Employers For Childcare meets Education Minister Paul Givan and Department of Education officials

Today (Thursday 28 March) Employers For Childcare met with Education Minister Paul Givan, his advisors and key officials from the Department of Education to discuss the key issues facing families and the childcare sector in Northern Ireland. This is the most recent in a series of meetings and briefings we have held with Ministers, MLAs, the Education Committee and MPs to ensure that the views of parents, childcare providers and wider stakeholders are front and centre in informing ongoing work. This is based on engagement day and daily with parents right across Northern Ireland, as well as our extensive research and lobbying work over many years. We brought to the Minister powerful evidence based on our own robust childcare research directly with parents and with providers, together with our learning from international best practice and through the constructive engagement of the All Party Group on Early Education and Childcare in recent years.

The meeting was strongly focused on finding constructive solutions to the current childcare affordability crisis, that will make a long-term and meaningful difference to children, parents, the childcare sector, and the wider economy and society.

The Minister began the meeting by reiterating his commitment to investing in childcare as critical early years education and a driver of improving children’s long-term development, as well as key economic infrastructure that supports parental employment. We welcomed the priority that has been given to this issue by him and his Executive colleagues, particularly around the recognition of the role of quality early learning and childcare in giving children the best start in life. We also highlighted that, due to the prominence childcare has rightly received, expectations have been raised with parents and the childcare sector that the delivery of a financial support package will also be a priority.

The Minister restated his commitment both to developing a long-term Early Learning and Childcare Strategy, which would be a key objective of a new Programme for Government, and to delivering interim support to address the immediate affordability crisis facing parents and the sector right now. He stressed that in order to deliver on these commitments, his department would require significant resources which would need the support of the entire Executive.

While we recognise that it will take some time to develop and roll out an appropriate package of interim financial support, we stressed the need for urgency – we know parents and providers have already reached breaking point. The findings of our most recent pulse survey showed that 73% of childcare providers have either already raised their fees this year, or plan to do so before June – with an average increase of 14%. We emphasised the need for parents and the childcare sector to have a clear timeline for when they can expect to see support delivered.

In terms of progress towards this, the Minister shared details of the extensive work that is taking place at present, including the establishment of a cross-departmental ‘task and finish’ group, which is nearing completion. He restated his commitment to working positively and constructively with a wide range of stakeholders, in order to address the complex issues, that go beyond affordability alone, to also deliver a solution that provides a level of sustainability within the childcare sector and delivers the high-quality childcare that parents value and which supports children’s long-term development.

The discussion centred around how a package of interim support could be delivered in practice to reduce childcare fees to parents, while also supporting the sustainability of the childcare sector. It also focused on our proposed model for phasing in a universal childcare subsidy, which puts tackling disadvantage at its centre through delivering high quality, affordable childcare, while also rebalancing how childcare is paid for, recognising it as a key element of our public infrastructure.


Commenting on the meeting, Employers For Childcare Chief Executive, Marie Marin, said: “I am pleased that Employers For Childcare has had a positive first meeting with the new Minister and his team, and we very much welcome the priority that is being given to tackling this issue, at the highest level. We know the Minister has a thorough understanding of the issues facing families and childcare providers and his team are working towards both the delivery of a package of interim support, as well as the long-term Early Learning and Childcare Strategy. We will continue to press for urgent progress and look forward to further constructive engagement on these issues as work continues to find – and critically, to implement – a solution that works for children, parents, the childcare sector and our wider economy and society”.