Economy Minister recognises importance of childcare to Northern Ireland economy

Economy Minister Conor Murphy, MLA, addressing the Assembly on Monday 19 February 2024, set out his vision for the future of the Northern Ireland economy, and recognised the key role of childcare in underpinning future economic growth.

The Minister identified the economic challenges facing Northern Ireland, principally low employment, low productivity and regional imbalances and identified the opportunities presented by devolution in tackling some of these challenges. He set out four key objectives as part of a new Economic Mission. Under the first of these ‘increase the proportion of working age people in Good Jobs’ the Minister identified that investing in affordable childcare and fair pay for childcare workers was a key component of achieving this. Other economic objectives were around promoting regional balance, raising productivity and reducing carbon emissions.

Addressing childcare as a labour market and economic issue

Employers For Childcare welcomes this focus from the new Economy Minister on childcare as we have long been campaigning for it to be recognised as a key part of our economic infrastructure, that supports people to work and underpins economic growth. Northern Ireland has historically high levels of economic inactivity, and being able to unlock a significant section of the labour market (parents, predominantly mothers, who wish to work but are unable to afford the childcare they need to do so), has the potential to have a positive impact on our economy.

It was also encouraging for the Minister to recognise, in response to a question from Kate Nicholl, MLA, the vital role that those working in our childcare sector play in our economy, by providing the childcare that enables parents, who make up more than 40% of the workforce in Northern Ireland, to go to work. He reiterated that investing in childcare was a key priority for the Executive and that the new Early Learning and Childcare Strategy must include support for the sector and those who work in it, if it is to be effective.

The Minister’s full statement to the Assembly can be found here.