Written answers

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Department of Children and Youth Affairs

National Childcare Scheme

Paul McAuliffe (Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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1112. To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the status of parents and guardians who are not in employment, training or studying and that now cannot qualify for the national childcare scheme (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5714/20]

Photo of Katherine ZapponeKatherine Zappone (Dublin South West, Independent)
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The National Childcare Scheme (NCS) opened to online applications on 20 November 2019 and paper based applications became available on 13 March 2020.  To date, over 31,700 applications have been received relating to over 41,100 children.

I am very aware of the concern around transitioning to the new National Childcare Scheme (NCS) and the difficulties involved therein. The NCS is based on the principle of progressive universalism, having regard to the best interests of children and to the needs of the most economically vulnerable. Those with the least income will get the highest subsidy.  Higher subsidies will be awarded to families with younger children, to reflect the higher cost of providing childcare for younger children because of the higher adult-child ratios required by the Early Years Regulations. We will also aim to support education, training and employment as routes out of poverty.

The intention behind the ‘savers’ provision for the legacy schemes you mention was to ensure that no one would lose out in the initial transition to the Scheme, so families could remain on their current entitlements until they were no longer eligible or until they no longer required childcare.

By replacing the legacy schemes, including CCS/P, the NCS will increase the number of families who can avail of subsidised childcare, and remove many of the restrictive eligibility requirements of the existing support programmes, whereby a parent must be in receipt of certain Social Protection payments or a Medical Card in order to receive targeted supports. In this way, it aims to combat the poverty traps which may exist within the existing schemes, and to appropriately incentivise employment and education / training for parents. 

Under Budget 2020, I negotiated additional funding to further enhance the NCS. The maximum number of subsidised hours available under the Scheme will increase from September 2020. Enhanced awards (for parents who are working, studying or training) will increase from 40 to 45 hours per week, and standard awards (for parents who are not working, studying or training) will increase from 15 to 20 hours per week. These measures are targeted at supporting children whose parents are not in work or study, and also working families needing school age childcare. They also respond to concerns expressed by one parent groups.

I would finally note that my Department will be continually monitoring the scheme and will examine any adjustments which might be required to address unusual or anomalous cases, where this is the right thing to do to protect and benefit lower income parents.  In this regard, it should be emphasised that the NCS has been designed to be flexible, with income thresholds, maximum hours and subsidy rates which can be adjusted in line with Government decisions and as more investment becomes available.  As such, any adjustments deemed necessary by Government can be carried out in a quick and responsive manner.

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