About Big Start
The Big Start campaign is a coalition of national organisations seeking to transform the early year’s childcare sector. Our ambition is to secure the development of a high quality early year’s sector that promotes best outcomes for children, provides services that are affordable and accessible for parents, sustainable for service providers and where educators have decent pay and conditions.
The coalition includes SIPTU, ICTU, Barnardos, the National Childhood Network and the Union of Students of Ireland.
We welcome the opportunity to make a Pre-Budget Submission for Budget 2018.
In Budget 2018 the Government should:
- Raise investment in Budget 2018 as part of a medium-term strategy (i.e. 3–5 years) to raise public investment in early years to at least 1% of GDP, as recommended by UNICEF.
- Introduce a further six weeks of paid parental leave.
- Engage with relevant union / employer stakeholders to develop a pay scale that recognises the qualifications, responsibilities, dedication and expertise of early years’ educators, that is affordable for providers and that is supported by ring-fenced state investment.
- Set out a clear time-frame for the introduction of the Single Affordable Childcare Scheme and engage with all stakeholders including the Big Start coalition in the development and roll-out of this scheme.
- Commission the Independent review of the cost of providing quality childcare without further delay and involve all stakeholders including the Big Start coalition in its work.
- Carry out quality reviews of both service provision and quality supports to services in tandem with the independent review of the cost of providing quality childcare and involve all stakeholders including the Big Start coalition in these reviews.
- Support the introduction of new School Age Childcare standards currently being developed by the National School Age Childcare Group with adequate investment. Engage with all stakeholders including the Big Start Coalition prior to the finalisation of standards for this sector and work to ensure that agreed standards are adhered to.
- Commit to ensuring that no service currently being delivered with the support of the ABC programme should be undermined in any ‘wind-down’ of this programme. The future of such services should also be considered in the context of the planned development of a European Child Guarantee as recently announced by the European Commission.
Children at greater risk of poverty, deprivation and consistent poverty
‘Investing in a child’s early years is proven to lead to a host of positive outcomes, including higher secondary school completion and employment rates, higher lifetime earnings, and reduced crime rates. It is also one of the single most effective ways of tackling intergenerational cycles of joblessness and poverty’.
A Programme for a Partnership Government, May 2016
The most recent CSO Survey of Income and Living Conditions (SILC) revealed that children are at much greater risk of poverty, deprivation and consistent poverty than the population as whole. This is even more the case for children living in one-adult households.
The February 2017 SILC survey revealed that 19.5% of all children (0–17) were at risk of poverty in 2015. This compared to 16.9% for the population across the state as whole. 31.4% suffered deprivation, compared to 25.5% for the state as a whole; meaning that their families were unable to afford two or more of 11 basic goods and services that are considered the norm in society, e.g. not having at least two pairs of strong shoes, a meal with meat, fish or vegetarian equivalent every second day, or living in a warm home etc. 11.5% were living in consistent poverty, compared to 8.5% across the state as a whole; meaning that they were both at risk of poverty and of suffering from deprivation.
The rates for children living in one adult households were even higher, with 36.2% of all such children at risk of poverty in 2015, 57.5% experiencing deprivation, and 26.2% living in consistent poverty. These were the highest rates for any household type.
The Big Start coalition welcomes the commitment in the Programme for a Partnership Government (PfPG) to target investment in ‘the early years in order to give all children the best possible start in life’.
Public investment in early years in Ireland has been rising over recent years, albeit from a very low base. 2016 OECD estimates suggest that it rose from 0.28% of GDP in 2007, to 0.48% in 2010, and to 0.52% in 2013, the most recent year for which the OECD has comparable data. The October 2016 Policy Paper on the Single Affordable Childcare Programme claims that investment in 2017 would amount to 0.55% of GDP ‘based on 2014 data’. We acknowledge that the increases over the past decade, particularly the increase between 2007 and 2010, came at a time of extreme fiscal consolidation when public spending in many other areas was being severely curtailed.
However, even on the OECD estimates, public investment in 2013 would still have been around 0.2 percentage points below the OECD average of 0.7% of GDP, just half UNICEF’s recommended investment of 1%, and just one-third of the most forward-looking countries, i.e. Iceland’s 1.8%, Sweden’s 1.6% and Denmark’s 1.4%.
