Citizens’ Assembly Recommendations for Early Learning and Care in Ireland

Citizens’ Assembly Recommendations for Early Learning and Care in Ireland
How should we compare early learning and care systems?

Last month the Early Childhood Research Centre (ECRC) in Dublin City University an interdisciplinary research centre, led by Professor Mathias Urban, Desmond Chair of Early Childhood Education, welcomed Catherine Day, Chairperson of the Citizens’ Assembly on Gender Equality as part of a panel discussion on the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly on Gender Equality in relation to the early learning and care sector in Ireland.

In April 2021 the Citizens’ Assembly on Gender Equality published 45 priority recommendations, covering a wide range of areas including Constitution, Politics and Leadership, Caregiving and Childcare, Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence, Pay and the Workplace and Social Protection. The Citizens Assembly operated on the basis of responding to a resolution from the Oireachtas which explicitly recognised the importance of early childhood education and care. Members of the Oireachtas asked the assembly to bring forward proposals that would recognise the importance of early learning and care, bring about better work-life balance and examine the social responsibility of care. They were also asked to scrutinise the pay inequalities that result in women being disproportionally represented in low pay sectors. Out of this scrutiny, childcare emerged as one of these sectors.

Challenges in the Irish Childcare System in Contrast with the EU

The Assembly members, in their assessment of childcare provision in Ireland, were struck by some of the facts that were put before them:

  • Ireland spends less than half of the EU average GDP on childcare;
  • 99% of childcare for children between 3 and 5 is private, compared to an EU average of 27% and OECD average of 32%;
  • Childcare costs make up 28% of parent’s income and 40% for lone parent’s income compared to the EU average of 12%;
  • 98% of childcare professionals are women and 61% of those are on less than the living wage;
  • There is a 23% staff turnover annually in the early learning and care sector;
  • Childcare providers are burdened with 3 different and complex inspection systems.

Ms Day added that the citizens armed with this data, their own personal experiences and engagement with stakeholders looked at the shortcomings and the structural pay inequalities that result in women being disproportionally affected in the sector and understood that availability of quality and accessible childcare is crucial to women’s participation in the workforce. They found that the current costs, lack of choice and stagnation in the childcare sector cause stress to parents, families and childcare workers. They indicated that childcare must move to a central place in our society and be recognised and economically rewarded for the fundamental societal good that it represents.

Specifically for childcare, the Citizens’ Assembly recommends to:

• Move to a publicly funded, accessible and regulated model of childcare over the next decade;
• Increase the State share of GDP spent on childcare, from the current 0.37% of GDP to at least 1% by no later than 2030;
• Paid leave for parents should cover the first year of a child’s life, be non-transferable, provide lone parents with the same total leave period as a couple and be incentivised by increasing payment levels to encourage increased take-up.
•To improve the pay and conditions of those in paid employment as carers(for children and adults):
a)They should have a pay structure and benefits(including sick pay and pensions) that reward their level of skills and training similar to teachers and nurses;
b) They should have a career structure, including access to training and professional registration that enables them to progress in their chosen area.

Early Childhood Ireland made a response to the Assembly’s request for submissions and our CEO, Teresa Heeney, made a presentation, which focussed on our ‘Pathways to Better Prospects‘ research which was published in 2020.  We intend to use the Assembly’s recommendations in our advocacy work to urge policymakers to support increased investment and other key developments. If you have questions about the Citizens’ Assembly on Gender Equality or our policy work, please send us an email.

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