It is important to emphasise again that child care costs at present are very high. Indeed, it has been pointed out that child care costs are higher than mortgage repayments. If a person or family must juggle both a mortgage and child care costs, it is a very hard task. I have seen research which shows that an average family with two children spends 40% of their wages on child care costs. That is a large amount of money, but successive Governments have ignored the issue and not dealt with it. I hope the current Minister will. Families are now caught in the trap of one parent having to return to work and one parent having to stay at home because of huge child care fees, as it often makes more financial sense not to pay those fees.
I support what has been proposed by Fianna Fáil to support parents who return to work, including a child care subsidy for families who are above the family income supplement threshold. That threshold is quite low. I have encountered families where the carer’s benefit was paid to mothers where there might be a child with a disability in the family. This has been paid continuously over two years or perhaps over a longer number of years if there is a break in the carer’s payment. For example, it might be required only during the children’s holiday period. It would be helpful if there was a discussion with employers about improving that scenario. With some creativity and ingenuity on the part of employers and workers, there could be a better scheme.
I was interested in the report of the expert advisory group on the early years strategy, which was published in September 2013. It identified ten themes. These would make a significant contribution to the development of a holistic early years strategy. The report highlights that Ireland spends 0.4% of GDP on early childhood care and education services compared to the OECD average of 0.7% of GDP. The group proposed that Ireland should achieve the international benchmark of 1% of GDP.
I was also interested in a reply Deputy Sean Fleming received today from the Minister regarding the costing of proposals for child care, paid paternity leave and compensation for small businesses for increases in the minimum wage. These areas have been examined by various Ministers. It was interesting to see that the Minister said the matter is being examined. It is a question of bringing Ministers and Departments together. He said the matter has not been resolved but that the issues are being considered by the various Ministers in the context of their departmental missions and goals. Obviously, that is an area where we must get full information to assess exactly what costs are involved in all of these schemes.
The expert advisory group report also discussed the main child care initiative in the State, the free preschool year in early childhood care and education. This was provided to 68,000 children at a cost of €175 million in 2014. The Revised Estimates for 2015 indicate the funding will be reduced to €172.5 million. We must examine the funding in that area. Capitation rates for children availing of early childhood care was reduced in budget 2012 from €64.50 to €62.50 per child. Again, this area must be examined.
My final point relates to the Indecon report on child care in Donegal. It has an analysis of the cost of child care and reports that the average weekly expenditure on paid child care for one preschool child rose from €118 per week in 2007 to €133 per week in 2013, while the average weekly expenditure on paid child care for one primary school child rose from €72 per week to €81 per week over the same period. It is certainly an expensive operation. We must ensure that all the supports we can provide are provided for hard working families.