People Before Profit recognises the importance of children’s early care, education and development. We are also fully committed to an equality agenda that provides women with the option to return to work after having children. These values underpin our policy on Early Childhood Care and Education, which advocates children having access to early care, education and after-school services as a fundamental human right. All children have the right to education from birth under Article 28 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. This is linked to the maximum development of their capacities under Article 6 (2) of the same Convention. It is crucial that any policy addressing the needs of children should place the rights of children and their families at the forefront, rather than pursuing narrow economic considerations. At the very least, this means providing parents with proper subsidies to private facilities, but People Before Profit ultimately wants to move to a publicly funded National Childcare System.
At present, early childhood education and care services are generally delivered outside the formal education system, by a wide range of private, community and voluntary interests that include crèches, nurseries, pre-schools, playgroups and day-care services. Three quarters of these services are run for profit in the private sector with 27% operating as community-based services. Government investment in these services comes largely from the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, and although it has increased in recent years it remains radically insufficient.
Ireland has a young and changing population. A European Commission Report in 2014 found that 9.6% of Ireland’s population is under 6 years compared with a European average of 6.3%. Ireland is becoming increasingly culturally and religiously diverse, moreover, with about 12% of the population having a non-Irish background. Almost 40% of four-year-olds and nearly all five-year-olds are enrolled in infant classes in primary schools (sometimes called national schools). But pre-school care is too sporadic and too expensive. According to the OECD ‘Education at a Glance 2017’ report, Irish expenditure on early year’s education amounts to just 1/8th of the OECD average. This has been backed up by the EU Social Justice Index 2017 which found that Ireland ranks lowest amongst 28 EU countries for investment in pre-primary education. This has the effect of forcing the costs of childcare onto workers and parents. Average wages in the sector are just €11.12 an hour and yet the cost of childcare for an individual child is anywhere from €800-€1400 a month depending on location.
This not only makes Irish childcare the second most expensive in Europe, it also means that many providers are cutting corners in a bid to make profits. The 2019 scandal in Hyde and Seek shows the incompatibility of childcare and the profit motive. If we want happy, healthy and developmentally successful children we need proper state led investment in pre-school children immediately. The Early Childhood Ireland’s Childcare Barometer shows that 65% of the Irish public think that childcare, like primary education should be free. To achieve this, People Before Profit recommend the following.