While we recognise that it will take time to match these countries, the public finances are now in a better position than in any time over the past decade or so. We therefore urge the Government to increase investment in Budget 2018 as part of a medium-term strategy (i.e. 3–5 years) to raise investment to at least 1% of GDP, as recommended by UNICEF. This should form part of a longer-term aim (i.e. 5–10 years) of matching the levels of investment of the most forwarding looking countries. This is an ambitious medium-term aim but no less ambitious than the increases achieved during the years of fiscal consolidation.
In Budget 2018, we would propose additional support in particular for non-contact time, for the free pre-school year (the Early Childhood Care and Education Scheme) to ensure that professionals are not forced to sign on during the summer months, as well as concrete measures to begin to improve the pay and conditions of professionals in this sector (see below).
Recommendation 1: Raise investment in Budget 2018 as part of a medium-term strategy (3–5 years) to raise public investment in early years to 1% of GDP, as recommended by UNICEF.
Extending Paid Parental Leave
The Programme for a Partnership Government acknowledges research that shows that children benefit most from parental care ‘in the first year’ and includes a commitment to increase paid parental leave ‘in the first year of birth’, from the (then) entitlement to maternity leave of 26 weeks, plus two weeks of paternity leave with effect from September 2016, as announced in January 2016. Paid parental leave ‘in’ the first year of birth is not the same as paid parental leave ‘for’ the first year of birth.
At the same time, it also includes a commitment to introduce ‘a robust model of subsidised high-quality childcare for children aged 9–36 months, suggesting that the intention is to provide an additional eight weeks of paid parental leave over the life-time of this government. Given the introduction of two weeks of paid paternity leave in September 2016, this would leave a further six weeks to be provided.
Regrettably, no action was taken on these commitment in Budget 2017.
The Government should now introduce a further six weeks of paid parental leave in Budget 2018, bringing the entitlement to paid parental leave up to 36 weeks (i.e. 9 months).
The Government should also, in line with the recognition of the importance of children being with their parents for the first year, commit to introducing a further six weeks of paid and in each of following three budgets so that a child can be at home with their parents or guardians for at least the first year, by 2021.
Extending paid parental leave as outlined here would also be in line with the proposals issued by the European Commission in April 2017 for a new work-life balance directive — which the Government should fully support — and with the proposals to extend maternity and paternity leave and to allow couples to share it, as presented by the new Taoiseach, during the Fine Gael leadership election.
Recommendation 2: Introduce a further six weeks of paid parental leave in Budget 2018.
Estimated cost — €46.5 million (see annex)
Quality of Childcare is Crucial
The 2015 Report of the Inter-Department Working Group (IDWG) was explicit in its recognition of the importance of quality childcare, particularly for low-income or immigrant households and those with less educated parents, and was equally cognisant of the dangers posed by poor-quality provision.
We therefore welcome the commitment in the PfPG to introduce a: ‘robust model for subsidised high quality childcare for children…’
Professionalisation — a proxy for quality
The IDWG report also acknowledged that professionalisation of the workforce is a key proxy for quality.
We therefore welcome the commitment in the PfPG to ‘drive quality throughout the sector by investing in the professionalisation of the workforce…’.
Low Pay is undermining quality
There is clear international evidence that quality early years for children must be underpinned by decent pay and conditions for qualified staff. Start Strong’s 2014 report ‘Childcare: Business or Profession?’ was unequivocal on the importance of addressing the issue of pay and conditions in this sector:
“The evidence is very clear that in order to achieve quality ECEC provision, the initial and continuous training, pay and conditions of the workforce are a crucial factor. This is widely accepted in the education sector, but not yet in the ECEC sector (p.44).
However, recent surveys have revealed the extent of precarious, low paid employment in the sector. The average rate of pay for an early years’ educators is just €10.27 per hour, with many earning the minimum wage. Having a third level degree will earn you €1 extra per hour. Thousands of workers are also on precarious 38 week Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) contacts, which forces workers on to social welfare over the summer months. Self-employed providers don’t even have the option to access social welfare.
Low pay within the early years sector has resulted in a staffing crisis. Staff turnover is currently at 28.4% per year and 86% of services said that they were concerned that problems recruiting and retaining staff will impact on the viability of their service (Early Childhood Ireland, 2017). Solas’s National Skills Bulletin 2016 (September 2016) understates the situation with its conclusion that:
‘Given the high level of turnover, as well as the high volume of job vacancies advertised and job ready job seekers, it is recognised that some employers may be experiencing difficulty in attracting and retaining qualified care and childcare workers.’
