Early Childhood Ireland published our Budget 2023 Submission: Time For Transformation on Thursday, 14 July. We have called on the Government to transform the Early Years and School Age Care system by including an ambitious five-year plan in Budget 2023.
The planned introduction of Core Funding for the Early Years and School Age sector is an overdue but welcome commitment that will lead to more sustainable provision for children, staff, parents and providers. However, Government must announce a five-year public investment plan, with clear funding targets and key priorities for each year, if Budget 2023 is to deliver the promised transformative action for our invaluable sector.
As we know Ireland has lagged at the bottom of international public investment tables for decades, and this legacy of under-investment has led to severe challenges in our system of Early Years and School Age Care. Parents in Ireland pay some of the highest fees from take-home pay in the European Union. Providers, overly dependent on these fees, have operated precariously in a complex and fragile funding model. The average pay and conditions of staff in the sector remains poor, leading to continuing challenges in staff recruitment and retention, which in turn impact on the provision of consistent, high-quality care and education to our youngest citizens.
In order to address the years of chronic underinvestment in Ireland’s Early Years and School Age system of care, which has left us tailing behind our EU counterparts, Government must implement more ambitious plans to achieve quality, sustainable and accessible Early Years and School Age Care. The Government’s delivery of a five-year public investment plan in Budget 2023 would mark a major milestone for Early Years and School Age Care in Ireland and for the children and families they support.
Budget 2022 marked a turning point in the State’s approach to the Early Years and School Age Care sector. The introduction of Core Funding and other budgetary measures signalled a long-overdue government recognition and action regarding the development of what is an essential public good. Early Childhood Ireland welcomed the Government’s moves to re-position our invaluable sector as a priority area.
Early Childhood Ireland’s Budget 2023 Priorities
However, to build on these positive developments, a coherent multi-annual plan is needed to offer certainty to families, the workforce and operators. Quality care and education does not happen overnight. Long-term planning is essential for providers to invest in their staff, their settings and to give parents security. Early Years and School Age Care cannot be allowed to continue unsustainably from one year to the next, we need a plan that builds confidence for families and providers.
The plan for 2023 should include the following:
- An increase in Core Funding which takes account of both inflation and any agreed sector pay scales
- Increases in the National Childcare Scheme, encompassing universal and targeted subsidies and a national communications plan to promote the scheme to parents
- In consultation with Early Childhood Ireland’s members, and other stakeholders, an extension of the Access and Inclusion Model, beyond the ECCE scheme
- Implementation of the first phase of the National Childminding Action Plan and of Nurturing Skills – the sector’s workforce plan
The plans for each year from 2024 – 2027 should renew the above commitments and government should also provide detailed annual targets focussed on guaranteeing access to high-quality Early Years and School Age Care and education to every child in every family and community by 2028.