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Crowe calls for increase in child benefit to assist parents with childcare

3 November, 2004

Sinn Féin spokesperson on Social, Community and Family Affairs, Seán Crowe speaking ahead of tonight's continuing Dáil debate on Childcare called for an increase in Child Benefit to assist parents in accessing childcare facilities. The Dublin South West TD said that "Childcare is an essential ingredient in breaking the cycle of social exclusion, poverty and disadvantage".

Deputy Crowe said, "The longer a child is poor, the greater the subsequent deprivation in later life and the greater likelihood of leaving school early, becoming unemployed or getting a low paid job. Some 66,000 children are currently living below the poverty line. Everyone agrees that education is the key that breaks the cycle that traps people in poverty and early intervention is also critical. Therefore, childcare is an essential ingredient in breaking the cycle of social exclusion, poverty and disadvantage.

"Government policy is to encourage more and more people to enhance their education, up-skill and hopefully move on to greater employment prospects. If one has a young family, the only way to access training, education or employment is by getting someone to care for one's children. This is the dilemma faced by tens of thousands of parents every day. Availability, location, suitability and cost are the other key elements.

"I am not aware of any community childcare facility that is not experiencing problems relating to financial sustainability. The lack of clarity in long-term supports undermines the ability of projects to strategically plan for the future. One Tallaght childcare centre has gone through seven managers in seven years, which reflects the instability in the sector. There are currently four mechanisms available to subsidise the cost of childcare for families in disadvantaged communities: the EOCP, the FÁS active labour market programme, user purchase and private purchase. The EOCP has a cap on staffing grants of €65,000 per annum over three years, which is insufficient and is at the heart of the problems being experienced by childcare providers.

"Another factor is that without part-time community employment and those on job initiatives from FÁS, the childcare centres as presently structured could not and would not exist. The childcare centres' over-reliance on trainee and part-time workers because of the cap on staffing is unfair to the workers,interferes with their training and is another example of the stop-gap, short-term policy that permeates the whole sector.

"The funding element is holding back the development of quality childcare and needs to be addressed on a long-term basis. Private purchase is not an option in many disadvantaged areas because, increasingly, traditional groups establish their own childcare facilities. User purchase is also a problem because the user in many disadvantaged areas cannot afford the service, and, with rising costs, the problem is getting worse.

"I will provide one example for the Minister. One facility in Jobstown expects to receive €1.7 million in capital funding and staffing grants but, even with this, it will have to charge €130 to €140 per week. Those for whom this scheme is designed will not be able to afford the service. I know of another childcare scheme in the Tallaght west area that charges €30 per week for shorter hours but is having extreme difficulties in finding clients to use the service. We are moving towards having facilities suitable for childcare while pricing out the very people the schemes are designed to help. We need to assist parents with the cost of childcare by increasing child benefit to €150 per month for the first and second child and to €150.50 for the third and subsequent children." ENDS

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