It can be said of Budget 2022, which was announced on 12 October, that a repeat of last year’s omission of our invaluable sector did not happen. Some of the announcements made by the Government in the Budget 2022 childcare package demonstrated a renewed commitment to the delivery of a sustainable service for providers, staff, parents and children, as a key priority. There is still much work to be done to reform the sector but, after years of uncertainty, parents and providers alike will welcome measures to address low pay and sector sustainability as well as affordability for families.
Early Childhood Ireland made calls to the government to make this budget the ‘The Childcare Budget’ by meeting the commitment in the national early years strategy, First 5, to double investment in childcare by 2028. The measures announced last week represent some long-overdue progress towards increasing Ireland’s investment in childcare to at least 1% of GDP. These measures have the potential to deliver a roadmap that could transform the sector and provide the flexibility that families need as workplaces move to hybrid working following the pandemic.
After years of insecurity, Budget 2022 marks the first steps to bringing some peace of mind to childcare providers, their staff and the families they serve. This increased investment recognises how essential our sector is to wider society and the economy. Now, the Government must seize this opportunity to properly reform the sector and move us closer to the much-lauded Scandinavian childcare model.
The way forward still requires sustained support and multi-annual investment from the state to bring Ireland’s childcare system in line with the other EU Member States. However, this first tranche of increased funding will move us in the right direction. It will enable childcare providers to plan for the long term; staff to enjoy greater job security, and offer parents some reassurance about accessing places for their young children.
Immediate support for childcare services
Confirmation from the government that the bespoke Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme is set to continue until April 2022 is welcome. The EWSS introduced by the Government in March 2020 in response to the COVID-19 crisis, which currently supports a significant proportion of salaries in childcare settings has kept our sector afloat and its continuation will afford childcare settings all over the country essential stability as the transition to a new model of funding is ushered in.
The budgetary announcements made by Government can be taken as a renewed commitment to reforming childcare by establishing a multi-annual funding model that values early years and after-school care as much as primary and secondary education. For our youngest citizens, staff providers and parents, this is timely and welcome.