Childcare plan will ‘benefit squeezed middle’

Katherine Zappone has insisted that childcare support in the forthcoming budget will give a boost to both low and middle income families.

Katherine Zappone, children’s minister, denied subsidised childcare would only be offered to low-income families

The children’s minister tabled proposals for a new system of subsidised childcare at a cabinet sub-committee meeting this month. It is intended that the measure to be announced in the October 11 budget will be means tested and rolled out over several years from September 2017.

A figure of €47,000 per couple had been reported as the maximum income for those qualifying, but it was stressed that this was cited as an example and was not the actual level being proposed. The system is intended to be extended to higher earners after the initial rollout.

A number of Fine Gael TDs and interest groups had expressed unease that it would not benefit the “squeezed middle” which was defined by Michael Noonan, the finance minister, during the last government as those earning between €32,800 and €70,000.

Ms Zappone said she was lobbying Paschal Donohoe, the public expenditure minister, for as much money as possible for the scheme. Mr Donohoe has about €600 million of the overall €1 billion available in the budget to spend on boosting public services.

“Minister Donohoe and others in Fine Gael are well aware that my ambition actually is to ensure that all families in the country are supported by the state in some way or another in terms of their childcare, in terms of the needs of their children, in terms of early years learning and in terms of after-school care,” she said.

“The negotiations have been amicable, firm, I think with both of us sharing our commitment to do something significant in relation to childcare, early years learning. It’s ongoing.”

She again stressed that no figures had been finalised, but said that the indicative amount of €47,000 was a reference to net rather than gross income.

“We have identified various thresholds in relation to the papers that my department is talking about. Certainly in terms of the policy paper that went before cabinet, yes €47,500 was a potential threshold at which there would be subsidies for childcare in terms of the scheme beginning.

“That is just a possible and indicative figure and it is also a figure that relates to the net income of household and middle-income earners,” Ms Zappone said.

She added that a policy based on a net figure of about this amount would capture a number of middle-income households.

She denied reports that Fine Gael have been holding separate meetings about the measure without her knowledge.

“I am in very intense and serious negotiations with minister Donohoe. I don’t know where these phantom sources are coming from but it doesn’t reflect at all what was going on.

“What we do in investing in childcare has the potential to make a significant difference in terms of poverty in relation to our children. But that does not mean that we are not also about investing in every child,” she said.