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The Big Picture: Budget 2021

September 14, 2020

2020 has been an unprecedented year in the history of the Early Years Care and Education sector in Ireland. The closure on March 12 threw into sharp relief the multitude of challenges facing members and how our sector does not work like any other. This point was underscored by the additional supports that were offered to Early Years and School Age providers to survive the pandemic. No other sector was reimbursed wage costs to the same degree nor offered assistance to deal with overhead expenses.

Recently, we wrote about our case study project which was published last week. We asked providers what they felt was needed to support the sector going forward. Many of those interviewed outlined how, in the absence of continued wage support through the Employee Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS), they would be unable to offer services as long as COVID guidelines remained in place.

With these findings in mind, it is our view that Budget 2021, should focus on developing a plan for the long-term funding of the sector. As you know, Ireland is one of the lowest investors in the EU in Early Years Care and Education. According to the OECD, the government invests 0.1% of our GDP on Early Years Care and Education. The highest in Europe is Sweden at 1.8% of GDP. This is to be expected as the Scandinavian countries heavily invest in public services and childcare settings are predominantly state-owned.

This underinvestment in our sector cannot continue. In Budget 2021 we are asking for a commitment to bring investment to 0.5% of GDP by 2023 and to 1% by 2025. We are also proposing that a plan is put in place to properly track and plan for where this investment will go and how it will be measured.

The new Government has indicated that it is planning a large-scale investment in the early years sector and this is included in the Programme for Government. Despite this, the new Minister has signalled that he is unwilling to commit to further investment until the reports on the Future Funding Model and the Workforce Development Plan are published. This would mean we would be waiting until at least 2022 or 2023 for additional sectoral support. This is unacceptable.

With this in mind we are asking that as an initial step, the Government commits to continue funding the EWSS for our sector. This funding should continue until the recommendations of the report of the expert group on the Future Funding Model are actioned. There is ample evidence from our above-mentioned research report that this would help to stabilise the sector and would act as bridging funding until larger investments are agreed and planned for. Our calculations suggest that this would cost €223m for a calendar year.

It is unreasonable and unrealistic to expect that the sector will return to normal in January 2021, and even if and when a vaccine is made available we can be certain that we will not be reverting to the broken “business as usual” model that existed up until March of this year. 

Our full Budget 2021 submission can be seen here. It has been sent to every member of the Oireachtas and will be a major focus of our advocacy work ahead of the Budget announcement on 13 October.

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