Many essential employees in Ireland’s Covid-19 crisis have substantial childcare requirements

This study examines the family structure and childcare responsibilities of essential employees in Ireland’s Covid-19 crisis. The closure of schools and crèches may present significant challenges for employees that are trying to balance work and family responsibilities. It is of critical importance that essential workers have adequate childcare provision if Ireland is to continue responding effectively to the Covid-19 crisis. Some of the main findings of the study are as follows:

We use Irish Labour Force Survey data to identify essential employees. While we endeavour to include as many essential employees as possible, based on the official government guidance, we face some data constraints. As such, the groups we identify are not an exhaustive list of essential employees.

  • We identify seven categories of essential employees:

    • Health Professionals (including, among others, doctors and nursing professionals)
    • Health Associate Professionals (including, among others, medical technicians, ambulance workers and community health workers)
    • Other Health Employees (including, among others, health workers in hospitals and nursing care facilities)
    • Armed Forces (including all members of the armed forces)
    • Defence and Public Administration (including, among others, police officers, prison guards and firefighters)
    • Retail Sales Workers (including, among others, sales assistants and cashiers)
    • Transport Operatives (including, among others, train, bus, taxi and tram drivers).
  • The essential workers we identify account for 22 per cent of all employees in Ireland. Retail employees are the largest group of essential workers at seven per cent of all employees. Health Professionals and Health Associate Professionals combined also account for approximately seven per cent of employees.
  • Other Health Employees account for five per cent, and Transport workers 1.5 per cent, of all employees. Armed Forces and Defence and Public Administration employees make up just over one per cent of all employees.
  • The majority (almost 70 per cent) of essential employees are female.
  • Just over half of all essential employees have children: 43 per cent are part of a couple with children while 9 per cent are lone parents. 
  • The rate of lone parenthood is higher among essential employees (9 per cent) compared to other employees (5 per cent). This is primarily driven by a high rate of lone parent employees in the Other Health Employee group, at 14 per cent.
  • Of those essential workers with children, approximately two-thirds have a youngest child aged 14 or below.  
  • Of all essential employees who have children and live with a partner, approximately 80 per cent have a partner that also works. Approximately 20 per cent have a partner who is also an essential employee. However, this statistic is much higher for Defence (32 per cent) and Armed Forces (26 per cent) employees.
  • Many essential workers are concentrated in lower paid occupations, such as Retail and Other Health Employees. As such, the capacity of many employees to pay for additional childcare services is likely to be substantially constrained.
  • Unlike other countries, such as the UK, there has not yet been direct government provision for the childcare needs of essential employees.

Paul Redmond, ESRI, commented,The research demonstrates that essential employees in Ireland have substantial childcare responsibilities and many are likely to face significant barriers to accessing effective services. The continued ability of essential employees to carry out their duties is a critical aspect of Ireland’s ability to combat the Covid-19 crisis. The evidence suggests that policies should be quickly developed to ensure that the childcare needs of effective workers in Ireland are met.”