Speaking at the launch of ‘Standing Up For Families’ – Labour’s plan for quality and affordable childcare
As a woman leader, I feel passionately about children’s rights and childcare.
That’s why standing up for children and families is one of my priorities.
Since 2011, Labour in government has done a great deal.
We put the children’s rights amendment to the people in a referendum.
We passed crucial legislation such as the Children and Family Relationships Act (2015).
In the most recent, Budget we took further important steps.
We made provision for a second free pre-school year.
We made provision for paid paternity leave for the first time – I’m delighted to say that this will start in September of this year.
And we increased the Home Carers’ Tax Credit to support those who choose to look after children in the home.
It was particularly important to me that this budget package contained progressive change for mothers both working in the home or in the workplace.
I’m tired of approaches that seek to pit one woman against the other, as if there is a perfect model that every mother, every family, should adopt.
There isn’t: every family is different; their circumstances are different, their needs are different.
But while the steps we have taken to date represent a significant improvement, they are not enough.
Even now, we still face challenges in ensuring that families and children get the support they need.
Childcare in Ireland is still too expensive.
There are still too many parts of the country where services are difficult to come by.
And it remains a big challenge to regulate the quality of the service to ensure that every child is getting the best possible care.
I want to deal with these issues head on.
I want to deal with them because I believe in the words of Maria Montessori:
“To assist a child we must provide him with an environment which will enable him to develop freely.”
I want to take on the challenge because I believe that no woman and no parent should be deterred from working because childcare is too expensive.
So let me tell you what we are going to do.
In next year’s Budget, we will provide a subsidy to service providers so as to cap childcare costs for parents at €4.25 per hour, or €170 per week.
By 2021, we will reduce these costs to no more than €2 per hour.
We will also continue to support existing schemes to support children of low-income families.
We will take measures to plan and provide services in parts of the country where services are not good enough.
We will provide an additional two weeks’ paternity leave and three months’ parental leave which can be shared between both parents.
And we will take a series of steps – set out in our document – to support staff and improve quality.
Our aim is to provide children with seamless progression through childcare, pre-school and school.
Our aim is to ensure that our children get the best possible care, the best possible education and the best possible opportunity to realise their potential in life.
I’m very aware that the seeds of poverty and inequality are often sewn very early in life.
And the cause is very clear – unemployment.
Children in families where nobody is working are very likely to be living in poverty.
That’s why I introduced the Back to Work Family Dividend.
That’s why Labour is committed to increasing Child Benefit and to improving the Family Income Supplement.
But the most important help we can provide is to help parents into work.
And to do that, we need to make childcare easily available and more affordable than it is now.
For many families, the availability of affordable childcare will allow them to make important choices for themselves and thei r children.
It will allow them to decide on the work-life balance which suits them best.
It will allow them a real choice in how they care for their children.
This is good for children and it is good for parents – and especially so for mothers since they are so often the principal carers.
But there are also families – sometimes single parent families – for whom the choice is stark.
It is a choice between having a job that pays and living long-term on social welfare benefits.
For these parents – and again we have to acknowledge that many of them are women – the availability of affordable childcare is a liberation.
For too long in this country, we relied on informal arrangements and a patchy system of childcare which was often too expensive and of suspect quality.
In recent years, we have made some progress in dealing with the challenge of making childcare more affordable and more reliable in terms of quality.
Having driven a strong recovery, we are now in a position to sustain that recovery and use the gains to address such challenges.
I am determined that Labour will give a lead in meeting those challenges and the plan we publish today sets out how we will go about it.