Tuesday, 6 July 2021
Ceisteanna - Questions (Resumed) - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
Early Childhood Care and Education
50. To ask the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth when he expects the survey on income and costs for the childcare sector being compiled by Pobal to be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36208/21]
This is quite similar to the previous question. Some of the points have probably been raised. The question relates to the survey on the childcare sector that is being compiled by Pobal. When will that be published? Is there an update?
The deadline for responses to the income and costs survey and the annual early years sector profile survey was 30 June. This date was extended from the original deadline in response to requests from providers, and in order to facilitate improved response rates. A significant amount of data has been collected through both surveys. These data will now be prepared for analysis. This involves a number of steps to clean and organise the data before they can be analysed, written up and reported on. Due to the volume and complexity of the data, these steps will take several months. I expect that the findings of the annual early years sector profile survey will be published in quarter 4 of this year followed by the publication of findings from the income and cost survey in early 2022.
This year's income and cost survey will help us to understand the nature of the additional costs that arise in delivering early learning and childcare in accordance with Covid-19 public health guidance. The survey will also help us consider the best means of supporting the sector as we move beyond Covid. The survey allows us to update the hourly unit costs of delivering services. It gives us valuable information on the costs of different types of service and updated assessments on the breakdown of providers' operating costs across services.
The data collected in this year's income and costs survey build on a previous survey undertaken in 2018 as part of the independent review of the cost of delivering quality early learning and childcare in Ireland. The findings of that review, published in November 2020, underpin the substantial Covid-19 supports secured for the sector, including the exemption to the employment wage subsidy scheme turnover rule. The findings of that review are informing work under way to develop a new funding model for the sector. Following the launch of the independent review in November, I requested additional data analysis to be undertaken to better understand profit in the sector and which services make significant profits. That analysis is almost complete and I hope to publish the findings shortly.
A number of reviews are ongoing. When does the Minister expect that this will filter down to the sector? A lot seems to be due at the end of this year. Does he imagine some of this will be implemented early next year?
In the context of this and the previous question, the workforce in the sector is primarily made up of women. Time and time again, we see that sectors dominated by women have inferior terms and conditions and lower wages.
Pobal launched its annual early years sector profile. It seemed to find that childcare fees are going up. Yet, in reply to Deputy Tully, the Minister said fees should not be going up. Is there something that needs to be looked at in that regard?
I take the Deputy's point on the gendered nature of the workforce. We passed the Gender Pay Gap Information Bill in Seanad Éireann last night. That Bill constitutes a significant step forward. It will provide us with the raw data about something we know already, namely, the fact that women do not receive the same pay as men for work of the same value. We need to address that as a Government and a society.
I will look at the data and information I already have in terms of my Department's ask in 2022. I hope to be in a position to implement some of these changes next year. This is a big change across childcare. It will not happen in one budget; it will be rolled out across a number of budgets. I hope to be in the position to do something in the budget but that is in the context of future negotiations.
I hope there will be something in the budget because I noticed that the early years childcare sector was very much forgotten in last year's budget, particularly those who work in it. I would welcome moves to include it. I do not think anyone expects all this to be done overnight or in one go but if the Minister wants the trust of the sector, he has to show he is doing something. It would be welcome to have some moves in this budget.
The fees are so high in many areas, probably particularly in Dublin, but everywhere, including my constituency of Carlow-Kilkenny, they are going up. This is an issue. I tend to focus on the impact on women but I do not make an apology for that. There are not enough of us in here and we need to make sure our voices are heard. Women often get affected by the fact they cannot get childcare or they go back part-time, effecting career opportunities, pension and all those things.
We discussed our investment in childcare last year. The budget line that comes directly from my Department did not change. We have had enormous investment into the early years sector, however, initially in the specific scheme designed for that sector and, since November of last year, in the employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS. We have had millions every month going into the childcare sector. It has kept services open, even though the pod system means the staff-child ratio has had to be increased. I know from talking to childcare providers that they recognise it has kept their service open, enabled them to meet the public health requirements for pods and to take on more staff, such as, maybe, a floating member of staff to give additional support to children. If we say the budget line in my Department did not change, it is important to note a huge amount of investment came from the Exchequer in terms of the EWSS.