to 36 months. The fact is that, in that all important year following a child’s birth, the Irish State provides inadequate support to families if they wish for either parent to be the full time carer for their child during this period.
The impact of the lack of supports for parents were clearly seen from the responses to the online survey I have been conducting over the last five weeks (link to full results below). 60% of the respondents said that that they felt that lack of access to affordable childcare impacted upon their career prospects. 60% also stated that access to childcare affected their decision on whether to have more children.
Ireland currently only spends .1% of GDP on early childhood care and education, as opposed to an OECD average of .8%. I believe we need to raise the level of State investment in this area to extend paid parental leave and to provide subsidies for parents sending their children to recognised crèches or childminders.