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Childcare Strategy

Private Members’ Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 4:15 pm on 20th April 2009.

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Debate resumed on amendment to motion:

That this Assembly expresses its concern at the lack of availability of affordable, quality childcare; and calls on the Executive to implement a coherent and properly resourced childcare strategy. [Ms J McCann]

Which amendment was:

After the first “childcare” insert

“and the lack of provision for people who require flexible arrangements to allow them to avail of working opportunities in the evenings, overnight and at weekends, particularly in the current economic climate” [Ms Purvis]

Photo of Stephen Moutray Stephen Moutray DUP

I welcome the opportunity to take part in the debate today. Childcare is a pertinent issue that requires due attention from the Executive and from the Assembly as a whole. It is important that we reflect on the Programme for Government and that the Executive placed our economy at the heart of it.

The lack of affordable quality childcare will continue to hamper economic growth and prosperity. If we do not address the issue, we will widen the gap for parents, particularly women, who seek to return to education or employment. Although such a strategy will cost the taxpayer a considerable amount initially in the provision of affordable childcare, the cost will be clawed back, as the provision of childcare will enable parents to return to work or education.

My constituency of Upper Bann, particularly my home town of Lurgan, has been economically deprived for some years. Better childcare funding would improve Lurgan’s economy, as it would encourage parents back into employment and learning. Childcare services not only benefit children by improving their lives and social skills, they generate economic benefits by supporting parents in moving to work, education and training.

Childcare is an essential part of today’s society, whether it takes the form of childminders, out-of-school nursery clubs, day nurseries or playschools. However, it needs direction. It is important that the House recognise that childcare services are needed not only for young children but for those of school age. We continue to promote lifelong learning and endeavour to reduce unemployment, particularly in the current climate; therefore, a high standard of local childcare facilities is essential.

The Employers for Childcare charity said that no one Department is accountable for the provision of funding; that reinforces the need for the Executive to adopt a multi-faceted approach. Like my colleagues, I call on the Minister of Education to address the issue and the need for childcare beyond pre school places. The Education Minister has a key role to play, and she has shied away from this issue for too long. She has not given priority to early-years learning, and I call on her to act on this debate and to prioritise the matter.

It would be remiss of me not to mention that, as the Northern Ireland Childminding Association said:

“Childminding provides care and learning for children aged between 0 – 14 years.”

It is important that we do not fall into the trap of thinking that childminding stops at four or five when a child starts school. Childcare is often needed for after-school hours to meet the work patterns of parents in this very different society. That is an important factor that needs to be addressed in the strategy.

Many valid points were raised in the Chamber today, and it has been demonstrated that there is a need for better and more childcare provision across the Province. There is a need for a strategic, coherent, long-term, cross-departmental solution. I support the motion.

(Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr Dallat] in the Chair)

b

"The lack of affordable quality childcare will continue to hamper economic growth and prosperity."

Why are you men intent on destroying the family unit?

Mothers are the best people to take care of children.

Women are paid less than men, and that is a terrible reason for rounding up all the mothers and sending them back to work, and farming their children to be reared by strangers!

Why do you not concentrate on getting MEN back to work? Women are emotionally and physiologically more suited to nurturing and care giving roles.

You are playing a dangerous game with all this social engineering!

Submitted by barbara richards Read 1 more annotation

Photo of Tom Elliott Tom Elliott UUP 4:30 pm, 20th April 2009

I give a warm welcome to the motion and the amendment. Unfortunately, I and many in this Chamber have listened for many years to the issues surrounding quality affordable childcare. We have heard much in this Assembly about the economy being at the heart of the Programme of Government, and, although it may not be totally obvious, the economy is at the heart of this motion and the debate on it.

The provision of childcare is something that we need to develop and that needs to be progressed as part of the Programme for Government. Any investments in childcare will be repaid in the form of economic and social development. Such investment should, therefore, be included with the economy as a top priority for the Executive. That would help to progress not only the economy but affordable quality childcare, and vice versa. The two work very much in tandem.

