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Budget 2020: Lacking Ambition, Lacking Direction

By: RONAN KENNEDY

Wednesday 09 October 2019

The Minister for Finance delivered Budget 2020 yesterday and the general consensus seems to be a national shoulder shrug. The Policy, Advocacy, and Campaigning (PAC) team had been monitoring the leaks emanating from the Department of Children and Youth Affairs over the past few weeks and to a very large degree, we had an idea of what we thought what was coming. Or to put it another way, we knew what we weren’t getting.

Unfortunately, the entirety of Government's interest in early years seems to have been reflected in the fact that one single line in the Budget speech was devoted to our sector. No details and seemingly, no interest.

Even with Budget 2020 being framed in the context of a no-deal Brexit, the poverty of ambition for the early years sector is disheartening, to say the least. We are expecting Minister Zappone to give us more details on the spending plans at a press conference tomorrow, but the extent of what we know now amounts to a miserly €54 million increase in the budget for the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. To put this in context, the Department of Education has received €2 billion since 2016; that’s €500 million per year. We continue to invest the lowest amount in early years of any EU state. And there appears to be no ambition on the part of Government to address this disgraceful and sustained underinvestment. Even given the prospect of a no-deal Brexit, this announcement is disappointing and myopic. This amount will do nothing to quell the recruitment and retention crisis in the sector, it will do nothing to prevent small providers from going to the wall and, most importantly, it will do nothing to enhance quality early years provision for babies and children. The government seem content to continue to point at the National Childcare Scheme as their flagship policy, and effectively ignore the myriad of issues facing providers and families when it comes to early years provision.

Despite the context of limited space for big spending measures, a lot more could have been achieved. Early Childhood Ireland's pre-Budget ask focused on the creation of a single early years and school-age childcare agency. We took the decision to pursue a cost-neutral ask as our focus was to allow for existing resources to be pooled and quality enhanced. This would have left space for targeted spending in improved access and to support providers. Unfortunately, the government have missed their opportunity. For now, at least.

The conventional wisdom is that this will be the last budget before the general election. If that is the case, then this would be one of the least generous pre-election budgets in living memory. Depending on how Brexit pans out, we may see a second ‘mini-budget’ before the election if the UK leaves with a deal and there is more scope for spending increases. We will have to wait and see.

The Ministerial announcement will take place today and the details of the breakdown of the €54 million secured will be revealed then. We will have more details of the specifics of the proposals at that stage.

 

Ronan Kennedy is Policy Officer with Early Childhood Ireland. He previously worked in the Dáil as a senior political advisor and as a researcher in UCD.

 

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