The Big Start campaign acknowledges recent efforts by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs and by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs to provide funding for non-contact time. However, there remains a deepening recruitment and retention crisis in the sector due to poor pay and conditions.
The Big Start campaign urges the Government to engage with all stakeholders including trade unions to develop a pay scale that recognises the qualifications, responsibilities, dedication and expertise of early years educators. Any pay scale must be affordable for providers and supported with ringfenced state funding.
Given that the vast majority (90%+) of all workers in this sector are female and that almost half of all workers in this sector work part-time, this would also be in line with the (albeit weak) commitments in the PfPG to take measures to review’ the lower pay of women, to strengthen the role of the Low Pay Commission in relation to in-work poverty and to strengthen legislation in relation to precarious work.
Recommendation 3: Engage with all stakeholders including the Big Start coalition to develop a pay scale that recognises the qualifications, dedication and expertise of early years’ educators, that is affordable for providers and that is supported by ring-fenced state investment.
Implement the Single Affordable Childcare Scheme (SACS)
The PfPG set out the commitment to ‘streamline’ the existing subsidised schemes to ‘make them more accessible for both parents and providers’.
Budget 2017 included the announcement of a new Single Affordable Childcare Scheme (SACS) to be introduced from September 2017 that would provide means-tested subsidies, based on parental income, for children aged between six months and 15 years and universal subsidies for all children aged between six months and three years.
In February 2017, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs announced that the automated system necessary for the new scheme would not be ready by September and that a new timetable would be announced as soon as possible. The emphasis over recent months has been placed on expanding the existing subsidies schemes and on the universal subsidies aspect of the scheme, and it is not clear when the entire scheme will be introduced; the March 2017 Action Plan of the Working Group of School Age Childcare confusingly states (p.64) that the SACS will be introduced ‘on a phased basis in September 2017’.
The SACS should be child focused. Quality early years’ services can play a crucial role in a range of policy areas including child poverty, prevention and early intervention, additional needs and many more.
The targeted full day subsidy should be restored for those disadvantaged children whose parents are not in training or employment. Methods of addressing wider policy objectives should be developed in collaboration with stakeholders, including relevant Government Departments.
Recommendation 4: Set out a clear time-frame for the introduction of the entire Single Affordable Childcare Scheme and engage with all stakeholders including the Big Start coalition in the development and roll-out of this scheme.
Independent Review of the cost of providing quality childcare
The PfPG includes a commitment to ‘conduct and publish an independent review of the cost of providing quality childcare in private and community settings, consistent with the principle of ongoing professionalisation of the sector.’
We are concerned at the delays in conducting this review, and understand it will only be commissioned later in 2017, i.e. almost 18 months after the formation of the Government.
The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Katherine Zappone TD recently stated (24 May) that
‘The Independent Review on the Cost of Providing Quality Childcare will, among other things, examine the link between wages, the quality of provision, and public funding. Its conclusions will be of great assistance to my Department as we consider the policy tools available to us to address the issues of wages and working conditions.’
While the March 2017 Action Plan of the Working Group on Afterschool Care states that:
‘It is accepted that quality can best be assured by a more qualified workforce, but a qualified workforce merits higher rates of pay, potentially raising costs. The objective data obtained under the independent review will be critical to future investment decisions. A sustainable and stable sector is necessary for the delivery of accessible, high quality and affordable childcare services that meet the needs of children, families, a healthy society and the economy.
The Independent Review should be carried out without any further delay and it should engage with all relevant stakeholders, including the Big Start coalition.
Recommendation 5: The Independent Review should be commissioned without any further delay and all stakeholders including the Big Start coalition should be involved in its work.
Estimated cost: Not available (see annex)
The PfPG commits, as part of the extension of the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Programme in September 2016, to:
- Review and assess the quality of the first pre-school year and the application of the Aistear curriculum and also include a review to ensure children can avail of a full two years.
- Support quality and professionalisation initiatives and reforms such as Better Start, Síolta and the Learner Fund.
- Monitor the implementation of new quality regulations and standards and work towards further paediatric first aid training for staff.