Work must be available for those who want and/or need it, and those who want to work must be brought back into a working environment. That would be a start in achieving equality and getting more parents back to work, and I must put on record that I am pleased that some employers now have much more flexible working arrangements. Unfortunately, that is not the case with all employers, but a lot of employers now provide a flexibility in working arrangements that is vital for many parents.

Once parents find work, the next issue that they face is of finding quality, affordable childcare. I know that it has been mentioned, but, coming from the rural community of Fermanagh and South Tyrone, I must touch on the rural aspect of the childcare issue. The issue is particularly acute in rural areas, as they have a dispersed population, less-developed infrastructure, a lack of public transport and a reliance on using cars. That means that limited and isolated childcare provision can have a particularly devastating impact on the families, individuals and children living in those areas.

I welcome the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development’s rural development programme and the establishment of the rural childcare programme as part of her Department’s anti-poverty strategy. However, there is still a real need for improvement in that area, and a joined-up approach between Departments is vital. I believe that it was Mr O’Dowd who earlier explained some of the importance of that. There are areas in which, if Departments worked together, the situation could very easily be improved. For example, in the area of education, it may be possible to improve transport to schools or the transport that is available for children who need to go to childcare facilities, perhaps directly from school.

I want to ensure that Members are aware that childcare is not simply about a place for parents to leave their children when they go to work. That is important, but childcare is about much more. The early years are a vital and essential time for the development of children, particularly those aged from 0 to six years and even older. That is why the quality of childcare is absolutely vital.

We in the Assembly have waited far too long for an early years strategy. For many months, we have heard that such a strategy is coming and is soon going to happen. I was told quite recently that it is now imminent. I truly hope that it is imminent, and that it comes forward sooner rather than later.

Photo of Dominic Bradley Dominic Bradley Social Democratic and Labour Party

The Member referred to quality childcare. Does the Member agree that childcare is about much more than child-minding; that it is, in fact, one of the basic building blocks in the education system; and that those involved in childcare should have the best qualifications available? Does the Member further agree that a transformation fund, similar to that operating in England, is an appropriate way to enhance the expertise of those involved in the childcare workforce here?

Photo of Tom Elliott Tom Elliott UUP

I thank Mr Bradley for those comments. Of course, I agree with his sentiments, which are very close to my heart. Obviously, child-minding is an essential part of childcare, but it is also about child development, and it is in that respect that I hope that the early years strategy will resolve at least some of the issues that have been debated today.

I also hope that the strategy will not sit on a shelf gathering dust for years without being progressed and implemented. We heard earlier about all the consultation documents. The issue has been consulted to death, and what we want is action. We want affordable, quality childcare for parents who need it.

In England and Wales, the decision has been taken that, where there are gaps in the market, local government should be responsible for plugging the hole and providing adequate, quality, affordable childcare. We need to think seriously about the possibility of replicating such provision, tailored to our own needs in Northern Ireland, and, failing that, the Government need to develop a strategy to intervene in the failed market. Many charities and other non-profit organisations would be capable of stepping into the breach if they were resourced more fully and appropriately by the Executive and by councils.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

I declare an interest as a member of Horizon Sure Start in Carrickfergus and Larne. I, too, support the motion and the amendment.

As other Members have said, there have been many childcare strategy documents over the years. In 1999, there was the Department of Health’s review of Children First, and, in 2007, the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister raised the issue in its investigation into child poverty.

The key words in today’s motion are that it is now time to:

“implement a coherent and properly resourced childcare strategy.”

It is not just about producing a fancy document; it is time to actually deliver something. In fact, it is past time. There have been too many theoretical documents; it is now time to do something on the ground.

As I said in an earlier intervention, there was a funding mechanism in place, and that was the Executive programme fund for children. However, our former Finance Minister — who is now First Minister — decided to bring that to an end in order to improve efficiency and effectiveness. Members are aware of the gaps that have been left in their constituencies, because the reality is that the funding mechanism that has replaced it has not been working. Supposedly, Departments were to pick up the projects and continue to fund them, but, clearly, that has not been successful.

