The ESRI/Pobal report found that women are being shut out of the workplace due to the high cost of childcare in Ireland, with low-income many parents spending up to one-fifth of their disposable income on childcare.

Ms King said: This ESRI/Pobal report echoes the findings of recent ICTU research on this topic, including the survey we carried out earlier this summer of 1,000 trade union members which found that childcare costs amounted to a second mortgage for two out of three working families, as well as our 2016 report, which questioned the feasibility of achieving better early years services based on low pay and poor conditions. It also underlines what we have been saying to the Government over recent months, most recently at the July meeting of the Labour-Employer Economic Forum (LEEF) which focused on childcare.

‘The exorbitant cost of childcare in Ireland acts as a barrier to paid employment particularly for low-income households, including single parents. This reduces income among families who need it most, has a negative effect on female employment and leads to a loss of high quality skills, experience and knowledge in the workforce.

‘While public investment in early years’ has increased over recent years, Ireland is still well below both the OECD average of 0.7% of GDP and UNICEF’s recommended 1% of GDP. Our pre-budget 2019 submission accordingly includes a call for a €500 million increase in public investment in early years’ services. This could be funded for example by the abolition of the reduced VAT rate for the hospitality sector, which is estimated to cost the Exchequer €520 million this year alone.

‘Government policies to ensure more affordable quality early years’ services must also tackle the problem of poor pay and conditions for early years’ workers – qualified educators earn on average less than €11 an hour with many on precarious 15-hour a week and 38-weeks a year contracts – including to ensure that suitably qualified workers are attracted and remain in this vital sector.

‘These are the fundamental points we have been advocating to the Government, particularly in our engagement with the LEEF process. Investing in early years’ services are investments in a more inclusive society and are fundamental to long-run economic growth, Ms King concluded.