New childcare subsidy could save working parents £8,000 per year

Paul Givan has announced a package of measures that will be welcome news for a range of people that spoke out as part of a major IR investigation into childcare costs last month. <i>(Image: John McVitty.)</i>
Paul Givan has announced a package of measures that will be welcome news for a range of people that spoke out as part of a major IR investigation into childcare costs last month. (Image: John McVitty.)

A NEW childcare scheme will save parents with two children in full-time childcare around  £8,000 a year, according to Education Minister, Paul Givan.

The scheme will be offered to working parents in NI as part of a £25m package of measures, which was yesterday (Thursday) announced the Minister.

The new investment also includes a plan to provide all children in the region with a minimum of 22.5 hours a week of funded pre-school education in the year prior to going to primary school.

At present, only 40 per cent of children in Northern Ireland receive 22.5 hours of pre-school education, with the rest availing of 12.5 hours of part-time, pre-school provision.

Mr Givan said 2,200 new full-time places (an increase of 10 per cent) would be on offer by September 2025, with continued expansion from then on.

In terms of childcare, working parents in Northern Ireland can currently secure 20 per cent off their bills through a UK-wide, tax-free scheme run through HMRC.

However, the new Stormont-funded subsidy will see the parents who are eligible for the tax-free childcare scheme receive a further 15 per cent reduction in their costs, with the Department of Education providing a top-up directly to childcare providers.

Mr Givan said the initiative, when combined with the 20 per cent reduction through the UK scheme, would save parents with two children in full-time childcare about £8,000 a year.

Last month, the Impartial Reporter conducted a major investigation into spiralling childcare costs, where parents and childcare providers alike called for the NI executive to provide more support for working parents.

Minister Givan visited a Sure Start centre in east Belfast yesterday (Thursday) after securing the approval of his Executive colleagues for the package.

The Sure Start programme supports parents with children aged under four living in disadvantaged areas.

“This is an ambitious package of measures for early learning and childcare representing the most significant enhancement of early years investment in Northern Ireland in decades,” said Mr Givan.

“This investment clearly demonstrates that, despite an extremely challenging budget position, the Executive remains committed to making support for young children, their families and the services they rely on, a top priority.”

Mr Givan had secured the £25 million of ring-fenced funding for the development of a new childcare and early learning strategy as part of the budget agreed by the Executive last month.

The minister said he would like to increase the subsidy above 15% if more funding became available.

The early learning and childcare package unveiled by the minister will also offer direct support to providers, with the minister vowing to both stabilise and expand the sector.

That will include direct interventions to help childcare facilities at risk of closure.

He told reporters that the measures announced on Thursday were “interim” steps ahead of the development of a longer-term early learning and childcare strategy. He insisted the package was “only the start”.

“I very much welcome the Executive’s commitment to the delivery of 22.5 hours funded pre-school education for all children in their pre-school year,” he added.

“This is an unprecedented expansion of early years developmental provision in over 25 years and will undoubtedly have a lasting impact on the lives of children in Northern Ireland for decades to come.

“It is a necessarily ambitious programme which will ease current pressures on parents and providers and lay the foundation upon which I intend to build.

“This is, by no means, the limit of my ambitions, but rather an important first step towards a full early learning and childcare strategy.”