Irish childcare fees are amongst the highest in the world forcing many women out of work and leaving others stuck in a cycle of “in-work-poverty”.
Two income families, lone parents, families with special needs – regardless of the family structure, rising rental costs coupled with childcare fees means a precarious financial situation for many that is difficult to see a way out of.
Sarah* is a highly trained professional living in Cavan. She works full time and also takes private clients on weekends to earn extra money. Sarah’s high wages put her in the 40% tax bracket and yet she describes herself as “a hamster on a wheel right now living for some future date when it gets easier.”
Despite earning a healthy wage Sarah’s childcare costs mean Sarah and her children live “on the breadline”.
“I earn a “good salary” so I am over the cut off for any type of assistance but it also means I can’t actually pay my bills. Last month my bank was refusing standing orders the day after pay day because my outgoings are that high.”
Sarah does not receive any maintenance from her children’s father and is in the midst of a lengthy court battle over custody. “I’m not entitled to legal aid and he is, so it’s €400/€500 hundred every day in court.”
Sarah earns too much to qualify for a medical card. She has private health insurance but says things are so tight that she will need to give it up shortly as she can’t afford it. She says 60% of her monthly income is spent on rent and childcare. Car costs are exceptionally high and because of how much commuting Sarah does she cannot be without a one.
Sarah is one of the “working poor”. Her high wages place her in the middle class bracket yet she describes her quality of life as, “really low”
Last year Sarah was hospitalised because of an infection. “I had to check myself out of the hospital against medical advice because I had no childcare. I didn’t get any sick pay for the six weeks I was off work and I wasn’t entitled to state sick pay.”
Owning her own house is the dream but that none of the banks will lend to her, “because my child care costs are deemed too big or a liability.”
Sarah is one of the “working poor”. Her high wages place her in the middle class bracket yet she describes her quality of life as, “really low”.
“Things I used to enjoy and engage in for my mental health like exercise, I can’t do now because I’m parenting alone and every time I leave the house I need to pay a babysitter. I constantly wonder if I would be better off not working. I would be less stressed and would see my kids at least.”
Minister Catherine Zappone recently announced a new affordable childcare scheme allowing for a maximum payment of €145 a week for a child in full-time care. This payment will no doubt ease the burden for some families but still leaves many families struggling to make ends meet.
I regularly see great initiatives for people living in disadvantaged communities which is brilliant but then there’s those parents who don’t get subsidised meals, childcare, books, clothing, fuel allowances.
Sarah’s experience is not unique. Anita Ghafoor-Butt lives in Dublin and returned to work in 2009. At that time she had three small children and was paying €1200 a month in childcare fees for her youngest child, plus €600 a month to an aupair along with €1150 a month rent. Anita says that she had no help from the state and she was living on a tiny amount of money, despite earning a good wage.
“Absolutely no provisions are available for working mums. I regularly see great initiatives for people living in disadvantaged communities which is brilliant but then there’s those parents who don’t get subsidised meals, childcare, books, clothing, fuel allowances. The government need to recognise that women especially need extra support to maintain not only their families, but careers too.”
Unable to afford meat or fresh food Anita and her children lived off, “pasta, lentils, dry food… I can see why so many women don’t even start this journey.”
Anita describes this period of her life as, “heart breaking.” She says that while her kids are now older and she doesn’t have to pay so much in childcare the extra money she saved now goes on outlandish Dublin rents – Anita’s rent has recently increased to €2089 a month.
“I don’t have childcare costs now but the kids fit into bigger clothes and eat more. In some ways things have improved but not in financial terms. I’m still maintaining the four of us on one salary. We are just more savvy with our budgets!”
Food vouchers, working family tax credits, flexible statutory working so we can be mums and still contribute to the economy would really help.
Siobhan and her husband have four children. Despite wanting to work, Siobhan feels the cost of childcare is prohibiting her from doing so as creche fees would eat up most of her wages.
“For my 3 year old it would cost €115 per week. After school is €7 per hour per child so for the 5 year old it would be €140pw. The 9 year old is €105 per week. In total that’s €360 per week.”
Aside from the high price of creche fees Siobhan said they are not ideal for her family as one of her children has Autism Spectrum Disorder and would struggle at a creche. Siobhan said a private childminder coming to her house would suit her family better.
Siobhan was a clerical officer in the civil service when she gave up work in 2016. “My net pay was €424 per week with no scope to earn higher. Now, if I got a job I would have minimum wage or just above & it wouldn’t be worthwhile for me to work.”
“Our rent is €650 per month. Then bills & car insurance & food. Support which would be ideal for me is government childcare.”
Siobhan says that she would love to upskill but would need childcare to cover her time away studying so she is stuck at home looking after her children out of economic necessity rather than free will. Siobhan says she wishes the government would look at ways to support stay at home parents who want to continue education.
“Educational opportunities that are solely online & free to refresh or change career direction so that the mother is up to date in the area she wants to work in.”
The scheme does not allow for private childminders so Siobhan would be forced to place her child in a child care facility knowing it would cause stress to him.
Sarah, Anita and Siobhan would all like to see affordable or subsidised childcare and a better range of supports in place to support working parents.
Anita says Ireland should also offer, “food vouchers, working family tax credits, flexible statutory working so we can be mums and still contribute to the economy would really help.”
It is heartening to see some movement being made towards making childcare a bit more affordable however the eligibility criteria of the latest scheme still leaves a lot of families in precarious financial situations. If Sarah and Anita had partners who worked as well they would be living comfortable middle-class lives. They are accomplished, educated professionals excelling in their fields but because they are lone parents they have extra pressures and financial burdens.
In two-parent households women like Siobhan can find themselves stuck in a life not of their choosing. Siobhan’s educational and professional options are severely restricted by the lack of affordable childcare and supports. Siobhan would be eligible for the new affordable childcare scheme however the scheme does not allow for private childminders so Siobhan would be forced to place her child in a child care facility knowing it would cause stress to him. She said she is disappointed by the lack of flexibility in the new scheme.
The people most affected by childcare costs in Ireland are women. We’ve recently seen a feminist uprising in Ireland, showing the power of women united for a common cause. Hopefully attention will soon turn to women like Siobhan, Anita and Sarah and the thousands like them. Until then, as Anita said, “Women in our family just get on with it”.
Other articles in this series: In-Work Poverty: How Lone Parents are Being Forced Out of the Workplace
About the Author
Taryn de Vere is a writer, a colourful fashion activist and a mother of 5.