Last week, the Minister for Finance Paschal Donoghue TD and the Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath TD addressed the Dáil to set out the measures contained in Budget 2023. These included the announcement that spending on early years and school age care will exceed €1bn in 2023. Early Childhood Ireland commended the Government for achieving the investment target set out in First 5, five years ahead of schedule.
Time to Catch Up
Ireland has lagged at the bottom of international public funding tables for decades, and this legacy of under-investment has had severe impacts. There is no guarantee that every child has access to high-quality early years and school age care. Parents in Ireland pay some of the highest fees from take-home pay in the European Union. Operators, overly dependent on fees, have had to manage precariously in a complex and fragmented funding environment.
As part of the wider budgetary changes, Department of Children will also end the 3-year experience rule for Lead Educators and Managers in the second year of Core Funding. This is very welcome and will, we hope, encourage many talented graduates to come into the sector.
Several other measures were also announced including:
- €357.6 million for the National Childcare Scheme (NCS), which includes an increase from 50c per hour to €1.40 per hour from January 2023 in the universal subsidy.
- €259 million for Year 1 of Core Funding and €287 million for Year 2.
- €85.4 million for initiatives including Nurturing Skills, the sector’s workforce plan and the National Action Plan on Childminding.
We were very disappointed to see no expansion of AIM, nor any increase in the targeted NCS subsidies for lower income families.
As Minister McGrath noted in his speech, the recent introduction of an Employment Regulation Order set baseline wages for the staff who provide high-quality care and education to our youngest citizens. Further investment will be required to enhance these rates to levels that reflect the importance of the work early years and school age care professionals undertake in providing quality care and education to our youngest citizens. It is essential too that the government implements the sector’s workforce development plan, Nurturing Skills.
Still No Five-Year Investment Plan
Earlier this year, Early Childhood Ireland called on Government to transform the Early Years and School Age Care system by including an ambitious five-year investment plan in Budget 2023. This plan still needs to be developed and published. It should include new funding targets and key priorities for each year especially as Government will achieve its goal of doubling investment in our sector next year. We also called for the Access and Inclusion Model (AIM) to be extended beyond the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) scheme in consultation with our members. This will continue to be a focus of our advocacy work.
Significant progress has been made towards the transformation of our sector, but we must not lose momentum. In particular, Early Childhood Ireland will continue to engage with the Department of Children in relation to the Sustainability Fund which will be critical to ensuring the stability of settings in the face of inflation and other concerns.