Belfast Telegraph

Free childcare among package of sweeteners for young parents

The Government has used its final Budget to woo young parents who were among the worst hit by the Republic's punishing economic crash.

Ahead of an imminent general election, the coalition unveiled a health, education and welfare spending package aimed at struggling families.

Key among the reforms is free childcare for children from three years of age until they are five and a half, or until they start primary school.

Parents of toddlers have been saddled for years in many parts of the country with creche fees the equivalent of paying an extra mortgage.

Young parents who bought starter homes at the height of the boom which halved in value and were soon outgrown by their new family also took the brunt of the property crash.

In another sweetener, Child Benefit payments are to go up by five euro from next year, to 140 euro per month for every child.

And 12 years after nearest neighbour the UK introduced two weeks statutory paternity leave, the coalition has announced similar measures.

If legislation is passed, the fathers' leave will take effect from next September, the Government said.

In the meantime, the UK has brought into shared parental leave of up to 50 weeks.

Another flagship promise towards young families in the Budget is the extension of free GP care.

Currently only available to under 6s (and over 70s), the coalition said it wants to extend the scheme to all children under 12 years.

However, the proposal will be "subject to successful negotiation with doctors representatives," admitted Public Spending Minister Brendan Howlin.

Funding is also being earmarked for therapeutic services for children, particularly for speech and language therapy.

The threshold for the Family Income Supplement is set to increase by five euro per week for families with one child and by 10 euro per week for families with two or more children.

More modest commitments include three million euro towards after school services in school buildings.

The Government claims changes to the much-despised Universal Social Charge, a tax brought in when the country's finances nosedived, will save families hundreds of euro a year.


From Belfast Telegraph