People in Ireland express a high level of satisfaction with their family life and Ireland also has one of the highest fertility rates in the EU – 2.05 children per woman in 2011, well above the EU average (1.6 in 2009). Financial support for families and children represents 3.7% of GDP compared to an EU average of 2.3% in 2009. However, child poverty remains relatively high (the at-risk-of-poverty rate of people under 18 years was 19.7% in 2010), especially for children living in single-parent households. The government is tackling the problem with a range of universal and targeted benefits.
In 2011 the employment rate for women was 55.4%, just below the EU average of 58.5% and below the Lisbon target for female employment. The employment rate for men, at 63.1%, was below the EU average of 70.1% in 2011. From 2010 to 2011, both employment rates for women and men declined around the same pace for both gender (-0.7% for women versus almost -1% for men). At 12.6% in 2010, the gender pay gap was below the EU average of 16.4%.
The data from the Irish Quarterly National Household Survey gives an indication of the effect of having young children in the family on female employment rates. In 2009, the employment rate for women aged 20-44 was 64.1%. This rate varied from 87.2% for women with a husband/partner and no children to 54% for women whose youngest child was aged between 4 and 5 years of age.
Children (aged 0-17 years) remain the most at risk of poverty in Ireland compared to all other age groups. According to Eurostat data the child poverty rate rose slightly from 18.0% in 2008 to 19.7% in 2010. In addition, according to the Irish national statistics, lone-parent households are the household type with the highest at-risk-of-poverty rate (35.5% in 2009).
To address this issue and to boost employment of single parents, in 2010 the Irish government made changes to the One-Parent Family Payment (OFP) with the objective of moving away from passive income support for lone parents. The One-Parent Family Payment is a means-tested payment for anyone bringing up a child alone. A single parent earning less than €146.50 per week will qualify for the full weekly payment of €188. An additional €29.80 is paid for each dependent child. A reduced payment is made for lone parents earning more than this, up to the upper qualifying limit of €425 per week.
Since April 2011, for new recipients, payment of the OFP is made until the youngest child reaches the age of 14 years, except in specific limited circumstances. For existing recipients, there is a 6 year phasing-in of the new age limit. New recipients will be written to when their youngest child reaches the age of 11 years and informed of educational and back to work opportunities. It is planned, over time, to provide more structured interventions to support lone parents into education, training and employment from the claim-award stage.
Other policies to tackle child poverty are set out in the ‘National Action Plan for Social Inclusion 2007-2016’ (NAPinclusion). The Government’s National Recovery 2011-2016 Programme includes commitments to increase employment opportunities, achieve NAPinclusion targets to reduce the number of people experiencing poverty and ensure that the social protection system remains an important stabiliser for people against the impact of the economic and fiscal downturn. The Programme has specific commitments to advance an area-based approach to break the cycle of disadvantage and tackle child poverty. In 2011 the Irish Government also set up a new dedicated Department (Ministry) for Children and Youth Affairs.
State support for low income families consists of a range of universal and targeted cash benefits. Child benefit is a monthly payment to all parents and guardians of dependent children under 16 (or under 18 if disabled or in full-time education). A monthly rate of €140 is paid for each of the first two children, with higher benefits for additional children and multiple births.
In addition to the One-Parent Family Payment, a number of other means-tested benefits aim to support low income families and lone parents. Any lone parent or couple with a child under 18 (or between 18 and 22 years of age if in full-time education) and working more than 19 hours per week with a total income less than a fixed limit is eligible for a weekly Family Income Supplement that tops up 60% of the difference between their income and that limit. The fixed income limit varies from €506 for a family with one child to €1,298 for a family with eight or more children, with child benefit being excluded from the calculation.
According to Eurostat data, in 2010, 90% of children between three and school age were enrolled in formal childcare, compared to the EU average of 84% (2010). 73% of children in this age group attended part-time childcare. 29% of children under-three years of age were in formal childcare in 2010 (the EU average being 28%). Slightly over two thirds of children in this age group attended childcare for less than 30 hours a week. These figures fall short of the EU Barcelona Goals for childcare provision.
From 2008 to 2010 disadvantaged and low income families were supported with childcare costs by the Community Childcare Subvention (CCSS). From September 2010 the CCSS was replaced by the improved Community Childcare Subvention Programme, under which increased subvention rates are paid to low-income working parents. Under the scheme, parents in receipt of social welfare benefits or Family Income Supplement qualify for a weekly childcare subvention of €100, and parents who qualify for medical visit cards receive a weekly subvention of €50. Typically, parents supported under the programme pay approximately 33% of the cost of their childcare, with the State paying the balance. In addition, parents attending employment, training and educational courses can get free childcare places under the Childcare Education & Training Support (CETS) programme. Some 30,000 parents benefit from the CCS and CETS programmes.
Pregnant women in employment are entitled to 26 weeks of maternity leave, during which they receive maternity benefit. Its amount is calculated by dividing gross income in the relevant tax year by the number of weeks worked. The weekly payments are fixed at 80% of this income, subject to a minimum payment of €217.80 and a maximum payment of €262 per week. An additional maternity leave of 16 weeks is unpaid.
There is no statutory right to paternity leave, but both parents have an equal entitlement to parental leave of up to 14 weeks for each child. This can be transferred between parents if they work for the same employer and the employer agrees. This is unpaid and must be taken before the child is more than eight years old. The leave may be taken in one continuous period or in two blocks of 6 weeks or more, with at least 10 weeks between, but 14 weeks is the maximum that can be taken in any 12 month period. With the agreement of the employer parental leave can be taken in other formations.
The information in the country profile was last updated in November 2012.
In January 2010 the Irish government introduced the free Pre-School Year in Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE). The scheme gives access to a free year of appropriate programme-based activities in the year preceding primary school.
Children are eligible if they are aged between three years three months and four years six months in September each year. The service is available to all parents through pre-school or childcare services subject to local availability. From January to August 2010, some 53,000 children benefited from the scheme (83% of all eligible children in the year before primary school). Almost all (96%) of pre-school services in Ireland participated in the scheme.
The scheme is delivered either;