Omission of childcare in Draft Budget 2022-25 fails children, parents, the childcare sector and employers
In December 2021, Finance Minister Conor Murphy announced a public consultation on the Draft Budget 2022-25, setting out the Executive’s proposed spending plans for the next three years. However, the subsequent collapse of the Executive means it is no longer possible to deliver the Budget in this mandate.
This is deeply frustrating and we are calling on all parties to come together after the election, whatever the outcome, to form an Executive, appoint Ministers and get on with the business that people will have elected them to do – making progress on the issues that matter to families, to employers and to all of us. This is more important than ever in the midst of a cost of living crisis that looks set to worsen over the coming year, with a significant increase projected in the number of people living in extreme poverty.
Despite the consultation on the Draft Budget having been paused, we have published our response (available here) to inform the work of a new Executive. We would also urge everyone to raise these issues with politicians in the run up to the Assembly election in May.
Failure to allocate funding for childcare sector or new Childcare Strategy
The Draft Budget 2022-25’s failure to make any specific budget allocation to support the development and implementation of a long-overdue Childcare Strategy is of deep concern for a sector that is already under extreme strain.
This is a critical oversight, that will impact negatively on children, parents, childcare providers and employers – as well as hampering the Executive’s ability to deliver on its key priorities including sustainable economic development and tackling inequalities.
It does an immense disservice to a childcare sector that stepped up and delivered during the Covid-19 pandemic, opening their homes and businesses to the children of key workers when everyone else was staying home to stay safe. This is a sector that is facing unprecedented challenges, with the cost of operating a childcare setting having never been higher. It is also deeply concerning for already hard-pressed families, who are struggling with rising costs across the board.
Covid-19 has exacerbated challenges for childcare and increased the strain on a sector that was already struggling. In the absence of Government investment in the sector through a fully costed and resourced Childcare Strategy, and ongoing support for the sector in the interim, the risks are clear:
- A significant increase in fees for parents, or the closure of settings, as childcare providers will be otherwise unable to cover their increased outgoings without operating at a loss.
- Parents unable to access the childcare they need in order to work, impacting negatively on our economic recovery from Covid-19 and on the capacity of our key services.
- An increase in levels of household and child poverty, with a prolonged negative impact on the social and educational development of our children.
A new multi-year Budget, which needs to be a day one priority for a newly established Executive following the election, must recognise the Childcare Strategy as both critically important and urgent, and allocate resources accordingly.
Our response to the Draft Budget 2022-25 consultation, available to download here makes two specific, evidence-based recommendations:
- Allocate substantial multi-year funding for the development and implementation of a Childcare Strategy and
- Continue emergency support for the childcare sector beyond March 2022 as part of the long-term recovery from Covid-19, and to assist in avoiding increased costs for parents, as we await a Childcare Strategy.
We appreciate the significant budgetary pressures that will be faced by the new Executive but channelling funding into an unreformed health system should not be at the expense of investments that will improve economic, health and other societal outcomes across our population for years to come.
Marie Marin, Chief Executive of Employers For Childcare urged a new Executive to address the absence of funding for childcare in the Draft Budget as a day one priority:
“The Covid-19 pandemic has helped shift understanding of how critical childcare is to children, families and the economy as a whole. Parents and childcare providers were promised a new Childcare Strategy under New Decade, New Approach, and we have been campaigning for this for well over a decade. Yet here we are, more than 20 years since the last full Childcare Strategy for Northern Ireland was published, and another generation of children has aged out of childcare without benefiting from an ambitious Childcare Strategy. This is not good enough for them, for their families or for our society as a whole.
A new Executive must commit to funding the work that is underway on a new – and long overdue – Childcare Strategy. Given the guaranteed return on such an investment, and the benefits it will bring in both the short and long term, neither we – nor the families, childcare providers and employers who we work with – believe this is too much to ask.”