Written answers

Thursday, 2 December 2021

Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth

Childcare Services

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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142. To ask the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the extent to which he can prioritise for funding the childcare sector given the pressure generated by the Covid-19 crisis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [59735/21]

Photo of Roderic O'GormanRoderic O'Gorman (Dublin West, Green Party)
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Since the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic, a range of financial and other supports have been available to the Early Learning and Care (ELC) and School-Age Childcare (SAC) sector to support their operations and the provision of services to children and families. 

Since August 2020, registered ELC and SAC employers have been eligible to access the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) without having to demonstrate the 30% reduction in turnover required of other employers.  EWSS has been a key component of the Government’s response to the Covid-19 crisis.  It is an economy-wide scheme that operates across all sectors. The special arrangement for registered ELC and SAC services to be exempted from the turnover test has made substantial financial supports available to the sector since August 2020.

For over a year, between October 2020 and November 2021, the EWSS has been paid at enhanced rates. This amounts to an investment of €34 million per month in the sector and is estimated to cover, on average, 80% staff costs and 50% operating costs. 

The EWSS is due to revert to standard rates between December 2021 and February 2022.  This amounts to an investment of €22 million per month in the sector and is estimated to cover, on average, 50% staff costs and 38% operating costs.

For March and April 2022 a new flat rate for the EWSS (€100) will apply.  This amounts to an investment of €11 million per month in the sector and is estimated to cover, on average, 25% staff costs and 11% operating costs. 

With the additional cost of play-pods and other public health measures estimated to be €12 million per month, the EWSS at enhanced and standard rates exceeds what is required by the sector to adhere to public health guidance. The EWSS at flat rates is just marginally below the cost of play-pods.  

My Department also oversees a Case Management process through which support can be provided to ELC and SAC services experiencing difficulties. Pobal co-ordinate the overall case management process with the City and County Childcare Committees (CCC) administering on-the-ground case management assistance. This includes specialised advice and support appropriate to individual circumstances. 

Financial supports may also be accessed through the Case Management process for services presenting with sustainability issues following a financial assessment by Pobal.  The Covid-19 Impact Support funding strand is available to both Community and Private services.   The CCC is the first point of contact for any service in difficulty and seeking support.

In addition to the significant attention that has been afforded to the development and implementation of financial and other supports in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, an ambitious programme of reform and development has also been underway in my Department.

In particular in relation to funding for the ELC and SAC sector which the Deputy references, a major initiative has been undertaken by my Department to review the current funding model, its effectiveness in delivering quality, affordable, sustainable and inclusive services and consider how additional resourcing can best be structured in order to achieve these objectives. 

An independently-chaired Expert Group has led this work.  The Group has recently finalised its report and recommendations for a new funding model for the sector.  They have presented to me and the report will shortly be considered by Government.  

In advance of the 2022 Estimates process, I met with the Chair of the Group and was briefed on its progress which allowed for the emerging recommendations to significantly inform Budget 2022. 

Budget 2022 provides for an significant additional allocation for the ELC and SAC sector next year and introduces a ground-breaking package of measures designed to deliver quality for children, affordability for parents, stability for providers, and support employers to improve pay and conditions for staff. 

An additional €78m in ELC and SAC funding brings the total investment in the sector to €716m next year.

The increase in funding will allow for enhancements to the National Childcare Scheme; the introduction of a new Core Funding stream in September 2022 to support providers cover increased operating costs linked to quality improvement measures; and a Transition Fund to be made available to providers in advance of the introduction of Core Funding.

An allocation of €69 million (equivalent to €207 for a full year) is being made for Core Funding.  Up to €37 million will be available for the Transition Funding between May to August 2022.

This additional funding and new developments constitute a significant and strategic new approach to funding the sector in the longer term to support quality, affordability, inclusion and sustainability.


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