The crisis in child care – The problems and the solution

The covid-19 crisis and consequent quarantine continue to expose and heighten the contradictions inherent in capitalism. Nowhere are these more acute than in the case of child care in the 26-County state.

To analyse the situation and explain the failings of this system we must first set out clearly how it works.

Child care in Ireland: the private-subsidy model

Child care in Ireland is organised under a private model, where subsidies are paid by the state directly to the owners of creches in respect of each child they have attending their service. The level of subsidy per child is determined by the level of income of their parents or guardians, with amounts ranging from €3.50 per week1 to over €150 per week.2 In almost all cases, parents are required by the creche operators to top up the state subsidy with weekly fees in order to secure their child’s place. In 2019 the average weekly fee charged was a huge €184 per child per week for full-time care.3 Only in Switzerland and Britain is child care more expensive than in Ireland.4

Despite the fact that child care is an essential service, availed of by approximately 200,000 children and their families each year,5 the Irish state holds no stake in the system and allows it to be run for profit, like any other business, while providing heavy subsidies to business owners from public funds. The state budget for child care in 2020, primarily comprising such subsidies, was €628 million.6

How business owners exploit the system and their workers

There is an inherent contradiction between quality of child care and profit.

By way of illustration, Hyde and Seek, the chain of creches that was subject to an RTE exposé in the summer of 2019, cleared €2¾ million in profits (after salaries) since 2014 while receiving €1¼ million in subsidies from the state during that period.7

In the meantime they were documented as diluting the milk they fed the children in their care and reducing portions of chicken breast to below nutritional standards, among other injurious practices8—all this while even if the state gave no subsidies whatever to their creches they would still have turned over €1½ million in profit.

Though their profession requires them to pursue expensive and time-consuming qualifications,9 child-care workers can expect to earn €10.38 per hour on average,10 little over the adult minimum wage, which now sits at €10.10 per hour. So while state subsidies might increase from one year to the next, like parental fees, these are paid directly to creche owners and function only to increase their profits, not the wages they pay to their staff.

The result is poor pay and conditions, high staff turnover, skyrocketing costs, and an ever-decreasing quality of care for children and their families, in order to facilitate the maximising of profits for business owners.11

Child care and covid-19

In early May the Government’s highly publicised plan to provide child care for essential workers during the covid-19 crisis was scrapped, with little fanfare, after only six child-care providers signed up to the proposed programme.12 The demand for this essential service has not gone away, but the state and the private businesses it is partnered with have been shown to be fundamentally incapable of providing it.

Meanwhile, many child-care workers are unemployed, having been laid off en masse by their employers as soon as the crisis began. Some are working in the “black market” of child care that has since been created—working as childminders for families where both parents have to work—with all the associated health and security risks of breaking quarantine restrictions.

Women, work, and domestic care

Under capitalism, women are expected both to undertake domestic labour in their own home, unpaid, and to work at a job in the outside world. In addition to this they can expect to earn substantially less for doing the same job as men.13 Typically, jobs that are done in the main by women—nursing, care work, teaching, etc.—will be undervalued and subject to high levels of exploitation.

Given the abysmal pay and conditions in the sector, it should come as no surprise that 98 per cent of child-care workers in the state are women.14

The Government’s stated objective in subsidising child care is to increase participation in the labour market, particularly among women. However, the costs of child care are so unaffordable for working families that many are forced to stay at home, resulting in an increased burden on women, and the proliferation of unpaid domestic labour.15

What is the solution?

It’s clear that child care is an essential public service. Therefore it should be provided as a universal right, free of charge, by a state-owned and state-operated child-care system, where the challenging and invaluable labour of its workers is recognised by fair pay and conditions and security of contract.

In this regard, efforts to unionise the child-care sector, led primarily by SIPTU, should be applauded and encouraged.

However, we must recognise that the dire situation outlined above is not a result of the failings of the child-care system but of it working exactly as it is designed to: to enrich business owners at the expense of the public purse and the welfare of children and their families.

The contradictions illustrated above are inherent in the capitalist system, expressed in the private model of child care. Only through socialist revolution can the well-being of children and workers be truly realised, in a child-care system that is accessible to all and operated for the benefit of the people, not of the capitalist class.


  1. Citizens’ Information, “Universal childcare subsidy” (
  2. Citizens’ Information, “National Childcare Scheme (NCS)” (
  3., “The most expensive childcare is in Dublin, the cheapest is in Carlow” (
  4. “Ireland has third highest childcare costs, study shows,” Irish Examiner, 8 July 2019 (
  5. Parliamentary Budget Office, “Childcare in Ireland: An Analysis of Market Dynamics, Public Programmes and Accessibility,” 2019 (
  6. Parliamentary Budget Office, “Childcare in Ireland: An Analysis of Market Dynamics, Public Programmes and Accessibility,” 2019 (
  7. Eilish O’Regan, “RTE investigates creche Hyde and Seek clears €2.75m in profits as it gets €1.25m from the state,” Irish Independent, 25 July 2019, (
  8. Conor Gallagher, “Creche practices ‘a recipe for disaster,’ says childcare expert,” Irish Times, 24 July 2019 (
  9. Early Childhood, Ireland (
  10. “‘Dodging regulations and ratios happens everywhere’: The realities of working in childcare,”, 27 July 2019 (
  11. Samantha Libreri, “Frontline workers’ childcare scheme is cancelled,” RTE, 14 May 2020 (
  12. Eoin Burke-Kennedy, “Study finds gender pay gap in Ireland is widening,”Irish Times, 8 March 2020 (
  13. Department of Children and Youth Affairs, “Early Years Sector Profile Report, 2017/2018” (
  14. Joyce, Fegan, “Special Report, Day 1: Childcare costs stop many from going to work,”Irish Examiner, 19 August 2019 (