Originally published on .www.nannyvillage.ie Original article available here
With a general election looming on the horizon, the odd kite has been spotted over Leinster House in recent weeks and months. One that has reoccurred in party talks, pre-budget plans and proposals is that of childcare.
Childcare was hit hard in budgets following the recession, leaving many parents of young children in quandary about whether to go back to work or to stay at home. The removal of the tax back scheme for childcare costs in particular, hit young working families the hardest. Full time childcare fees in some cases being more than the mortgage repayments, made going back to work a non-option for many. Targeted grants such as the book grant and back allowance were also sorely missed when they were reduced or the income threshold changed.
Coupled with increases in tax, the introduction of the universal social charge and increasing petrol and transport costs, I was one of the people who decided to stay at home. But being part of the demographic that carries most of the tax burden, I began to wonder why the government weren’t taking more action to ensure that I stayed within the tax net. Surely these policies were going to lead to a decline in the potential tax take, not to mention a drop in employment rates for those in the childcare sector.
Indeed, recent proposals for a new strategy on encouraging women back to work after their children have started school have focused on retraining. Yes, thank you, I really need to retrain after my eight years in university spent perfecting my craft. I don’t at all need flexible working arrangements, tax relief on after school care or in fact, community based after school care. Retraining isn’t the reason that I am not working, the cost of childcare is. The government is not only failing to listen to its people, it is failing to join the policy dots together.
It has been interesting to note the proposals that have been floated, an extra year of pre-school education, extended parental leave and a rise in child benefit, all carry benefits of course, however there isn’t one strategic policy approach, poverty relief, early education that is guiding any of these policies. They are populist in nature designed for vote buying, but parents are jaded after seven years of austerity. They aren’t going to buy any old nonsense.
There is no doubt that there will be something in the upcoming budget for parents, but what is really needed is to reinstate the tax reliefs and grants that were in place before the recession, and to link them with engagement strategies with women who would like to return to work. I for one would like to see any future childcare policy tied firmly into a wider strategic policy, a meaningful attempt to improve the lives of families in Ireland. This is not just a walk in the park, kite flying aloft. It is an opportunity to develop policy that will make a long term sustainable difference, and not just allude to it.