I suspect that that is the case because children’s issues and childcare issues are cross-cutting in nature, and they do not affect only one Department. Therefore, when Departments prioritise their funding, childcare issues do not come top of the list. Therefore, funding applications have not been as successful as they would otherwise have been if there had been a mechanism in place to prioritise the overall benefits to several Departments. Other Members have also mentioned that issue.

I wish to specifically mention a Skool’s Out project in my constituency. A relatively small amount of seed money has enabled that project to provide a successful breakfast club and after-school club. It has been living piecemeal. However, in an area of need, it has delivered one of the objectives of the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister: improved community relations. The project is based in an area that has had a troubled past, yet the children, parents and the management committee come from a cross-community background, and it has contributed to greatly improved community relations in the area.

In respect of community regeneration, that area suffered from houses having to be knocked down because of antisocial elements and other difficulties. Therefore, the project is actually contributing to regeneration in the area — a DSD function.

A major benefit of such clubs is the educational output of homework clubs that assist children in educational attainment. After tabling a question on that matter, it appears to me that that is a key responsibility of the Department of Education. However, equally, our junior Ministers are responsible for children and young people’s issues. Either way, the Executive are responsible, and we do not wish to push the problem from pillar to post. We need a resolution.

There is also a health impact in respect of providing good childcare, and the education that comes with it. Therefore, there is a role for the Department of Health.

At a recent Investing for Health conference in Northern Ireland, the Chief Medical Officer for Scotland indicated the importance of investment in those early years to remove health inequalities. Therefore, a major impact can come from investing in our young people.

I support the comments made earlier by Dominic Bradley about how important it is to invest in the young. I also remind Members of Professor James Heckman, Nobel laureate economist, who is working with organisations in Northern Ireland, and whose essential message is that we should invest in the young because it makes economic sense.

Clearly, we need to create a method of joining up the dots; we must not have separate Departments passing the buck. The junior Ministers are ultimately responsible for these issues, and the Office of the First and deputy First Minister, if it does not like the children and young people’s fund, must invent something that works similarly. If they wish to rebrand that fund — if that makes them happy — I do not mind. However, we require a mechanism that ensures that the funding that children need will flow, meaning that parents will be able to return to work knowing that their children are safe and are being educated.

Photo of John Dallat John Dallat Social Democratic and Labour Party

I call Mr Alex Attwood. I remind the Member that the time for debating the motion is almost up. I would prefer that he not give way to any other Members.

Photo of Alex Attwood Alex Attwood Social Democratic and Labour Party

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I advised my colleague Mr Bradley of that very point before I rose to speak.

I also welcome the motion. A strategy on childcare will be outlined in the near future, and one of the standards against which I will judge any such strategy is the very sensible but moderately costed proposals of the Northern Ireland Childminding Association. Over a year ago, that organisation outlined proposals, which would cost only £300,000 a year over a three-year period, to address the lack of child-minding places across the North. Indeed, the SDLP recently tabled a motion in the Business Office that urged the Executive and individual Ministers to implement NICMA’s proposals. We must judge forthcoming proposals against that standard.

I say that because, in Northern Ireland, child-minding places account for 76% of full-time day care and 44% of all childcare. NICMA, which is well placed to give good advice, has recommended that the Executive make an intervention of £300,000 a year over three years to begin to undo the evidence of the last three years and make more child-minding places available. That sensible and moderate intervention should be implemented.

If that recommendation were taken up, it would mean two things. First, it would introduce grants in the North similar to those that exist in the Republic of Ireland of perhaps as little as £600 or £700. Those grants would enable people to take up child-caring duties, attain administrative experience, buy equipment and acquire the insurance necessary to keep children in their home. It would also provide for mentoring on an individual basis for new childminders.

The consequences of that — this would be music to Mr Elliott’s ears, were he present in the Chamber — would address the needs of areas of the North where child-minding is in the most acute need. That would address the needs of areas of Derry such as Creggan, Brandywell and the Bogside. That would address the needs of areas of south and east Belfast such as Blackstaff, the Mount and Shaftesbury, and it would address the needs of areas of County Fermanagh, including Belleek, Garrison, Newtownbutler and Rosslea. The moderately priced intervention proposed by NICMA would create jobs, opportunities for women to get back into work and new child-minding places in the areas of most acute need. I suggest to the Assembly that it is against that moderately priced proposal that we should judge the Executive’s proposals, if and when they come to pass.

