A debate on the rising cost of childcare in Northern Ireland is to be held in the Stormont Assembly following a motion put forward by the political party Sinn Féin. The motion asks for the government to invest in affordable childcare as a priority, in recognition of the fact that childcare costs are often unaffordable, and calls for immediate support for the sector. Currently, there is no free childcare available in Northern Ireland, and a lack of investment in the sector has led to many nurseries closing down due to financial pressure and staff recruitment issues.
Aoife Hamilton from Employers for Childcare, a group that represents umbrella childcare organisations, has stated that the current situation is a “crisis point” that affects everyone, not just those with young children. “If [parents] can’t get to work, this is a major issue for our economy but also for all of the sectors that we know will be priorities for the new executive – health, education, infrastructure,” Hamilton said.
Alliance MLA Kate Nicholl has supported the Sinn Féin motion, stating that it is essential to invest in the sector even though it may be an expensive undertaking. According to Nicholl, the rise in prices of daycare offerings in April will have devastating effects on parents, but the cost of not investing in childcare would be even more critical for society as a whole.
The situation in Northern Ireland is in stark contrast to the likes of England, where many three- and four-year-olds are eligible for 30 hours of free childcare per week during term time. As childcare is a devolved matter, it is up to Stormont to make decisions regarding the issue of cost. Education Minister Paul Givan has pledged to invest significantly in the sector in recognition of its importance to children and families, stating that he hopes the executive will follow through on promises made
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