Views of other national and international bodies
Various other national and international bodies have issued reports and submissions on childcare. These have included, among others, the National Women’s Council of Ireland, the National Economic and Social Forum (NESF), the Chambers of Commerce of Ireland and the OECD.
The OECD has pointed out that “maternal labour force withdrawal, even if not permanent, involves considerable (opportunity) costs for the society as a whole” (2003, p. 119). As demographic trends are showing a decline in birth rates, the OECD advocates policies that reduce the “indirect costs for mothers to work by offering affordable quality childcare, regular part-time employment opportunities and, generally, making the labour market more inclusive” (Ibid., p. 120).
In a comparative study of childcare in Ireland, Japan and Austria, the OECD (2003) confirmed that childcare was more costly in Ireland than in either of the other two countries, in fact it was twice as high (p. 181). Not only that, but Irish childcare costs were found not to be income related, as they were in Austria and Japan. Even more worrying was the fact that for a lone parent with average earnings living in Dublin “the cost of childcare for one child was equivalent to 30% of after-tax net income, and it would be another 30% for a second child” (OECD, 2003, p. 148). Thus they pointed out that “childcare costs can be a barrier to work in Ireland” (Ibid.).
This has particular implications for women, as the National Women’s Council of Ireland (2001) pointed out, citing the Expert Working Group on Childcare (1999): “the availability and cost of childcare and the difficulties around reconciling employment and family lives are the most significant barriers to women accessing and participating in the labour force” (NWCI, 2001, p. 15).
The situation described earlier has particular implications for single parents since a very high proportion of single parents in Ireland are not employed (OECD, 2003, p. 188). Lone parents have particular constraints because they have less time available due to lack of support from a partner. They are also at relatively high risk of poverty because of low educational levels together with low employment rates (Ibid., p. 192). For most lone parents, social welfare is their principal or only source of income. For those who work part-time, there is a risk that beneficiaries “become content with an intermediate position, combining some benefit and some earnings on a long term basis” (Ibid., p. 196). Unless such women are helped out of this poverty trap, the cycle of poverty is likely to be perpetuated into the next generation. Unemployment is still high in this group, with just 58% working, the lowest in the eurozone (Irish Times, 2019).
The OECD concluded that “there is a need for earlier intervention in Ireland of a more active nature towards OPFP (One Parent Family Payment) - clients with very young children, including childcare support, while for the existing long-term clientele comprehensive measures to upgrade skills are likely to he necessary” (OECD, 2003, p. 199). They further pointed out that “while the Irish tax/ benefit system largely supports the work/care choice, this is countered by expensive childcare for those without access to other arrangements, to the extent that it may not be financially worthwhile for second earners to work” (Ibid., p. 200). This will act as a deterrent to further maternal employment, as informal modes of childcare become less and less available. Thus, women with young children, both lone parents and those in relationships, are vulnerable to social exclusion from the labour market because of the lack of affordable childcare.
This also has implications for businesses. According to Tom Clarke, president of Chambers of Commerce of Ireland (2003),
A glaring anomaly currently exists in the economy. On the one hand, businesses, particularly SMEs, are coming under increased pressure to source suitable staff from a rapidly vanishing pool of available labour. Yet, on the other hand, women in particular are being blocked from entering the labour force due to the lack of accessible and affordable quality childcare.
While this quote was from some time ago, the analysis is still relevant since the accessibility and affordability of childcare are still important current issues, as will be further discussed later.
Another national body, the National Economic and Social Forum, added its voice to this national social debate in its report entitled Early Childhood Care and Education (NESF, 2005). It began by asking why there should be a need for another report on childcare, given that a sequence of major reports preceded it. Their answer was: “the very inadequate implementation of policy which has occurred and the very insufficient financial investment in the education and care of our younger citizens” (p. ix).
In spite of the concern expressed by numerous national and international bodies, the National Women’s Strategy, issued by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform (2007) two years after the publication of the NESF report, was rather vague about childcare. It stated that “the availability of quality and affordable childcare . . . has long been cited as a key element to support working mothers and those mothers who wish to undertake retraining to enable them to re-enter the labour market.” It also listed as Objective 5-A: “To ensure that childcare services are optimal to meet the needs of parent and child alike.” However, there was no mention of provision of childcare in the entire strategy.