June 2013        

A breach of trust

The controversy generated by the Prime Time documentary “Breach of Trust” in May showed the true face of capitalism. It was a glaring example of the fact that private businesses pursue only one goal: profit. Nothing else, not even the care of a two-year-old child, will deter them from unscrupulously pursuing this objective.
     John Byrne, a lecturer in social policy and former child-care worker, quoted in the Irish Times (Weekend Review) on 1 June, stated that he believed we had missed an opportunity to build state-run pre-school services that parents could have real confidence in. Big business and child care don’t mix well, he says; “we live in a right-wing culture that overwhelmingly elected a right-wing party. What we saw in the RTE programme is arguably a quality of care that was compromised in the name of profit, and that is the problem with privatisation of care.”
     The comments from the minister after the programme smacked of gross hypocrisy when one considers the facts. Last year the state cut the capitation grant to workers with third-level qualifications from €75 to €73 per child per week; after that it increased the staff-child ratio from ten to eleven, which flies in the face of both international research and the Government’s own findings.
     What if we compare ourselves with the Scandinavian models of child care, which are regarded as being among the best in the world?
     It is worth noting that our child-care provision has a direct effect on women’s access to community education. The Nordic countries spend eight times more of their GDP on child-care services than Ireland. The long-term investment in child care contributes to a well-educated female work-force. The government gets a return on its investment when the women secure employment and pay their taxes.
     It should not be forgotten, as Natasha Campo wrote, that “feminists have been very successful in promoting child care as a matter of women’s rights.” With our government’s low investment in child care, the consequences are immeasurable for Irish parents.
     The cost of child care in Ireland can amount to more than half of net income for some families. The average cost of a full-time place is €750 per month. In Norway there is a cap of €300 per month paid by parents in early-care services. In Denmark parents pay 30 per cent of the running costs, and services are free to many low-income families. If child care was free to low-income families in Ireland it would make a huge difference to the lives of women and the opportunities they could avail of in community education.
     After-school services in Sweden are regulated and heavily subsidised, which leads to a participation rate of more than 70 per cent. The result is that children are in a safe environment, and the mother has the time to gain access to community education.
     Unfortunately, the basic premise that the child-care industry can regulate itself is a false one. We only need to look at the record of the private enterprises engaged in other forms of care. One can recall the Leas Cross scandal regarding the care of the elderly, where those who had given a lifetime of service to their country were left in sub-standard conditions in private nursing homes. The same rogue operators were employing cheap labour, barely paying the minimum wage to non-nationals who were living on the scrapings of tins—a reflection of this disgusting class-based society of ours.
     In its report the National Economic and Social Council said: “An important lesson to draw from the Perry Pre-school Programme, and indeed from the entire literature on successful early interventions is that the social skills and motivation of the child are more easily altered than IQ. There also tends to be substantial improvement in the children’s social attachment. The social and emotional skills acquired in these types of programmes affect performance in school and in the work-place. The evidence from the Perry Pre-school Programme and the evidence summarised in Carneiro and Heckman (2003) reveals that early intervention programmes are highly effective in reducing criminal activity, promoting social skills and integrating disadvantaged children into mainstream society.”
     Regrettably, none of these objectives will be achieved if private operators are left with the lion’s share of the child-care market, as it relentlessly seeks profit, profit at the cost of everything else.
     Irish parents could look towards Cuba as another example of how provision for children it at the heart of children’s development. A country that has experienced decades of blockade, it provides free child care to all children. Children get free meals in school. Their early social and cultural development is the highest priority. Despite the many economic problems deriving from that blockade, the children have always come first.

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