Prime Minister Gillard’s rushed childcare summit last week has put the spotlight back on the issue of affordable, quality care and why – like it or not – childcare is an issue for all. At my end, I’ve been in contact with Minister Kate Ellis’ office to organise a meeting to present the petition of signatures we’ve been gathering at Make Care Fair to reignite the debate on the cost and affordability of child care [so if you’re yet to sign the petition, please do so here]
There is now wide acceptance that childcare involves a learning and socialising process that provides the vital first step to life-long learning; and that affordable quality care is key to optimizing the productivity of Australia’s workforce, and particularly our women.
Yet in my experience, many Australians simply don’t understand why it matters to them. Those who don’t have kids think it doesn’t matter to them; but in truth all employers, taxpayers, parents, grandparents and – especially – our kids, have a vested interest in this debate.
If you still need convincing, here are the cold, hard facts relating to childcare, working women and the Australian economy:
Impact on a woman’s career
If you’re a taxpayer you should know that Australia ranks equal highest of all OECD countries in terms of the investment taxpayers make in educating our women and girls. And yet:
- The Australian Bureau of Statistics has found that 70,000 Australian mums are locked out of the workforce solely because they cannot get affordable childcare. The ABS says a further 13 per cent of mothers were either unavailable for work or unable to work more hours because there were no childcare places where they lived.
- 48% of women say the cost of childcare had negatively hit their career but not their partner’s career; while 71.6% of women said their partner’s career had not been held back at all.
- 46% of parents say the cost of childcare for their children under school age is too high relative to their income. 36% are considering leaving the workforce; while 26% have already reduced their hours of work because of the high cost of care for children under school age. This affects the careers of women more than men.
- 24% of working mothers say working isn’t viable however they remain in the workforce due to independence and the necessity for career progression.
- Leaving the workforce for cost of care reasons has a compound negative effect. After leaving the workforce 52% of unemployed carers feel that their skills have been reduced whilst off work, and 49% have reduced confidence in their ability to return to work.
Impact on workplace participation and the Australian economy
Childcare is now recognised a key solution to unlocking the full productivity of Australia’s workforce.
- The relationship between the cost of care and employment choices affects employees on all incomes, i.e. from those on relatively high incomes (AUD$90K and upwards) to those on relatively low family incomes (AUD$50K and below). Hence strategies to address all incomes groups will have a significant impact upon choice and workforce participation for all employees.
- A Senate Standing Committee found that for every AUD$1 the Government spent on childcare, the Government gets back AUD$1.86 in revenue because they have created a child-care industry which is paying taxes. If you factor in mother or father working, and therefore paying taxes, then you can sometimes get up to an eight or nine times return on the dollar spent.
- 50% of parents would increase their hours of work – and therefore their taxable income – if care was more affordable.
An industry in crisis?
- The flip side of affordability for parents is that childcare workers – who are mostly women – earn low wages of about $18 an hour. As a result, up to 180 workers a week leave the sector.
- At the same time, childcare fees have increased on average by 11.2 per cent over the past year.
- While there’s an obvious need to address the remuneration of those working in the childcare sector, 51% of families say that one parent would have to quit their job if the costs of childcare increased.
Given 92 per cent of parents rate childcare cost as an important or very important as a political or election issue, it’s no surprise that the Prime Minister is finally committing to a review of childcare in Australia over the coming months. I’ll be waiting with interest – like hundreds of thousands of other parents and employers – to see what ideas the Government comes up with.