Secondly, we should do something in our own gift about childcare. All Members employ staff, and, without going into issues about those staff, we do not get childcare support provision for staff in our individual offices. Members of the permanent secretariat in the Assembly and Assembly Members get support, but our office staff, who provide a service to our communities and constituents, do not, through the Assembly provisions, get any support for child-minding. I have many issues with the Assembly Commission, but it should take this matter forward with urgency.

Having said all of that, I must declare an interest. As some Members may know, 20 days ago my wife gave birth to our second child, Anna; and the issue of childcare support and child-minding will be acute for me within the next year.

Photo of John Dallat John Dallat Social Democratic and Labour Party 4:45 pm, 20th April 2009

Everybody knows about the baby by now. [Laughter.]

Photo of Gerry Kelly Gerry Kelly Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle and congratulations — for the childminding, that is.

I am pleased to respond to the motion and on the important issue of childcare. The Programme for Government commits us to ensure access to affordable, quality childcare, improve educational outcomes for the most disadvantaged and work towards the elimination of child poverty. The important contribution that adequate and affordable childcare can make to reducing poverty was also highlighted in the recent report on child poverty by the OFMDFM Committee.

As junior Ministers with responsibility for children and young people, Jeffrey Donaldson and I are tasked with driving forward the strategy for children and young people. The strategy’s aim is to ensure that all children and young people fulfil their potential, and evidence suggests that childcare is a key element in achieving that objective.

The gender equality strategy also recognises the role of childcare in actively promoting an inclusive society and in achieving equal value for paid work and equitable participation in unpaid work. The Beijing “Platform for Action” identified the lack of appropriate and affordable childcare as a factor preventing women from achieving their full potential, and the Equality Commission’s statement of key inequalities reached the same conclusion. There are many good reasons for wanting to improve the quality, affordability and accessibility of childcare, and there is a strategic importance in improving gender equality, advancing the social welfare agenda, improving the life chances of children, reducing child poverty and improving the economic prospects of the whole community.

Notwithstanding the current economic downturn, there has been a long-term trend for more women and parents to enter the workforce. As a result, childcare has become an increasingly important public policy issue. Access to good childcare is key to achieving a range of Government objectives. It enables parents, particularly lone parents, most of whom are women and who are in a group at highest risk of poverty and social exclusion, to move into work, training, education, or, if they so wish, to increase their working hours.

High-quality childcare provision, which every Member has mentioned, can have a positive impact on children’s educational and health outcomes and can enhance development and skills. It affords options for children, parents and families to help lift individuals and families out of poverty and social isolation.

For employers, supporting parents to balance work and childcare responsibilities can improve staff morale and retention; improve returns on training; and reduce staff turnover and absenteeism. It can also enhance an organisation’s financial performance, productivity and ability to adapt. For society, it supports increased employment and social cohesion — something that a number of Members have mentioned.

Local and international research shows that quality childcare forms the basis of better outcomes for children and the economy. However, research also shows that the best outcomes come from a delivery system that is coherent, organised and strategic. As other Members have said, the system that we have at the moment could, at best, be described as fragmented.

The future prosperity of our economy depends on investment in key areas. Childcare is one such area. We already lag behind some of our Scandinavian neighbours in the approach to delivering childcare, and we must discover what we can learn from those countries that are recognised as Europe’s “best in class”. However, we do not lag behind only Scandinavia. As a number of Members mentioned, we also lag behind provision in Britain and the South of Ireland in many respects.

Many Departments play a direct or supportive role in the provision of childcare: the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety in relation to registration and inspection; the Department of Education in relation to extended schools and early-years education; the Department for Employment and Learning in relation to childcare for those who are engaged in training; the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment in relation to creating job opportunities; and the Department for Social Development in relation to funding for women’s centres.

