A success story that doesn’t stop here

Over 22,500 mothers have utilised free childcare, with almost 98% of them employed, and others pursuing education and training opportunities.

Creating an environment that encourages women to work and implementing measures to support families can significantly boost a country’s economy. This was highlighted by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in a recent analysis on improving the economic performance of Japan and South Korea.

The IMF notes that Japan and South Korea face major challenges in women’s participation in the labour market, particularly for those raising families. A key issue is the difficulty in finding childcare services, which not only affects the economy but also discourages couples from having more children due to the financial burden. The IMF recommends that Japan strengthen its childcare services.

Looking closer to home, several European countries prioritise accessible childcare to support labour market participation. However, Malta stands out with its entirely free childcare scheme. While countries like France, Estonia, and Germany offer free services starting at age three, Malta provides free childcare from three months of age. Other countries, such as Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Iceland, offer subsidised services based on family income. In contrast, Italian families spend an average of €380 per month on childcare, totalling €4,560 annually.

Malta recently celebrated the 10th anniversary of its free childcare scheme, which has significantly increased female employment. According to Jobsplus, which administers the scheme, over 22,500 mothers have utilised free childcare, with almost 98% of them employed, and others pursuing education and training opportunities.

Free childcare was one of the Labour Party’s key electoral promises in 2013, when the unemployment rate was high and critics claimed that the party’s proposed policies would increase unemployment. Contrary to those fears, female labour market participation has grown from 34.5% in 2004 to 47% in 2013, reaching 64% by 2018. In 2020, Malta surpassed the EU average with a 67% female participation rate, which continued to rise to 73.6% compared to the EU average of 69.4%.

The Labour administration has strengthened the labour market, reduced unemployment, and bolstered the economy, which in turn allowed for increases in pensions and other benefits. The government aims to further improve childcare services in partnership with the private sector, recognising the significant benefits for children’s cognitive and social development, as highlighted by the OECD and other research.

Reports from the OECD and the EPPE project in the UK demonstrate that early childhood education can enhance children’s intellectual and social development, leading to better school performance later on. This underscores the importance of maintaining and improving our childcare services to benefit both the economy and society as a whole.

Sources:

– Asao, K., Xu, T., & Xu, X. C. (2024, May 21). Empowering Women could boost fertility, Economic Growth in Japan and Korea. International Monetary Fund.

– OECD (2017). “Starting Strong 2017: Key OECD Indicators on Early Childhood Education and Care.”

– Sylva, K., Melhuish, E., Sammons, P., Siraj-Blatchford, I., & Taggart, B. (2004). “The Effective Provision of Pre-School Education (EPPE) Project: Findings from Pre-School to End of Key Stage 1.”

Photo: Lina Kivaka

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