Thursday, 14 July 2022
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
I thank the Minister of State for attending and wonder whether he pulled the short straw in having to do so this evening. I recognise this issue is not his area. It relates to childcare in Wicklow. It is no secret that childcare in this country is at crisis point. The costs, which are exorbitant, are putting severe pressure on families who are just trying to keep their heads above water. Wicklow is at the forefront of that crisis, given parents there pay the highest fees for childcare outside of Dublin, at approximately €924 per month, or between 20% and 25% of their disposable income on average. That is an incredible sum for any family to find, not least for a service the Social Democrats believe should be publicly provided. I cannot quite understand why we are so far behind our European neighbours in how we deal with childcare. In raising the issue of costs, I understand the budget is approaching and hope the Government will make that serious investment we need in respect of childcare costs in order that parents will be supported.
Childcare availability and flexibility are equally important issues that need to be addressed in this context. In regard to availability, many parents in Wicklow have found that no crèche or childcare spaces are available when they have gone looking for them, whether coming off maternity leave or having found out they are pregnant, which is when many parents start searching for childcare places. It is difficult to find places for children under 12 months, in particular. Capacity in Wicklow stands at 0.6%, meaning that percentage of all places in the county is set aside for children under the age of one. That is the second lowest rate in the country, which means many parents, primarily women, have to decide between their job and staying at home because they cannot find any facilities that will take their babies. I have spoken to parents who have spent a year looking for places for their children and to a woman who had to turn down two job offers because she could not find childcare when she looked for it. Similarly, I have spoken to parents who, when they went looking in April, were told it would be next July before they would be able to get a place, which is not acceptable.
Parents need to be able to work, particularly in my constituency in Wicklow, in order that they can meet their incredibly high mortgage repayments or afford their rent. In addition, we do not want women being unable or not having a choice to continue with their careers because the service is not provided.
I also wish to raise the issue of childcare of a part-time and flexible nature. It would be really useful if flexible full- and part-time childcare were available to parents in order that they could pay for three or four days' childcare as opposed to the full five. If such childcare were available, it would facilitate with the type of remote working policies at which we are currently looking. People could also take their parental leave and make their work-life balance a bit more manageable. The three main issues I wish to raise with the Minister of State in the context of childcare are cost, availability and flexibility.