The 2019 at-risk-of-poverty rate for children was 15.3% (approx. 184,000 children). The deprivation rate was 23.3% (approx. 280,000 children) and the consistent poverty rate in 2019 for children was 8.1%. Among other contributing organisations, Early Childhood Ireland made statements to the committee to draw its attention to the current challenges and opportunities in addressing child poverty in Ireland.
Early Childhood Ireland made statements on National Childcare Scheme (NCS), and on the burgeoning issue of baby room closures in childcare settings.
The objectives of the National Childcare Scheme (NCS), to improve outcomes for children and support lifelong learning, to reduce poverty, to facilitate labour market activation, and to reduce the cost of childcare in Ireland are worthy, however, they are challenging given their somewhat contradictory nature. There is a work-study test and a sponsorship system which although improved is unwieldy for families and has left some families with reduced subsidies.
Early Childhood Ireland suggests that the poverty reduction objective needs to be prioritised by the government. This would help the most disadvantaged families as well as the wider objective to reduce overall child poverty levels. It is hoped that the review of the Scheme will address this issue.
Key Early Years Data Collection
In the last few weeks, increasing baby room closures have been reported by providers. We are concerned that there is a hidden crisis burgeoning in our sector. The closures themselves are of concern, but this is also a key capacity metric about which currently no data is being collected. The issue of room closures impacts every family, but if we are facing decreasing provision for very young children, this will have a particular effect on those who are disadvantaged. They may have a sponsorship agreement, but no place in the early years setting; thus reducing access to important early intervention to children.
The Children’s Rights Alliance, in their opening statements, brought attention to the need for national coordination and implementation on child poverty. The need to establish a cross-government, dedicated child poverty unit, similar to what is currently working for New Zealand, Scotland and lifted 1 million children out of poverty in the UK in 1999. The Child Poverty Unit would be collocated in the Department of Social Protection and the Department of Children, driving actions to alleviate Child Poverty.
Single Parents Acting for the Rights of Kids (SPARK) highlighted barriers experienced by lone parents in accessing affordable childcare while in education with more than 25% of income going towards childcare costs. The rate of consistent poverty for children of lone parents is 17.1% compared with 6.1% in 2 parent homes and children of lone parents are most likely to end up homeless. The replacement of the targeted childcare scheme by the NCS has impacted some lone parents negatively and to reduce child poverty, targeted supports must be directed to lone parent homes. The 4 factors that have been evidenced to lift children of lone parents out of poverty are affordable housing, quality affordable childcare, well-paid family-friendly jobs and a statutory child maintenance system.
Feedback from Committee members in relation to the statements made included suggestions that the Committee writes to the Department seeking insight into and action around the baby room closures in early years settings. Labour Spokesperson on Children, Deputy Ivana Bacik stated that a quality and affordable system of childcare is a key lever to addressing child poverty and sought further insight into the best route to achieving a state-funded universal model, and further comments were invited on why the need to provide free early care and education for families on lowest incomes is so important.
In conclusion, it was agreed by Committee members that quality, affordable system of childcare is a great equaliser in levelling disadvantage and enabling social inclusion for children at risk of poverty. The new funding model due to be published soon should address the current lack of proper access and capacity in our childcare system.
The Committee’s meetings are recorded and the session on child poverty can be accessed here.
Early Childhood Ireland will be writing formally to the Committee Chair, Deputy Kathleen Funchion to ask that the asking Members of the Committee request that the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration, and Youth immediately begin to gather data on baby room closures in real-time, and to use this data to develop a robust policy response so that all families can have access to quality early years care and education.
If you have any questions please contact our policy team to discuss any of the issues raised here.