By Katia Hancke
Childcare services have reached breaking point due to the callous insistence of this government to treat the care of our children as a for-profit business. Childcare workers and small providers, with the support of many parents, have been driven to closing down the sector for a day to force this issue onto the political agenda. The spiralling cost of insurance now threatens to put many small creches out of business, while insurance companies are raking in record profits.
Ireland has the highest childcare costs in Europe, with the cost of having two children in day care amounting to a second mortgage for working families. The 25,000 workers in the sector have badly paid, precarious jobs, with 60% not even earning the living wage. The average creche has a turnover of 40% of staff as people have to leave the sector to earn a living, affecting the quality of the service.
Quality childcare and early childhood education should be vital public services available to all free at the point of use. That means valuing and respecting the workers in the sector by guaranteeing pay and conditions that reflect the responsibility handed to them – of caring for and educating the next generation in their early years.
Open up the school grounds for after school care
Socialist Party member and Solidarity TD Ruth Coppinger is campaigning for a very concrete first step that could be implemented immediately as a first step to universal free childcare. School grounds should be used in order to provide free state-run before and after school care. The benefits of this are obvious:
- Parents are assured that their child(ren) are provided for from 8am until 6pm by qualified, well paid professionals.
- It is child centred, allowing kids to stay with friends in a familiar, safe environment.
- It would immediately provide thousands of secure, well paid full time jobs for childcare workers, ending the haemorrhaging of much needed skills and experience.
- Families would be freed from a very significant financial stress, saving hundreds of euros per month.
- The profiteering of the insurance industry and other privateers is taken out of the equation as schools are already universally insured.
An investment worth making
This proposal would cost the state less than €50 per child per week –is that not an investment worth making? On the basis of this investment, the service could run 48 weeks per year to facilitate
working families, integrating and expanding summer projects that so many communities now struggle to put together due to a lack of funding. Sports and hobbies could be integrated into the
service, allowing all children to pursue an interest.
The costing of the proposal is based on paying every worker at least 15 euro per hour, as a starting point for a pay scale that offers opportunities – turning the jobs into a realistic long term career
option. Secure, well treated staff who are familiar with children over a long period of time improve the quality of childcare.
The current explosive crisis in the childcare sector shows that the government policy of insisting on the sector being run for private profit is completely bankrupt. We need simple, innovative solutions like this that place our children at the centre of the solution.