Policy must be responsive to demographic, social and economic changes. However, the challenges are substantial. We need to ask some hard policy and operational questions. How, for example, can we devise a system that incorporates high-quality registration and inspection regimes with childcare-workforce planning? How can we respond to the local circumstances of areas with diverse needs or to the needs of families with pre-school children or post-primary children in urban or rural areas? That was something that our rural colleagues also raised.

From the labour force survey, we know that over 230,000 parents who work have children who are under 12 years of age. In that figure, 144,000 parents have children who are under six years of age, but there are fewer than 50,000 registered childcare places. Research sources as diverse as the labour force survey, the millennium cohort study and the Northern Ireland Childminding Association all paint a similar picture. Parents want and need quality childcare that fits with their working lives and supports their children’s educational, social and emotional development.

Therefore, we must consider how to best provide childcare services that meet quality standards, are affordable, do not create disincentives to taking up employment, and fit in with the diverse family structures and working patterns of a modern economy. They must be sufficiently flexible to accommodate the working patterns and unique circumstances associated with the current economic downturn, including those seeking to enter or re-enter the labour market. That is easier said than done.

The constraints are very real and include legal issues and considerations as well as the fragmentation of policy responsibility. However, those constraints should not be allowed to divert us from making improvements, because there is an additional imperative beyond the educational and economic benefits of childcare. There are wider benefits to aim for, including the general well-being of our children and their parents.

I strongly believe that robust research evidence is the fundamental basis for good decision-making in government. I am glad to be able to tell the Assembly that the next meeting of the ministerial subcommittee on children and young people will discuss a paper that considers the options for the future of childcare here. Although I cannot pre-empt the outcome of those meetings, the issues include whether and how to reshape the childcare vision, strengthen local capacity to provide childcare services, and maximise the synergies among the statutory, voluntary and community sectors, as well as the important role of the private sector and employers in the provision of childcare. Those are issues that Ministers will have to consider how best to address. Several Members raised the issue of disabled children. I assure them that the paper on childcare provision will address the particular needs of those children.

What I have said thus far has described the potential value of childcare, along with the constraints and the imperatives that demand future improvements. That is not a task for government alone. The views and opinions of key stakeholders need to be obtained to ensure a participative approach to secure development and delivery.

Children and young people need to be directly involved in designing the process. As junior Ministers with responsibility for children and young people, we will continue to ensure that they have the opportunities to be heard and to make their views known on issues that affect them. We established and chaired the ministerial subcommittee on children and young people with the support of all the Ministers in the Executive, the NIO and the Court Service. It is a cross-cutting issue, so all Departments are represented so that they can discuss who has the responsibility or cross-responsibility for childcare services. Departmental attendance is very important.

The subcommittee also provides us with a mechanism for ensuring that cross-cutting children’s issues are kept high on the agenda and are tackled with a joined-up approach. Childcare by itself is not a panacea for the eradication of child poverty or the revival of future economic success. It is but one important strand among many. We need to keep focused on a joined-up approach, one that provides leadership and strategic vision, if we are to improve on the current situation. That means putting childcare higher up the policy agenda.

I look forward to reporting back to the Assembly on the outcome of the work that the ministerial subcommittee on children is doing in this important area. Indeed, that subcommittee will meet shortly.

Members stipulated five points about the strategy. It should be: coherent; flexible; not limited to nine-to-five hours; of good quality; and, as our rural colleagues continually — and rightly — remind us, cognisant of the extra pressures that people in rural areas face. With respect to the implementation of the strategy, two Members — Jim Shannon and Alex Attwood — mentioned NICMA. We are aware of that matter, and it will be included. Go raibh maith agat.

Photo of Dawn Purvis Dawn Purvis PUP

I welcome the support from all sides of the House for the motion and the amendment. As I said, the amendment is intended to expand on the motion in order to reflect the reality of the type of childcare that is needed to address child poverty and to help our economy across the board.

