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‘Up To £400m’ Could Be Needed For Bespoke Childcare Scheme In NI

Education Minister Paul Givan has claimed that ‘up to £400m’ may be needed in order to put a free childcare scheme in place for Northern Ireland.

The education minister was speaking as assembly members debated the motion on “unaffordable” childcare costs in Northern Ireland on Monday.

Mr Givan explained that the budget required would depend on the strategy and the level of support agreed by the executive.

The minister stated that the development of an early learning and childcare strategy was a “top priority” and that he would be bringing an initial paper on this issue to colleagues later this week.

He continued stating that a cross-departmental approach would be important in tackling the issue and he hoped to deliver a “bespoke” scheme for Northern Ireland.

Mr Given added: “If real and meaningful change is to happen, executive colleagues must be willing to properly invest in early learning and childcare.

“When fully implemented, the annual and recurring costs could potentially be up to £400m.”

While there is currently no free childcare scheme available in Northern Ireland, working parents can avail of some supports; including tax credits, universal credit, childcare vouchers and tax-free childcare.

Assembly member Nicola Brogan said a Stormont all-party group had examined a scheme in England which aims to provide 30 hours of free childcare per-week but added that while it sounded good, in practice it was not delivering.

She added: “We need our own model, one that ensures sustainability of the sector by protecting workers’ conditions and pay, and one that reduces fees for parents to drive down the costs for families.”