“It has helped me stay open without worrying how to pay my staff. This would have been a very difficult year to get through, with a huge downturn in parent fees.” Childcare provider, Rural setting
Early Childhood Ireland as a result of COVID-19, has been campaigning for government commitment to retain the most important lifeline for the early years and school age care sector, the EWSS (Employment Wage Support Scheme) until such time as the report of the Expert Group on the Future Funding model which is in development is actioned and a new sustainable funding model for the sector is in place.
Ahead of the motions in the Dáil last Thursday regarding the extension of the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme(EWSS), we wrote to the Orieachtas members seeking their support to ensure that the bespoke version of this vital Scheme which has been made available to early years and after-schools settings, remains in place until at least the end of 2021.
As we know, childcare is the only essential service that has had to rely on a wage subsidy scheme in order to operate throughout the various levels of COVID-19. While the provision of the bespoke EWSS for settings and other supports have been very welcome, the extent to which Government has needed to provide them to the sector is an acknowledgement of both its vital role and of the precarious nature of the funding model which underpins our current system. With the EWSS contributing at least 70% of salaries for childcare staff, there is cause for significant concern about the survival of settings if this Scheme does not continue or is withdrawn suddenly. This would do significant harm to the stability of childcare services and to the ability of families to access quality care and education for their babies and young children now and after the pandemic is over.
A recent Early Childhood Ireland survey found that more than half of respondents will not be in a position to reopen fully if the EWSS is ended. Our proposal to retain the EWSS as a bridging fund for childcare providers until a sustainable public funding model is put in place, as promised, is sensible and cost-effective. It would ensure that settings remain viable, that highly qualified and committed staff are retained and that families can continue to access high-quality care and education in their communities now and in the future. We are sounding the alarm and it is imperative that the government acts quickly. Providers and educators have stepped up valiantly since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the provision of quality care and education to children has been highlighted as a critical contributor to a functioning society and economy. Our vital sector cannot be allowed to fall off a funding cliff and must be supported fully.
Currently, the EWSS is in place until 30 June 2021. The Minister for Finance, Paschal Donohue, in the Dáil last Thursday, gave again reassurances that there would be no ‘funding cliff-edge’ for sectors supported by EWSS at the end of June, that he is conscious that support is required, and further plans will be set out in the coming weeks. On foot of this, Early Childhood Ireland will be engaging with key stakeholders from across the political spectrum in the coming weeks seeking the continuation of the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme for Childcare until 2022, ensuring that our essential and frontline public service remains operational.
We will be keeping you updated on the progress of this campaign in the coming weeks.