- Review and reform the inspection regime, and withdraw funding from providers that do not meet quality standards
It is not clear what action has been taken on foot of these commitments. The focus must be placed on enhancing the quality of services provided by supporting appropriately trained staff, ensuring adherence to Síolta and Aistear and including childminders and afterschool providers.
Since the cost model that is being used to calculate the target subsidies is largely based on the (unsustainable) status quo, the Government should ensure these reviews are carried out in tandem with the independent review of the cost of providing quality childcare.
Recommendation 6: Carry out quality reviews in tandem with the independent review of the cost of providing quality childcare and involve all stakeholders including the Big Start coalition in these reviews.
The PfPG includes a commitment to utilise primary school buildings for afterschool care provision for school age children and to invite ‘community groups and private providers to tender to use school facilities (outside school hours)’.
The Action Plan of the Working Group on School Age Childcare was published in March 2017. This sets out several recommendations and actions ‘to assist in the opening up accessible, high quality, affordable school age care for all children’.
A School Age Childcare Group has now been established by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and is due to sign off on draft standards for this sector by September. It is important that all stakeholders including the Big Start Coalition are involved in follow-up to the March 2017 Action Plan.
As pointed out above, the Action Plan accepts that quality can best be assured by a more qualified workforce, which in turn ‘merits higher rates of pay, potentially raising costs’. This reinforces the importance of completing the independent review of the cost of providing quality childcare as soon as possible.
The existing quality mentoring and CPD training system, provided by a range of agencies also need to be reviewed to ensure that access to national standardised programmes of CPD are available nationwide, particularly in relation to advanced child development, the standards within Siolta, and the requirements of Aistear.
Recommendation 7: The School Age Childcare Group should engage with all stakeholders, including the Big Start Coalition, in the finalisation of standards for this sector and ensure that agreed standards are adhered to.
Area-Based Childhood Programme
The PfPG commits to ‘fund and expand’ existing schemes such as the Area-Based Childhood Programme and to ensure the sharing and implementation of learning from such programmes to other initiatives as they expand their reach’
We are concerned at the uncertainty over the long-term commitment to services supported by this programme; the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone recently stated that the intention is to continue the programme until the end of August 2018. The Department of Children and Youth Affairs is emphasising mainstreaming approaches over specific, locally-focused, co-ordinated responses in areas of greatest need.
We note that that the European Commission recently identified Ireland’s ‘area-based child poverty initiative’, (i.e. the ABC programme) as an example of a good programme in a country with ‘less developed’ ECEC systems’.
The Commission has also recently indicated its intention to launch and implement a ‘preparatory action’ for a Child Guarantee, as previously proposed by the European Parliament, with the aim of clarifying ‘…the concept of such a guarantee, its feasibility and potential to contribute to the overall objective of fighting child poverty’.
We believe that the ABC programme provides a useful model for the roll-out of a Child Guarantee across Europe and that policy-makers in Ireland could learn from similar initiatives in other European countries, and further afield.
Recommendation 8: Commit to ensuring that no service currently being delivered with the support of the ABC programme should be undermined in any ‘wind-down’ of this programme. The future of such services should also be considered in the context of the planned development of a European Child Guarantee as recently announced by the European Commission.
Estimated cost: €6 million (see annex)
Extending paid parental leave — €46.5m
We estimate this would cost approximately €46.5 million. In his answers to written questions nos. 293 and 306 on 30 May 2017, the (then) Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar TD put the estimated full year cost of each additional week of paid maternity leave at €10 million per week and of each additional week of paid paternity leave at €5.5 million. Providing an additional three weeks of paid maternity leave should cost around €30 million and providing an additional three weeks of paid paternity leave should cost €16.5 million, giving a total additional cost of €46.5 million. Different combinations of additional maternity leave and paternity leave would yield different costs.
Continuing the ABC programme to the end of 2018 — €6m.
The total cost of the ABC programme for 2013–2017 was €29.7 million, or approximately €6 million per annum. This programme was co-funded by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and Atlantic Philanthropies.
Independent review of the cost of providing quality childcare
It is not possible to provide an estimate of the independent review of the cost of providing quality childcare. In her answer to the Dail written question no.19108/17 on 13 April 2017, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs stated:
‘As this Review will be subject to public procurement, it is not possible to provide cost estimates at this point as this may influence the procurement process. It is envisaged however, that the cost of this Review will be met from the Department’s existing budget allocation.’