SDLP MLA for Mid Ulster, Patsy McGlone, has warned that any new deal on the Welfare Reform which provides new monies must include improved support for childcare for working families.
The Mid Ulster MLA’s comments came as negotiations over the stalled Welfare Reform Bill continued at Stormont.
Mr McGlone said, “It is essential that any reconstituted Welfare Reform that emerges from the current negotiations should include improved provision for childcare.
“The increasing cost of childcare remains one of the largest expenditures for working families, and is a major obstacle for many seeking to return to work, which is what meaningful Welfare Reform should be about. Part-time childcare is particularly expensive, with issues around accessibility in certain locations or at certain times such as during school holidays.
“As a study commissioned by NICVA, ‘Universal Childcare in Northern Ireland’, noted in December last year, “If the [childcare] subsidy were increased this could increase affordability which in turn could increase employment, especially in terms of the labour supply of mothers with dependent children”.
“Although specific responsibilities are spread across many departments and public agencies, overall responsibility for childcare policy in the north rests with the NI First and deputy First Ministers. It is for those parties to implement measures that improve the level of support for young working families who continue to struggle to meet the cost of childcare.
“The Scottish Parliament has already acted to improve support for childcare for working families in their implementation of the welfare reforms.
“In 2014 MSPs agreed to strengthen the role of early years support in children’s and families’ lives. Scotland has increased the amount and flexibility of free early learning and childcare for 3 and 4 year olds. Nicola Sturgeon has also pledged to increase the entitlement further if re-elected as Scottish First Minister.
“The welfare system has an important role to play in assisting young working families to meet the costs of childcare to allow them to continue in the workforce, and particularly to help others return to work.
“Any reconstituted package on Welfare Reform that emerges with new monies from the current negotiations must reflect that fact.”