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We need to invest in our children – Hazzard

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Sinn Féin MLA Chris Hazzard has said it’s time to build a “fit for purpose” childcare system as the latest Annual Childcare Cost Survey illustrates that 3 out of 5 women in County Down believe that childcare services are insufficient & unaffordable in the local area.

Mr Hazzard said,

‘Being a young working parent myself, I understand the pressures associated with gaining access to affordable and adequate childcare services. The cost of childcare is rising every year and increasingly local families are struggling to meet their childcare needs.’

‘Women are specifically disportionately affected by this as the latest figures show that 55% of mothers have had to reduce their hours or leave work altogether in order to look after their children as they cannot afford local childcare. In South Down alone, the average cost of childcare is £172 per week – this simply is not affordable for many parents who find themselves unable to progress in their careers due to inadequate and unaffordable childcare services.

“As a former Government Minister I know all too well the impact of Tory Cuts to the local budget and the knock-on effect on our public services. However with declining budgets we not only have to make tough decisions, but we also have to ensure we make the right ones.

“Early years investment in childcare and child development is not only the right decision, it is the decision that allows us to ensure we give our children the best start in life whilst also allowing us the opportunity to grow our economy by freeing up people who wish to return to work.

“We also need to ensure that those in employment receive a proper living wage – people should not be forced to be dependent on benefits or priced out of access to quality childcare.

Mr Hazzard added:

“The Tory austerity agenda will continue to cut into the social fabric of South Down society, it will bring greater levels of poverty at a personal level and a poverty of front line services as budgets are squeezed to the limit.

“I can assure you that I will be driving a very clear anti-austerity message in the time to come; yes there are difficult decisions to be made, yes there are competing priorities, but investment in our children is also an investment in our economy and we must make this a priority!”