Childcare costs soaring: For a union-led campaign for free childcare

£8,000 a year – that’s the average childcare bill in Northern Ireland. This makes it the largest outgoing cost for over one third of families in Northern Ireland.

£8,000 a year – that’s the average childcare bill in Northern Ireland. This makes it the largest outgoing cost for over one third of families in Northern Ireland.

Women remain adversely affected by high childcare costs, as it’s still predominantly mothers who reduce their hours or leave the workforce to raise their children. This not only impacts their future career progression and pension, it denies women financial freedom and opportunities to fulfil their ambitions.

In the Northern Ireland Childcare Cost Survey 2018, more than half of respondents (52%) had to go without or cut back on other expenses to meet their childcare costs. This rises to 56% of single-parent households. Families are reducing spending on heating, clothes, cutting back on the quality of food they are eating or, in some cases, skipping meals altogether to pay their childcare bill. Increasingly, parents are being forced into debt, with 22% using credit cards to pay for childcare, others relying on loans from families and friends and even pay-day loans. Over half of those children growing up in poverty in Northern Ireland now live in a working household, the outcome of years of austerity, cuts and welfare reform, linked to a lack of free childcare, which have driven many working class people into poverty and have hit working class women especially hard. Rising childcare costs have significantly outstripped rises in wages over the past decade.

Introducing policies such as the 30 hours free childcare for three to four years available in England would go a long way to alleviating some of the hardship and difficulties experienced by working class families. The scheme in England, however, is far from sufficient, as it’s only 38 weeks per year and falls short of what is actually needed. Families in the UK are spending over 30% of their income on childcare, almost three times the OECD average and the highest cost in the Western world as a proportion of income.

The NI executive was already lagging decades behind in developing a childcare strategy before the collapse of the Assembly. We urgently need a complete overhaul of childcare and early years provision in Northern Ireland. This is not just an individual matter for working families, the provision of good quality childcare has the potential to improve social outcomes, especially over the long run, including in educational achievement, employment and preventing crime. We demand free, public, high quality childcare and early years provision. It is time for a real campaign made up of trade unions and activists to fight for change.

by Dagmar Walgraeve

Previous Article

International Women's Day 2019 - The system won’t deliver equality

Next Article

Brexit: Trade unionists must stand for workers’ unity

Related Posts
Read More

Misogyny, sexism & capitalism in the dock

The trial has brought to the fore the prevalence of sexist and misogynistic attitudes that exist in the legal system and society in general. In Northern Ireland, over 94% of all rape trials have resulted in no conviction for the accused. The conviction rates for sexual violence are far lower than for any other crime. In the South only 19% result in convictions and 7% when the case is contested. As Suzanne Breen, one of the few journalists who have covered this trial in a fair manner, put it: “This was a case where it wasn’t always clear who exactly was on trial. Each defendant is rightly allowed their own legal representation. But a 21-year-old woman being cross-examined by four defence barristers over eight days pulls at your heart-strings…The young woman failed to secure the verdict she desired. She did not win, yet she has certainly not lost.”
Read More

Ryanair forced to recognise unions

The victory at Ryanair has the potential to inspire other workers in the struggle against exploitative employers. The fact that such a notoriously anti-union company can be brought to heel by the threat of collective action is a good indication of the power of workplace organisation. Ryanair's approach to workers' rights is hardly unique among employers, and the lesson of this struggle is sure to resonate with other workers who face opposition to their basic rights by similarly exploitative companies.
Read More

Bombardier victory shows workers’ power

The ongoing threat of outsourcing of work at Bombardier and the current redundancies, linked to outsourcing, are a huge challenge to the workforce. However, having led the battle to save jobs and skills, Bombardier workers have shown what they are capable of when united and mobilised and are now in a stronger position to deal with future threats, whether political or from the company.