Childminders and childcare services must be prioritised in the Budget or more parents will be pushed out of the workforce, a Fine Gael Senator has said.
Seanad spokesperson on Children and Equality, Mary Seery-Kearney, said the sector needs a major intervention.
“I am concerned to hear reports of over 180 creches closing around the country since the start of last year and echo my own statement last April that the lack of creche places is fast becoming a barrier for parents – mainly women – returning to work.
“Further reports last week of parents being forced to contact up to 20 creches to try and secure a place for their child are nothing short of ludicrous and paint a stark picture of a sector very much on its knees.”
Senator Seery-Kearney continued: “Equality in accessing the workplace is dependent on adequacy of childcare places.
“Parents are being denied the opportunity to return to work by the absence of choice in available childcare. A variety of solutions need to be looked at.
“The Minister must ensure that support is increased to existing childcare services, that capacity in childcare is increased by the provision of new facilities and also that meaningful monies are put in place to support childminding.
“Since January, parents using creches can save thousands of euros per year with a substantial reduction in childcare fees – but this does nothing for the many parents forced to use alternatives due to a lack of creche places.
“This inequality must be addressed – all parents in the workplace should receive the same funding, whatever childcare model they choose – or are forced to choose.
“Childminding as a viable means of supporting children being cared for in the home must be supported in the Budget with equal vigour to that of childcare services.”
Senator Seery-Kearney continued: “Supply must be increased as a matter of urgency by the provision of capital funding for childcare infrastructure.
“I am also calling on the Minister to use existing school buildings and to remove the planning exemption obliging developers to provide a facility for 20 childcare places for every 75 dwellings built.
“The allocation of more than €1 billion to early learning and childcare for the first time this year is a clear demonstration from Government of the value of the sector. Over the past eight budgets, investment in early learning and childcare has risen from €260 million in 2015 to € 1.025 billion in 2023.
“This is an extremely welcome step and has certainly gone some way to helping parents, but further action is needed.
“Working parents aren’t asking for much here – quality accessible childcare that will allow them to continue with their careers and in turn, benefit the State from a tax perspective. Let’s ensure that’s the standard.”