Malta has highest increase in children in childcare across EU

Since 2011 the percentage of Maltese under-3s in childcare shot up from just 11% to 31% in 2016 – putting Malta close to the Barcelona target of 33%

Malta has experienced the largest increase in the percentage of under 3-year-olds who were enrolled in formal childcare in the EU, even if Maltese women are still the most likely to cite family responsibilities to justify their economic inactivity.

A European Commission report on the so-called Barcelona objectives to encourage women to join the labour market, shows that since 2011 the percentage of Maltese under-3s in childcare shot up from just 11% to 31% in 2016 – putting Malta close to the Barcelona target of 33%.

Although close to the EU average – also 33% at present – Malta still lags behind countries with a long tradition of providing affordable childcare like Denmark (70%), the Netherlands (53%) and Sweden (51%).

But Malta is now just a notch behind Germany, Finland and Italy (33 to 34%). Indeed, since 2011 there has been a considerable increase in childcare coverage in a number of EU states, most strikingly in Romania, Estonia, Italy, as well as Malta.

On the other hand, there were significant drops in childcare coverage for this age group in Greece and Slovakia.

Malta has registered the second-highest increase after Romania and Poland in the childcare rate for children aged between 3 and mandatory school-going age: from 73% in 2011 to 88% in 2016.

Malta is now among the countries which provide “a right to childcare from a very early age” – childcare is free for the children of working parents and students from the age of 3 months, compared to Denmark and Hungary where this applies to children over 6 months. In Sweden and Slovenia free childcare is only offered from 12 months while in Estonia from 18 months.

But in contrast to countries like Finland and Sweden which offer free childcare irrespective of the parents’ employment status, in Malta free childcare is still limited to children whose parents work or are in education.

Parents are allowed to send their children to a childcare centre of their choice, and benefit from free childcare “equivalent to the hours worked by the parent with the lower workload, plus one hour extra for commuting”, a measure that aims to create an incentive for mothers to return to work or to remain in formal employment.

The report says “recent employment statistics already indicate that the provision of free childcare increases the labour market participation of mothers” and hints at plans to extend the access to childcare to all families.

Free childcare in Malta was introduced by the newly-elected Labour government in 2013. In the last general election the Nationalist Party had proposed to extend free childcare to all families including those whose parents are not in employment. The Labour Party pledged to extend childcare services in the evening for those who work at night or are attending full-time courses.

But despite the progress registered in the past years Maltese women are the most likely in Europe to cite family and personal responsibilities as a reason for their economic inactivity (16%).

Over 10% of women in Malta, Ireland, Cyprus, Romania, Poland, Italy, Spain, Croatia and Bulgaria are inactive because of their personal or family responsibilities, mostly for looking after children or incapacitated adults.

In 2016 Malta still registered the largest employment gap between female and male labour market participation in all EU member states.

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