Ireland’s level of unmet need for childcare and home care is among the highest in Europe

September 19, 2019
Launch event for Access to Childcare and Home Care Services in Europe on 19 September 2019

Ivan Privalko, Dorothy Watson, Regina Doherty, TD, Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, and Alan Barrett at the launch of new research on 19 September 2019. 

Out of 11 European countries examined in a new ESRI study, Ireland has the fourth-highest level of unmet need for childcare and the second-highest for home care. The research found that the highest level of unmet need for childcare was in Spain, the UK, Greece and Ireland. The highest level of unmet need for home care was in Greece, followed equally by Italy and Ireland.

In Ireland, cost was more likely to be an obstacle to childcare access than in some other countries. In terms of home care services, availability of services was more likely to be a problem in Ireland than in some other European countries.

These results are from a new ESRI study commissioned by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. The study examines access to childcare and home care services in 11 European countries and asks who is most likely to have unmet needs for these services.

The research uses data from the European Statistics on Income and Living Conditions for 2016. Access to childcare is examined for families with children up to age 12 and access to home care is examined for households with a member who needs help because of long-term physical or mental ill-health, infirmity or because of old age.

In general, access to care services was greater in the more generous welfare states, such as Scandinavian countries. This was true even for more vulnerable families and individuals.

Unmet childcare needs

Unmet childcare need is more common in countries with less generous welfare states, particularly for vulnerable families. For example, 8% of lone-parent families in Denmark report an unmet need for such care compared to 25% of lone-parent families in Ireland.

The cost of childcare is the most commonly reported reason for unmet need in most European countries, although not in Scandinavian countries. In Ireland, 78% of families with an unmet need for childcare reported that cost was the biggest obstacle. In Finland, only 20% of families said cost was the reason for their unmet need.

In the case of all 11 countries, in families with an unmet need for childcare, mothers are less likely to be employed and there is a higher likelihood of poverty.  Families with unmet childcare needs are 2.2 times more likely to experience material deprivation. Mothers in these families are 2.2 times less likely to be employed.

Unmet home care needs

Countries with universal services and generous welfare states are also less likely to have unmet needs for home care.

In Denmark, 54% of families receive home care for someone in the household who needs help. In Ireland, this figure is just 24%. In Southern states like Greece, the rate is lower with just 10% of families receiving home care services where someone needs help.

Compared to people in Sweden, people needing help in Ireland are four times more likely to have an unmet need for home care. People in Greece are 18 times more likely than people in Sweden to have an unmet need for home care.

Working-age households are more than twice as likely as those over 65 years old to have an unmet need for this service.  Overall, people aged 65 and over have greater access to home care services. However, there are large variations across countries. In Denmark, 80% of older people who need help receive home care services, compared to 42% in Ireland and 12% in Greece.

In the case of all 11 countries, households with unmet needs for home care are twice as likely as those whose care needs are met to experience material deprivation. However, the study does not find a significant association between unmet need for home care and being employed. This suggests that respondents who care for someone in their home are balancing care and employment.

In Ireland, the most commonly reported reason for unmet need for home care is a lack of such services; in other countries, it is more likely to be the affordability of these services.

Bertrand Maître, an author of the report commented, “Compared to countries with more generous welfare states, cost is a barrier to accessing childcare in Ireland and this has an impact on mothers’ employment. Access to home care services needs to be improved, especially for working-age families with a member who needs help because of illness or disability. The provision of these services constitutes a vital component of social policies to enhance quality of life, support employment and tackle poverty and social exclusion. ”

Regina Doherty, TD, Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, noted “Caring for others, either formally or informally, is a vital role in every society, particularly the care provided to our children, older people and people who live with a disability or a long-term health problem.  This report is an important contribution to policymaking in this area and will inform the actions we take to address unmet formal childcare and homecare needs in order to deliver positive outcomes for families and individuals throughout their working lives and on into retirement.”