Wednesday, 13 June 2018
I propose to take Questions Nos. 28 and 53 together. The Government is committed to supporting parents in caring for young children at home in a range of ways. Within the remit of my Department, a number of schemes provide support to parents whether they work full time, part time, or stay at home. For example, from September of 2018 all children aged from two years and eight months will be entitled to access two years of free pre-school through the Early Childhood and Education, ECCE, programme. Some 114,000 children are expected to benefit this September, many of whom will be children of stay-at-home parents. The current targeted childcare schemes are available to families where parents are in receipt of certain social welfare payments or medical cards, again many of whom are stay-at-home parents. A universal childcare subsidy is available to all parents of children under three, regardless of whether parents are working or not. The affordable childcare scheme, ACS, which is under development will make childcare subsidies available on the basis of family income and will be available to stay-at-home parents. More widely across Government, there are various initiatives that support stay-at-home parents. A child benefit payment of €140 per month is available to all children. Budget 2018 increased the home carer tax credit to €1,200 per year. There has also been a number of new measures to support parents to spend time at home with children in their early years. Two weeks of paternity leave and benefit for fathers was introduced in 2016. In 2017, there was an extension to maternity leave and benefit to mothers of babies born prematurely. Currently, my Department is also drafting a cross-Government early years strategy. The strategy will include a range of measures to support families given the fundamental importance they play in shaping children’s outcomes. I look forward to updating the House on those developments later this year.
I thank the Minister. It would be good if we could be updated, particularly on budget policy because we are in the middle of the budget process now in the sense that Departments are negotiating with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on whatever comes in October.
Is the Minister looking for any major initiatives other than the existing ones in this budget process? If there are how will she ensure that it will not make it difficult for parents who want to stay at home in terms of creating an environment where increasingly the incentives promote a different approach? It is not that people are pitting one parent against the other, far from it. Every family and parent needs support in their own circumstances but when we have a system that disproportionately favours one choice over another there is a concern that it makes it difficult to take that choice. Can the Minister give any indication within the budget process, separate to the early years strategy, whether she expects to introduce measures in this year's budget and if so can she give some outline as to what those new additional measures might be?
I support what Deputy Eamon Ryan said about the value of parents who do take the option of staying at home to mind their children. Any increase in the home tax credit would be important. Like him, I would like to hear about any further measures the Minister has to help and facilitate parents to do a valued job. Is the Minister in discussion with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform on any measures she might introduce for stay-at-home parents?
I set out a number of measures and supports in my initial reply for stay-at-home parents and that needs to be acknowledged. I have done that because of the value the Government places on parenting and the provision of support by families for children.
I have been asked questions about this year's budget and other measures. I have begun initial discussions with the Minister for Finance but I am in the middle of them and I will not indicate right now all of the measures I am trying to secure. I am committed to provide supports for all families, including those with stay-at-home parents. The child care infrastructure I have set up enables women to have the choice to move into the workforce and have their children cared for. Many women do not have that choice given the current expensive cost of child care. There is potential to improve the measures for stay-at-home parents, particularly in relation to what we have identified as ways of supporting families and children in the upcoming early years strategy. We recently had an open debate about that. I will publish the strategy later.
I take the opportunity to remind the House that we were seven minutes late starting as we did not have a quorum. At one stage it appeared that we would have to suspend the House until 12 noon. Now we have more than enough Members present. I remind Members that one hour and 30 minutes are provided for questions. Whoever is listening to me should learn that we start at 10.30 a.m.
If Deputy Heydon forfeits his 30 seconds for introducing his question, he will get one supplementary question and then we will get to Deputy Brendan Smith's question.