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Childcare costs for some of the State’s poorest families could increase under the Government’s new affordable childcare scheme, a lobby group for lone parents warns.
Spark (Single Parents Acting for the Rights of our Kids) says thousands of lone parents, currently accessing subsidised childcare schemes while in training or community employment schemes, may not be able to continue their courses as a result.
Their participation in the schemes means they can access childcare where fees are capped at between €15 and €25 per week.
These include the Community Employment Childcare (CEC) programme, targeted at parents on CE schemes, which has a set charge of €15 per week, and the Childcare Education and Training Support (CETS) programme, for qualifying parents on Solas or Education and Training Board schemes, with fees capped at up to €25 a week.
All these schemes are due to end in September 2017 when the new ‘single affordable childcare scheme’ announced last week in the Budget, begins.
The plan, brought forward by Minister for Children Katherine Zappone, will replace all existing subsidised schemes – apart from the free pre-school scheme, Early Childhood Care and Education - with universal and targeted subsidies, paid to Túsla-registered childcare providers.
The targeted subsidy will be available to the parents of children aged six months to 15 years, whose children are in up to 40 hours of childcare a week and who have a net family income of up to €47,500, with higher thresholds for households with more eligible children.
The universal payment is to the parents of children asked six to 36 months, whose children are in up to 40 hours of childcare. It will be means-tested and worth up to €80 a month.
Louise Bayliss, spokeswoman for Spark, said there is a fear that the end of existing subsidised schemes will mean price increases for these parents on the subsidised schemes.
“At the moment the schemes cap the amount a... parent could pay but the new scheme caps only the subsidy and not the amount a crèche can charge,” she said.
“A lone parent receives a weekly payment of €29.80 [child dependent allowance] to support and feed their child. We fear this will be insufficient to pay crèche fees which are not capped. We believe that in effect, many lone parents will be excluded from accessing training and CE schemes.”
A spokeswoman said the Department of Children and Youth Affairs said she was confident the “vast majority of people who benefit from current targeted childcare schemes2 will benefit from transferring over to the new scheme.
“Transitional arrangements will also apply which will ensure that no-one loses out in the immediate transition.”
She said many low-income families currently could not access subsidised childcare at all due to the requirement that they be in receipt of certain social welfare benefits and/or a medical card.
The new scheme would streamline existing targeted schemes and make them accessible to a wider group of parents, and provide a fair and consistent scheme of support for childcare costs. The particular focus, initially at least, would be on lower-income families, she added.
This would “reduce poverty” and “ensure acess to affordable childcare is not a barrier to labour market participation”.