Investing in Childcare is Investing in Children
Statement by the Children’s Rights Alliance
Tuesday, 11 October 2016: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
The Children’s Rights Alliance, reacting to today’s Budget, has welcomed a number of important decisions to benefit and improve the lives of thousands of children and their families.
Tanya Ward, Chief Executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance, said:
“Budget 2017 sees significant advancements for children in Ireland. A focus on childcare, expansion of medical cards for children in domiciliary care and investment in education means that children will benefit from Ireland’s continuing economic recovery.”
Children and Youth Affairs
- Quality childcare is one of the most important early interventions we can make in a child’s life, so today’s announcement of a new affordable childcare scheme is a welcome development. Children’s participation in high-quality and affordable childcare settings supports positive child development; assists with social skills and helps children learn how to learn. Today’s commitments will mean that families with a net income of up to €22,700 per annum will potentially get a full subsidy meaning that those most at risk of poverty will benefit. Families with a net income of €22,700-€47,500 will also get a partial, means-tested subsidy.
- A universal approach to childcare means all working families can benefit from the scheme. Families on incomes higher than € €47,500 net will benefit from a partial subsidy. The Budget also carries €14.5 million for non-contact time to deliver the quality aspect of the free pre-school year. This is very welcome because we know that children only benefit from quality provision. Going forward however, we need to make a bigger investment in quality services.
- The 5.5% increase to Tusla’s budget will allow for the recruitment of staff to ensure that all children in care can be allocated a social worker, will provide funding to support the development of an enhanced response to the issue of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence and will progress the implementation of key pieces of legislation for children.
- The Children’s Rights Alliance welcomes the steps taken to reverse some of the cuts made to lone parents during the recession. In particular the restoration of the €500 annual Cost of Education Allowance and the increase in the income disregard for the One Parent Family Payment from €90 to €110 per week will help to support lone parents to take up employment, while also going some way to alleviating poverty faced by some of the most disadvantaged families in Ireland.
- The increase in weekly social welfare payments is positive news for many, but the failure to apply this increase to the Direct Provision Allowance for children is disappointing. As some of the most vulnerable and impoverished children in Ireland, their weekly allowance of €15.60 falls far short of the €29.80 which was recommended by the Working Group on Direct Provision in June 2015.
- Presently the School Meals Scheme only supports DEIS Schools (about 45% of schools in Ireland). The extension of the Scheme to non-DEIS schools is a welcome step towards addressing the increase in food poverty faced by many families in Ireland since the economic downturn. An additional €5.7 million is being made available for this. 35,000 extra breakfasts will be provided in non-DEIS schools.
Education and Health
- The Children’s Rights Alliance welcomes the continued strong investment in education this year, in particular the additional €5 million allocated for the new Action Plan for Disadvantaged Schools, and the provision for an additional 2,400 teachers including 900 resource teachers and 115 special needs assistants. This will go some way towards supporting the education of members of marginalised communities and children with special educational needs.
- We welcome the introduction of a tax on sugar-sweetened drinks, an important step in the fight against childhood obesity. However, the introduction of this tax will be delayed to 2018.
- While it has been disappointing that we face another year where children aged 6-12 years will not receive free GP care as promised, some of the children most in need of medical services will be supported through the provision of Medical Cards to support children with disabilities in receipt of Domiciliary Care Allowance.
- Traveller families including those with children currently face wholly inappropriate living conditions, as more than 500 families still live at the side of the road. A much-needed €9 million increase for Traveller-specific accommodation, representing an increase of 64% on last year’s budget, can allow for progress in supplying adequate, safe and culturally appropriate accommodation.
- Significant increases to the funding for homeless services could go a long way to providing appropriate homes for families with children currently housed in emergency accommodation. We look forward to seeing a breakdown of how the additional €28 million will be utilised to ensure children do not grow up in an environment without privacy and their own space to play and learn.
Tanya Ward concluded:
“Overall, Budget 2017 is a fair attempt at addressing the needs of children living in poverty. The establishment of an affordable childcare scheme is a milestone in the development of children’s services. However, if we are truly concerned about giving parents choice to care for children at home we need to implement the Programme for Government’s commitment to invest in full paid parental leave for up to the first year of a child’s life. Fulfilling this commitment enables parents to combine work and family life, reduce stress levels, and gives parents more time and energy to nurture their children.
We will continue to monitor the impact of these budgetary decisions in the development of our Report Card 2017.”