The participation of women in the workforce could drop significantly if childcare subsidies, particularly for low-income families, are reduced, Mission Australia has warned.
The community support organisation says that while it supports any move by the Federal Government to simplify childcare subsidies, any cuts would disproportionally impact on “vulnerable children”.
The organisation has made a submission to the Productivity Commission’s wide-ranging review of Australia’s childcare system based on a survey of its 50 childcare centres.
The general manager of the group’s Early Learning Services, Marie Howard, says the 644 responses indicate families in disadvantaged areas are already struggling with childcare affordability.
It recommends simplifying the system of subsidies so the two current government payments, the means-tested Childcare Benefit and the universal Childcare Rebate, are rolled into one single payment.
However, it says, parents will not accept any corresponding relaxation of the new quality standards introduced by the previous government.
Ms Howard has told AM the aim should be to create “one payment system and one that focuses on disadvantaged families to increase the level of affordability for them”.
Assistant Minister for Education Sussan Ley says the red tape caused by changes under the previous government’s National Quality Framework costs about $2,000 per child each year.
However, Ms Howard says it is not enough to blame a national policy framework for the increasing cost of child care.
“There’s many reasons why the costs have gone up, and I think the investment’s worth it,” she said.
“We have a lot of operational costs, obviously labour is one of them, there’s rent, there’s maintenance, there’s high costs now of utilities.
“There’s a lot of factors at play in the cost of running a quality learning centre.”
Meanwhile, she says, 40 per cent of those surveyed would reduce their work hours if the subsidies were reduced.
“From an economic point of view, the parents are saying that further costs – if the costs keep going up – it will affect their participation in the workforce and in childcare,” she said.
“It’s the women who can least afford it who’ll be forced out and the vulnerable children who are hardest hit.”
Catch-22 for working mums
Melbourne mother Jayde Borthwick uses a Mission Australia centre for one day of childcare for her 17-month-old son.
“At first it was to go back for me and to get some money, and now it’s to pay for the childcare really – you know, to make sure I’m covering the costs for him to go,” she said.
With another baby on the way, Ms Borthwick will probably have to give up her work for a hardware company, despite the benefits it yields both her and her son.
“I really want to keep my son in when I stop working, because he loves it so much, like just for the social side of things,” she said.
“But going back to work when I have two, I don’t think it’s going to be worth the while.
“Because the thing is, with the childcare rebate at the moment is, the more you earn, the more it costs you, so at the moment, it’s not really worth me working any more than two days because then we earn more and therefore the childcare costs are more.”
Ms Howard says that if subsidies were reduced, 37 per cent of the parents surveyed would reduce their working hours, and 23 per cent would stop working altogether.
She says that it would have a long-lasting effect on children, particularly from disadvantaged areas.
“These children find it difficult to sit down on the mat, they find it difficult to open their lunch, let alone attend to their classes, and they fall behind in their literacy and their numeracy and they never catch up,” she said.
The Productivity Commission is due to complete its review by November.
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Childcare subsidy cuts will hit working women and poor families hardest, Mission Australia warns
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