Firstly, apologies for the fact that this post really should’ve been penned yesterday; let’s blame the very demanding family and the fact there’s still a certain amount of trauma from writing this.
So, in case you missed the news yesterday, it was announced that Minister for Children – Katherine Zappone – is looking at a wide range of options to encourage would-be parents to start producing offspring at an earlier age and therefore have more children. Why? Because our population is ageing; who’s going to look after us all in our dotage, hah?
According to a “Government source” speaking via The Independent, “Population data shows that birth rates are declining and families are having fewer children, while figures confirm that fertility rates have fallen from 2.1 in 2011 to 1.8 in 2016.” Despite Ireland boasting Europe’s highest birth rate, we’re just having babies too late… Hhmmmmmm… why is that, I wonder…
One of these proposed “initiatives” is a “baby box” for all new parents, that will include a range of “essential items needed by parents of newborns, while the box will double up as the baby’s first crib.” It will include “baby grows, a blanket, outdoor clothing, bathing products, nappies, bedding” and “educational books.”
This is a nice idea (and obviously welcomed by many), however, I loved choosing the liddlers’ first babygrows. It’s a very personal thing. So, with this in mind, is a ‘Baby Box’ sufficient enticement for people to commit to popping out more babies – which then turn into incrementally costly toddlers, kids, pre-teens, teens, culminating in a 35-year-old who can’t afford to move out of your home? In this day and age, probably not. Now, if new parents had been offered some free baby stuff in the 1930s (apparently Zappone et al got the idea from Finland, who undertook this initiative over 80 years ago…) several hands would’ve been bitten off – but sure back in those days, women had pretty much zero options apart from breeding.
Speaking with The Sunday Independent, Zappone said…
“The Early Years Strategy represents the first cross-Government approach to deliver concrete support to parents and infants. The baby box demonstrates to parents that we are keen to deliver very practical supports. Such schemes have been very successful in Finland (BACK IN THE 1930s) and in Scotland. However, we will also be moving to far more wide-ranging actions. I will be leading out the strategy in cooperation with some key colleagues including the Ministers for Health and Education. We will, of course, be seeking to build on the progress that has already been made in childcare, for example, but also be looking at many other ways to ensure parents are well supported. The arrival of a new baby should be a time of joy for every family – now in Government we are going to work together to ensure everyone has a chance to make the most of these very exciting time parents share with their infants.”
While this can only be a good thing for everyone (apart from the likes of TheStorkBox.ie, who are trying to make a living from baby boxes), we’re more interested in what Zappone will propose to aid the cost of childcare. Perhaps, if they limited the Baby Box to people having babies under the public system, they could perhaps channel all the money saved into AFFORDABLE CHILDCARE.
The number one reason the hospitals are bulging with “geriatric” first-time mothers is down to the burden of childcare. Couples know that if they have more than two kids that one of them will have to give up their fulltime career to care for them thanks to creche/after school fees. And, because the gender pay gap in this country (perpetuated by the fact that women are the ones who give birth) is so vast, it’s usually the woman who gets to stay at home. Yaaaaaay.
On a positive note, it’s great that the Government is looking to the likes of Finland for inspiration to tackle our ageing population; maybe they should have a gander at Germany where the Government subsidises childcare as they value the efforts of both male and females in the workforce. They prioritise investing in the country’s future.
This has been bleated about by yours truly many (MANY) times; but do you know how much fulltime childcare costs in Germany? In the region of €150 a month. A MONTH. How much is it to put two pre-schoolers through fulltime childcare in Ireland? Something in the region of €1,500 a month. As a result, we have tiny families and beleaguered grandparents who really should be enjoying some downtime in their twilight. It’s not sustainable.
D’you know what would help alongside Government subsidised childcare? More job sharing initiatives, onsite creches, work-from-home schemes, a national helpline for overwhelmed parents providing 24-hour advice/support to those who feel isolated and broke beyond all comprehension…
So, over to you – The Early Years Strategy Task Force. Please make it happen.