Social Justice Ireland, an independent think tank, recently published its 2022 socio-economic review. The review contains a detailed analysis of a wide range of issues which together form the basis of a just and sustainable society. It also sets out a series of detailed policy proposals which would achieve a more socially just Ireland.
The review discusses several issues of relevance to our sector.
State investment in early years services
The review notes the government’s ambitions set out in First 5, a Whole of Government Strategy for Babies, Young Children and their Families 2019-2028. Social Justice Ireland welcomes the strategy, particularly its “child-centred focus and inter-Departmental governance and implementation plan”. It also highlights the need for further state investment in early years services. It calls for a minimum increase of 0.1 per cent of GDP reaching 1 per cent of GDP by 2027 in line with the top-performing countries in the OECD. According to the review, “this level of investment is crucial to ensuring that all children have access to quality childcare and after-school care which supports their development and facilitates parents to participate in the labour market”.
The review compares Irish expenditure on education for three- to five-year-olds with our OECD peers. It notes that “Ireland had the second-lowest amount of expenditure at 0.3 per cent of GDP despite a trebling of public investment in childcare programmes between 2011 and 2016. In comparison, Iceland, Norway and Sweden spent between 1.1 and 0.9 per cent of GDP.” This is despite the fact that early childhood is the developmental stage where education can most effectively influence the development of children and help reverse disadvantages.
Staff terms and conditions
The review notes the challenges that exist for parents seeking high-quality, affordable services. The average fee for full-time childcare provision is €184 per week, with the highest being in the Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown area (€251 per week on average) and the lowest in Carlow (an average of €148 per week). The review underlines the fact that high costs for parents do not translate into high wages for staff in our sector. Citing Pobal’s most recent sector profile, it concludes that “a correlation between wages and fees could not be found”. The average hourly wage earned by staff working directly with children in 2019/2020 was €12.45. Furthermore, it notes that one out of every two staff in our sector earned less than the Living Wage rate for 2020 which was €12.30.
Access to services
The lack of early years and school age care services in some parts of the country are also cited as a contributory factor to the challenges migrants face when trying to establish productive lives and integrate into Irish society. The review also notes the challenges in accessing services in remote and rural parts of Ireland. It calls on the government to provide better quality public services in these regions. According to the report, “improved and expanded public services…will contribute to regional attractiveness in remote and rural areas, provide the social and economic infrastructure to ensure that those who live there…have access to quality public services and a better quality of life.”
The review also argues that the Irish state should provide what they describe as “Universal Basic Services”, a concept developed by the Institute for Global Prosperity in 2017 and expanded on in recent academic papers. Universal Basic Services would include things like basic healthcare and education, including early childhood education. They are things that all people in society would benefit from and utilise at some point in their lives. According to the report, providing these services universally would be the most effective way to serve the needs of society.
For more information on our work, please contact our Policy Team.