New FG childcare proposal means stay-at-home parents lose out again

The hopes of stay-at-home parents to get the support and recognition they deserve were again dashed as new Fine Gael childcare proposals aim to help working parents who employ childminders, but not parents who give up work to mind their own children themselves. This is despite opinion polls showing a big majority of voters believes all parents should receive the same support for their child-care options.

The proposal from Fine Gael TDs Kate O’Connell and Maria Bailey is specifically for working parents who use professional childminders to take care of their kids. The mechanism involved requires that parents formally hire the childminder as a legal employee, guaranteeing them a minimum wage and PSRI contributions. The parents of the child will then receive a tax credit through their own employer.

While this marks a change from the policies championed by the Minister for Children, Katherine Zappone, who has introduced significant funding for the use of creche facilities, from a deeper perspective, it marks no change at all.

At its core, childcare policy can go in any of three directions: child-based, parent-based, or market based. The first would promote childcare options that are best for children; the second would support parents in whatever they would choose (and who knows better than parents what suits their own children and family-situation best?), while the third is intent on providing workers for the marketplace. Minister Zappone claimed she was doing all three, although in truth her proposals fell mostly on the side of the market. The reason for this is that there is scant evidence that children do best in creche facilities (see note below), and, in fact, there is growing evidence that young children in particular do best being minded by a parent or close relative. Minister Zappone liked to say she was facilitating women’s choices, although she was only facilitating one particular choice: the choice of those women who wanted to work outside the home. Hence, while she presented her proposals as a feminist promotion of women, in reality she was championing the market place.

Likewise, the latest proposals from Deputies O’Connell and Bailey are also explicitly aimed at keeping women in or returning women to work in the market place. The only difference is that the means of doing this is by facilitating the use of a childminder rather than a creche.

Indeed, responding to the latest proposals, Catherine Walsh of the Stay-at-Home-Parents Association Ireland told the Daily Mail, “I feel the Government don’t really want to help stay-at-home mothers like myself. They want us to be in the workplace. They want market labour activation.”

Deputies Bailey and O’Connell told Pat Kenny on Newstalk that this new proposal is about “giving ownership to parents as to who minds their children” and added that “parents are best placed to make these decision”. However, their plan does the opposite, by once more overlooking stay-at-home parents in favour of those who work outside the home.

(Note: Please see here for more information on public attitudes to child-care and on two ESRI studies showing that there are no significant benefits to placing children in day-care).