Dáil Éireann - Volume 588 - 08 July, 2004

Written Answers. - Child Care Services.

  61. Mr. Morgan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform his views on the fact that parents in this State pay approximately 20% of their earnings on child care compared to the EU average of 8%; and the measures he intends to introduce to bring the figure for this State in line with the EU average. [17950/04]

  Mr. McDowell:I am assuming that the figures referred to by the Deputy in his question are from a report published in 1998 by the European observatory on national family policies called A Synthesis of National Family Policies 1996. Since the publication of that report, the Government has funded a wide range of initiatives in order to develop and increase the number of child care places available in the State and has also increased the amount of child benefit available to all parents.

Child care has been identified as an investment priority under the National Development Plan 2000-2006. This was in direct response to the recommendations of the expert working group on child care which was established under Partnership 2000 to develop a strategy for the development and delivery of child care to support parents in employment, education and training. The report of the expert working group contained a series of recommendations in relation to the development of quality child care services to meet the increasing demand by parents for child care places.

My Department was designated as the lead Department for the development of child care and introduced the Equal Opportunities Child care Programme 2000-2006, EOCP, which provides EU and Exchequer funding and aims, inter alia, to increase the number of centre based child care places by 50% before the end of the programme. Total funding available under the programme exceeds €449 million. The programme provides capital grant assistance to create and enhance new and existing child care facilities; staffing grant assistance to community based and not for profit organisations whose child care services have a strong focus on supporting the child care needs of disadvantaged families and funding for quality improvement.

To date, €218 million in funding has been allocated under the programme to child care facilities, in capital grants to private providers and in capital and staffing support grants for community based and not for profit groups. It is estimated that this will provide for the creation of an estimated 29,000 new child care places and will support over 27,000 existing child care places. I am happy to inform the Deputy that, by the end of [2082] 2003, almost 18,000 additional child care places had come on stream thanks to the support of the EOCP. The Deputy may be aware that the programme target is 28,000 new places by end 2006, so the progress to date is very satisfying.

Government policy in the area of child support aims to provide assistance which will offer real choice to parents and which will benefit all children. In that context, it has been decided that, as a matter of policy, child benefit will be the main fiscal instrument through which support will be provided to parents with dependent children. In addition, unlike tax relief, it provides support to parents irrespective of income status. The monthly rates of child benefit since 1997 have increased by €93.51 at the lower rate and €115.78 at the higher rate, increases of 246% and 234% respectively, compared with inflation of 26.9%. This level of increase is unprecedented and delivers on the Government’s objective of providing support for children generally while offering real choice to all parents. It is hoped that the increases in child benefit in conjunction with the substantial investment in child care under the EOCP will significantly increase the availability of quality child care