Making life easier for families
Family is at the core of who we are as a society. Families must be empowered to overcome the challenges thrown up by life, and reach their potential. We must ensure that the needs of families are at the centre of public policy making.
Our ambition is that:
- the Working Family Payment ensures that no working family suffers poverty and child poverty is falling;
- parents have access to affordable, quality childcare;
- children and teenagers have an engaging learning environment, well attuned to their needs with appropriate curricula, teaching and assessment;
- the cost of healthcare for families is falling;
- families are helped to take responsibility for a healthy, active and fulfilled lifestyle, assisted by easy access to early diagnosis, primary care and a strong network of community supports delivered in an easily accessed manner; and
- families have access to public services by strong charters of service for parents and children.
Among the actions that will be brought forward to meet this ambition are:
Supporting parenting and quality early childhood programmes
Research shows children benefit significantly from parental care in their first year. Therefore, shared paid parental leave in the first year of a child’s life will be introduced in 2019, while we intend that the progressive initiatives that have begun in childcare are expanded further in the years ahead.
We know that the greatest need for childcare assistance are for hard-working families and that childcare costs can be a barrier for couples to continue to work in a manner they wish. Fine Gael in government has introduced childcare subsidies to families of children between 6-36 months in centre based care and to parents of children on low incomes, are in education, or hold a medical card or GP visit card. These families can receive assistance of up to €145 towards the childcare costs of their children, up to the age of 15. The Affordable Childcare Scheme is one of the most effective ways in which the state can support families, reduce socio-economic disadvantage and allow both parents to work if they so wish. Therefore, we are committed to the speedy roll-out of the Affordable Childcare Scheme.
We will incentivise after-school services in schools or community hubs to offer a range of family focused measures, which can involve the provision of PE, homework clubs, speech and language therapy, etc.
To help ingrain good habits from the earliest ages, we will ensure that the Healthy Ireland guidelines on food and activity will be integrated into early year’s settings.
We will increase the Home Carers Tax Credit to €1,650 so that it is equal to the PAYE Tax Credit, and maintain that equalisation in future years, to recognise the work of parents who stay at home.
Accelerate diversity in education
Our school system must reflect and respond to a pluralistic society. In particular, the fact that 95% of primary schools are denominational, means the demands and preferences of many parents are not satisfied. We will:
- achieve the target of 400 multi-denominational and non-denominational schools by 2030;
- continue to uphold the rights of parents to have their children educated in a denominational school;
- ensure clear guidelines regarding how students who opt out of religion should be treated; and
- continue to develop state run multi-denominational education through the Community National School model under the ETBs.
A fairer school admissions process
We want to make it easier for parents to access their local schools and to enrol their children in a school that meets their needs. We have brought forward the Education (Admission to Schools) Act which will:
- ensure that religion cannot be used as a factor in primary school admissions, with a protection for minority faith schools to ensure they can survive;
- provide for a power to compel a school to accept a student with special educational needs, or to open a special class; and
- ban waiting lists, thus ensuring parents who move to a new area are not disadvantaged.
Helping with the costs every family face
Reflecting the higher incidence of poverty among families with children, we have continued to increase the Back to School Clothing and Footwear allowance, bringing the total value of the payment to €150 for each primary school child and €275 for secondary school children. In considering the needs of children Fine Gael is also mindful that poverty traps are most associated with one parent families – the transition off income supports to employment income can be challenging. In order to ease this transition we are increasing the income disregard for one parents in work.
The Working Family Payment is a payment that supports 55,000 low income families in our state, we are extending the disregard in respect of housing costs from maintenance payments made to families in receipt of the Working Family Payment.
Parent and Student Charters to give greater influence in school decisions
We are fortunate in Ireland to have such dedicated and committed teachers and schools. The Parent and Student Charter will underpin those high professional standards. All schools will introduce a parent and student charter following consultation with parents and students. This will require schools to:
- consult students and parents regularly in relation to school costs and work to avoid costs acting as a barrier;
- publish school financial statement which would include information on how any voluntary contributions are used;
- invite feedback from students and parents;
- provide a fair and accessible mechanism for resolving complaints, including through mediation; and
- publish the number of complaints made, the reasons for the outcome in each case, and how the outcome was reached by the school.
Investing in schools
Fine Gael will invest in state of the art school facilities and continue to deliver new permanent school places to keep pace with demographic demand. We will continue to open new primary and post primary schools in the period 2019-2022. Already 42 new schools have been identified.
We will provide for an additional focus on refurbishment of the existing school stock, including:
- upgrading school labs as part of modernisation of science curricula;
- building and modernising PE facilities in post-primary schools;
- commencement of deep energy retrofit of schools built prior to 2008; and
- €420m investment in digital facilities over the next decade.
Project Ireland 2040 provides total funding of €8.8 billion to education over the next decade, representing an increase of well over 70% on the approximately €5.1 billion provided over the previous decade.
Backing teachers and school leaders
The single greatest influence on a child’s schooling is the quality of the teacher and the quality of leadership in their school. We are committed to investing to help teachers and leaders to continually improve, by helping them to develop their own self-evaluation plan and design and implement initiatives to deliver measurable improvement.
Wellbeing and mental health in our schools
Improving the mental health, wellbeing and resilience of all children is vital and schools are central to this. We will:
- embed a wellbeing strategy as a whole-school effort in every school;
- continue to expand and strengthen NEPS to help schools on this journey;
- use the wellbeing programme in Junior Cycle to build resilience; and
- expand student support teams into all DEIS schools.
Significant progress has been made in developing strategies for Wellbeing, Healthy Eating, Active Lifestyles and Avoidance of Substance Abuse. However, more can be done to empower families and communities to participate and take control of their own health and wellbeing.
- Service networks both public and voluntary will be, wherever possible, enabled to offer access through the school or similar community facility. This will involve co provision of PE, homework clubs, speech and language therapy, etc. using some of the capacity of the schools.
- Schools are a powerful source of leadership in our communities as demonstrated by the adoption of flags to mark commitment to active lifestyle, respect for the environment, healthy eating, tolerance and integration. Assistance will be provided to extend these drives into the wider family networks and local community.
- Primary social care model will continue to evolve with an expanding range of diagnosis, management of chronic care in the community, remote connectivity with patients out of hours using technology, and the expansion of community support for independent living.
- Building up the quality of the network of voluntary, private and public services will require a willingness by the state to invest in consistent upskilling, and Recognition Systems for Volunteers as well as developing standards and service models [e.g. Early Childhood Provision].
Ensuring that everyone is kept safe through vaccination
Vaccines are one of the miracles of modern science. Diseases which were once deadly were made rare by vaccination programmes but could become deadly again if we do not maintain uptake rates.
We have expanded the childhood vaccination programme to include meningitis B and rotavirus. We will extend the HPV vaccination programme to boys.
Fine Gael will prioritise achieving 95% coverage among children of all elements of the Childhood Immunisation Programme. This is essential to ensure that not only those who receive the vaccines are protected but also that herd immunity is achieved also.
As part of this effort we will develop new and innovative ways to communicate the benefits of vaccinations and to counter myths and other harmful misinformation and conspiracy theories concerning immunisation.