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Title: Free childcare – a fix to the family and paid work conflict?
Authors: Borg, Anna
Keywords: Child care -- Costs
Income tax deductions for child care expenses -- Malta
Children of working mothers
Working mothers
Issue Date: 2015
Publisher: European Commission
Citation: Borg, A. (2015). Free childcare – a fix to the family and paid work conflict? Brussels: European Commission.
Abstract: On the 1st of April, 2014 a free childcare scheme for children under the age of three was introduced in Malta in order to incentivise more parents (but especially mothers) to return or to remain in the formal labour market (MEDE, 2015). In a national context of low female employment rates (51 %), the free childcare scheme is specifically targeted at parents (defined as both parents/guardian or single mother/father/guardian) who are employed and paying social security contributions. It is also open to parents who are studying (defined as those in education leading to a recognised diploma or degree). Only parents who fall into these specific categories are allowed to send their children to a childcare centre of their choice, free of charge. Hence, the scheme is not universal but stems from neo-liberal values which first and foremost reward work effort and discourage dependency. According to government, the number of children enrolled in childcare centres went up from 1800 to 2917 between April and December 2014 as a result of this scheme, thus pushing the percentage of children under the age of three in childcare to 21 %. During the same period, an additional 200 mothers are estimated to have entered the workforce in low-to-medium skill jobs (of these, two-thirds work part-time). It is also calculated that mothers who benefitted from the free childcare scheme entered the workforce 130 days before mothers who did not make use of it. This has led to a 10.7 % aggregate increase in working hours and an estimated EUR 1.9 million contribution to the economy from direct and indirect tax contributions. Additionally, during the first nine months of the scheme, 50 new child carers were employed in this sector (MEDE, 2015). Overall, the scheme has been received positively by working parents, service providers and the public in general. Nearly all childcare centres in Malta (97.5 %) have joined the scheme which is run through a Public Private Partnership (PPP) agreement. On the other hand the scheme, which was marketed under the banner of free ‘Child Care for All’, fails in the social cohesion aspect in that the parents of the most at-risk and deprived children are unlikely to be eligible to use the scheme. Educationalists also critiqued the scheme because it focuses on the economic element rather than on the educational and the developmental aspect of children. Furthermore, since the scheme was implemented in a very short time, there were some shortcomings which, amongst other things, have affected the availability of qualified child carers. No studies have been made in order to assess the impact that the scheme has had on the quality of childcare or on the working conditions of the child carers. Likewise there are no clear indicators on how many of the newly enrolled children are at risk of poverty or social exclusion and hence, stand to benefit most from childcare. However, qualitative interviews carried out for this research indicate that working parents and the service providers have benefited directly from the scheme in terms of saved costs for parents and a sustained, regular income for the providers.
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