I thank all Members who spoke; all-party support for quality, affordable, accessible and flexible childcare that is age- and need-appropriate — in other words, it is geared towards early-years children, children with disabilities and school-age children — is not in doubt. It is somewhat disappointing that the media seem to be uninterested in a fundamental social policy issue such as this that affects our economy and those living in abject poverty and that also unites this House.

As several Members said, including Mr Moutray and Mr Elliott, childcare facilities are not places for people to dump their child while they work a shift. They play an important role in a child’s development, especially during his or her early years. We know how crucial the early years are in educational achievement and, therefore, in future employment and earning opportunities. In these tight economic times in particular, we must be creative so that people can be helped to make the most of any earning and training opportunities.

We heard from all sides of the House about how a fully funded childcare strategy could help our economy. In order to ensure that such a strategy delivers for parents and carers alike, it must include good-quality options that are accessible, affordable and flexible. I welcome the junior Minister’s announcement of further consideration of the matter through the ministerial subcommittee, and I urge it to bring forward a strategy as soon as possible. As Ms Naomi Long said, there is nothing new in the debate, and its outcome will be measured by the response to it.

I shall finish by congratulating Mr and Mrs Attwood on the birth of Anna and Mr Jim Shannon on the birth of his granddaughter.

Photo of Martina Anderson Martina Anderson Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Éirím le tacaíocht a thabhairt don rún.

I support the motion and the amendment. I, too, welcome the support of all those Members who spoke.

For women in particular, the lack of suitable, flexible and affordable childcare is one of the most significant barriers to their participation in the labour market. Many Members made that point. Although childcare is a parental issue, as my colleague Jennifer McCann said, more often than not, responsibility for it falls to mothers. Childcare is very much an equality issue; it is about social and economic equality, because those who are on low incomes — the working poor — and those who live in areas of high deprivation have the greatest difficulty in accessing affordable childcare.

As Jennifer McCann, John O’Dowd and Tom Elliott stated, childcare is also about rural equality. The rural childcare stakeholder group’s report, which the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development commissioned in 2008, acknowledged the difficult circumstances that women and families face when attempting to find affordable, accessible childcare in rural areas.

As Stephen Moutray said, be in no doubt that the lack of affordable childcare is a massive problem for countless families across the North of Ireland. That reality is borne out by the evidence that Members gave. For instance, in June 2008, there were 92 day-nursery places here for each 1,000 children aged nought to four.

In England, however, there were more than double that number. My colleague Jennifer McCann also reminded Members that childcare is subsidised by 75% in some countries in Europe, compared with a mere 25% here.

A survey undertaken by the Equality Commission in 2003, which MLA Naomi Long mentioned, found that almost one quarter of employed mothers were constrained in the hours that they worked by childcare problems. A further 20% stated that they were constrained in their choice of job by childcare needs. The working-age economic activity rate for women without dependent children is 73%, and the corresponding rate for women who have three or more dependent children is 45%. Some 67% of women cited the lack of affordable, quality childcare as the main barrier to their seeking employment. Therefore, the lack of childcare is not only failing our children, but, by creating another barrier to employment, it is failing our prospects of economic growth.

Tom Elliott spoke about the need to relate childcare with the economy, and Members should bear that in mind. Despite that, Children in NI pointed out that as far back as 2002, it was estimated that childcare provisions needed to be increased by 20% to meet the demand. However, as Jimmy Spratt said, we are debating this issue at a time when the number of childcare places is falling steadily, rather than increasing. Jimmy Spratt and John O’Dowd called for more childcare provision, as did many other Members.

Unless action is taken now, affordable childcare will continue to become increasingly unattainable for the vast majority of children here. Alex Attwood told us about his daughter, and he said that he had a vested interest in childcare provision. Jim Shannon does not want his beautiful grandchild growing up without her mother having access to childcare provision. [Interruption.]

Mr Shannon does not want his grandchild’s mother to have inadequate childcare provision. In Ulster Scots, he said that the wane needed to be minded in a safe place, which is something with which all Members will agree. Tá sé an-tábhachtach go mbíonn páistí in áit atá slán dóibh.

