A new study has found that Ireland's levels of unmet needs in both childcare and home care are among the highest in Europe.
Researchers from the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) examined this issue in 11 European countries and found that Ireland had the second highest unmet need for home care and the fourth highest for childcare.
When it came to home care, only Greece had more unmet needs. The reason for this high level of unmet needs in Ireland appeared to be related to availability of services.
The study found that countries with universal services and generous welfare states were less likely to have unmet needs. For example, in Denmark, 54% of families receive home care for someone in their household who needs it compared to just 24% in Ireland.
Unmet needs are more common in working-age households, with those over the age of 65 tending to have better access to home care services. However, even among older people, there are big variations across countries. For example, 80% of older people who need home care in Denmark get it, compared to just 42% in Ireland.
"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," commented one of the study's author, Bertrand Maître.
When it comes to childcare, the highest level of unmet need was found in Spain, followed by the UK, Greece and Ireland. The biggest obstacle in Ireland to accessing childcare was found to be cost.
For example, in Ireland, 78% of families with an unmet need said that cost was the biggest obstacle. In Finland, only 20% of families blamed cost for their unmet need.
In all 11 countries, in families with unmet childcare needs, mothers were less likely to be employed and there was a higher likelihood of poverty.
"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," Mr Maître noted.
Commenting on the research, the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Regina Doherty, said that these findings make "an important contribution to policymaking in this area".
"They will inform the actions we take to address unmet formal childcare and home care needs in order to deliver positive outcomes for families and individuals throughout their working lives and on into retirement," she said.
The report on the research can be viewed here.