It shouldn't be this hard for parents to go out to work, but with the cost of childcare skyrocketing, it's more of a worry than ever, writes Amanda Cassidy
Elaine Dunne runs two Dublin creches. Many parents are relying on her to provide childcare for their children while they work. But come January, they might have to look elsewhere, as the current insurance hikes mean she might not be able to open at all. "For me, it means that we might have to close up — no one knows really what we’re going to do. We don’t have enough money."
The crisis has come after Ironshore Europe, one of the two biggest insurers in the childcare sector, pulled out of the Irish market, leaving the country’s 4,400 facilities in a precarious position.
Another creche operator said her premium had gone up by 300% overnight as inflated insurance renewal costs hamper business. Claire McGrath runs a creche in Galway. She said she got a letter from the remaining insurance company quoting €10,000 instead of €3,000 from the beginning of January. She told the Irish Examiner: "We’re in limbo because they seem to be just the monopoly now; they are the only ones and we have no option — it’s either close or we go with them."
"Our hands are tied"
Despite calls for government intervention, Minister for Finance Pascal Donoghue pointed out yesterday that their hands are tied when it comes to the insurance sector.
"There are significant constraints on what the government can do to immediately resolve issues around the cost and availability of insurance. In this regard, neither I, nor the Central Bank of Ireland, have any influence over the pricing of insurance products, and neither can we compel any insurer operating in the Irish market to provide cover to any sector of the market, as this is a commercial matter for insurers."
But there are other ways our leaders can be contributing to the part of our society that means many women can go back to work.
It is a difficult day for those operating childcare facilities — those to whom we entrust our children. Running a business is hard enough without having the additional and unplanned costs crop up so quickly and with such narrow competitive choices.
It is as if the odds are against working parents instead of supporting them
But this is also just another nail in the coffin for working parents, specifically mothers, who are barely keeping things together as it is.
Leaving your baby all day as you work is an emotional decision usually based on the need to pay for family lives. Finding the right place to leave your child for the day isn't straightforward. Then, the chances that the place you've chosen has a space for your child is minimal due to the demand for such places. If you are then lucky enough to even get a place in the right creche for you and your child, you then have to deal with the costs, which are exorbitant (especially compared with other European countries).
Now, imagine being told this weekend that this unicorn of a creche that is enabling you to work, might have to close because an insurance company has the creche in a financial headlock. It is as if the odds are against working parents instead of supporting them.
Even those parents who have managed to fight for part-time work will be stung, as the insurance hikes seem to be hitting those smaller services who cover only mornings via the ECC scheme.
Today, the Minister of State for Insurance Michael D'Arcy reiterated that there is nothing the Government can do to intervene in these rising costs. Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Mr D'Arcy said the Government could not intervene in a sector that had market viability. It's after the Federation for Early Childcare Providers called on him to provide emergency funding.
Reforming the insurance industry is not going to happen overnight. Instead of focusing on the compensation culture (a narrative pushed recently by the insurance companies) the government needs to put measures in place to better support parents who want (and need) to go back to work.
Let's stop pretending we live in a society that supports working mums
I am one of those women who has been pushed out of the full-time workplace because of the difficulties with childcare. The barriers are sometimes too enormous to vault. With three children, affording a creche is impossible. The facilities themselves are not always flexible or to a standard I'm comfortable with. I went freelance because I felt there was a better way — a way where I didn't have to leave my children for 10 hours a day. Not everyone has that choice.
With rising insurance costs, many of these facilities are now going to have to either close or hike their own fees. All bad news for working parents.
Let's stop pretending we live in a society that supports working mums. The school gate conversations are the real measure of what's happening out there. On paper, many companies allow you to work part-time but the small print dictates that you find someone else to share with yourself. All is not what it seems. The pressure for working mums to be all and everything without adequate support is sadly a sign of our times.
Until we start respecting the importance of childcare and perfecting that leg of societies' table (which starts with better government support), returning to work will continue to be a wobbly challenge for many.
Sinn Féin's Pearse Doherty didn't beat about the bush in his sentiments about the insurance hikes. "This has become a grave threat to businesses and communities across several sectors, not just childcare, but community and voluntary groups, the leisure sector and small businesses as well.
“The government has failed to take the failure of the insurance market – and its impact on businesses – seriously." He said in the Dail. "The minister responsible for the insurance sector doesn’t even sit at the Cabinet table.”
He is right — insurance costs skyrocketing because they have childcare providers over a barrel is a disgrace.
But the real losers continue to be working parents.
Read more: What do you do all day? Questions stay-at-home parents cannot escape
Read more: Why the super mum label is so damaging for women.
Read more: Childcare crisis: 'I rang 24 creches in my area and was laughed at'