Proper support and resources should be put in place for the Women’s Centre and the many voluntary organisations that provide childcare in our communities. Mary Bradley talked about the fiasco around working tax credit and called on all the Ministers — and I noted that it was all the Ministers — not only to take heed of what was being said in the Chamber, but to act responsively and to address the issue.

Action needs to be taken to develop childminding recruitment and retention strategies to ensure that parents have sufficient choice and affordability. We must support those parents, mainly mothers, who choose to stay at home to care for their children in the early years, by providing access to appropriate home-based and group support services. The only way that we can achieve that — and the only way that we can achieve the level of childcare provision that is required in the North of Ireland — is through the kind of coherent and properly resourced strategy that the motion and the amendment call for.

We cannot pre-empt the outcome of the ministerial subcommittee discussion on childcare, but we hope that it will address the issues that have been raised in the Chamber today and take account of the recommendations of the child poverty inquiry. Dawn Purvis quoted from the OFMDFM report on child poverty, and all the members of the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister agreed that the provisions were woefully inadequate.

Danny Kennedy and Naomi Long stated that the findings of the report need to be dealt with sooner rather than later, and I recommend that the ministerial subcommittee consider the OFMDFM Committee’s report on child poverty and the recommendations that dealt with childcare. The Executive must take ownership if the ministerial subcommittee report is to have any kind of impact. It must be implemented on a genuine cross-departmental basis.

Despite some comments in the Chamber today, I am mindful that the nought-to-six-year-old strategy is being developed by the Department of Education. I am also mindful that the Minister of Education, along with OFMDFM, will be represented at the World Forum on Early Care and Education, which will be held in Belfast this year. That forum will have representatives from more than 70 countries, and more than 1,000 people will be in attendance. Therefore, work on the issue is being rolled out by Ministers through their departmental remits.

From my experience through the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister’s inquiry into child poverty, I know that the lack of affordable childcare is a huge issue for a massive number of families and stakeholders. There is a need for a cross-departmental approach, as opposed to its being the responsibility of just one Minister. Stephen Moutray and Roy Beggs said that it was cross-cutting in nature. We need to acknowledge that and take into account that it is the responsibility of many Ministers and the Executive in their totality.

I welcome the fact that childcare provision has been made a priority by the ministerial subcommittee on children and young people. What we need to see is those priorities being turned into effective action with real and meaningful change. That was reflected in many of the comments made in the Chamber today.

We look forward to hearing from the junior Minister when he reports to the Assembly on the outcome of the ministerial subcommittee’s discussions and to hear specifically how many Departments were represented and what kind of commitment each of the Ministers or their representatives gave at those meetings.

I support the motion and the amendment. Go raibh míle maith agat.

Question, That the amendment be made, put and agreed to.

Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to.

Resolved:

That this Assembly expresses its concern at the lack of availability of affordable, quality childcare; and the lack of provision for people who require flexible arrangements to allow them to avail of working opportunities in the evenings, overnight and at weekends, particularly in the current economic climate; and calls on the Executive to implement a coherent and properly resourced childcare strategy.

Photo of Dominic Bradley Dominic Bradley Social Democratic and Labour Party 5:00 pm, 20th April 2009

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. During the debate on world autism awareness day, which was held on 31 March 2009, Mr Savage made a remark that could be construed as meaning that Members benefited financially from their work with the charity Autism Northern Ireland. Members of the all-party group on autism, and Autism Northern Ireland itself, expressed extreme concern to me as chairman of the all-party group about the import of those remarks. Therefore, I ask that the Speaker examine those remarks and rule whether there are grounds for asking the Member to withdraw them.

S

Mr Bradley, many parents who have children on the autistic spectrum are eager to know why you and other MLA's whose trips to Washington in 2007 were paid for, have not divulged that information publicly/recorded it with the Assembly. John McAllister has done so, but you have not. Is it that John McAllister did indeed see this as a matter of...

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Photo of John Dallat John Dallat Social Democratic and Labour Party

The Member may know that that was not a point of order. However, I will refer his remarks to the Speaker.