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Early Childhood Ireland, the leading organisation in the childcare sector, has called on the Government to extend the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) to 2022. The organisation warned that, without such an extension, the childcare sector will be “in jeopardy”. In a recent membership survey, over half of respondents to Early Childhood Ireland said they would not be in a position to reopen their childcare facility fully if the EWSS scheme ended.
Commenting today (10.03.21), Frances Byrne, Director of Policy at Early Childhood Ireland, said: “We welcome the further reopening of our sector this week but it’s important to note that there is a long and challenging road ahead. Our message is very simple: without significant public investment over the next 12 months – such as we’ve received through the EWSS – the childcare sector will be in a very dangerous position. We are really worried that settings will be forced to close, staff will lose their jobs, parents’ options will be even more limited and, ultimately, children will suffer.”
Ms. Byrne said, that, prior to Covid-19, the childcare system was heavily reliant on parental fees, which lead to a precarious situation for providers.
“As there just isn’t enough public investment in childcare, the current model relies on the ability of most settings to operate at stable and high occupancy levels, maximising income from parental fees,” she said. “But, because of public health restrictions and the huge increase in remote working, demand for childcare places has drastically reduced during the Covid-19 pandemic. The resulting loss of income places many providers in an unstable position.
“If the Government does not continue to support the sector, there will be long-term repercussions for childcare provision in Ireland. In short, settings will be at the loss of parental income, leading to full or part closure. Ultimately this will lead to there not being enough childcare places available to meet demand, once the economy fully re-opens.”
According to Early Childhood Ireland an investment of approximately €200 million per annum is needed to provide the EWSS support to the childcare sector.
“The Government is currently developing a new childcare funding model, but this will not come into effect for at least a year,” said Ms. Byrne. “In the interim, the EWSS must be retained to reduce financial pressure on providers, and to ensure children and parents can continue to access services. Based on our calculations, this would cost €200 million for a calendar year. There is significant public support for this investment, as indicated in our annual Childcare Barometer, in which 73% of people agreed the Government has a significant responsibility to ensure childcare settings have sufficient funding to operate under Covid-19 restrictions.”
Commitment to long-term public investment
“Throughout the pandemic, the Government has recognised and supported childcare as an essential service delivered by a vulnerable sector,” continued Ms. Byrne. “The Programme for Government commits to supporting the sector and to developing a new funding model, which is expected to include much higher levels of public investment.
“Despite increased investment in recent years, Ireland remains the lowest spender on early years care and education in the OECD. This has resulted in the contradictory situation where settings are forced to charge high fees in order to remain viable while, simultaneously, qualified staff are leaving the sector owing to low wages and poor contractual terms and conditions.
“Year-on-year, our Childcare Barometer, conducted by RedC on our behalf, has demonstrated strong public support for greater investment. The financial precarity of the childcare system pre-Covid has been acknowledged by the Government through the bespoke financial supports put in place as a response to the pandemic.
“We are facing a phased return to the full reopening of society. In order for our sector to survive that, we are calling on the Government to extend the EWSS as a part of the transition to the new funding model which it has already committed to delivering in the next two years.”
A briefing about the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme is available at www.earlychildhoodireland.ie.