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It is childcare costs, not paid leave, that is confronting new parents

Date

Jonathan Hastie

Paid Parental Leave is fast becoming a noisy distraction to the real issue confronting working parents, which is the cost of childcare.

Paid Parental Leave is fast becoming a noisy distraction to the real issue confronting working parents, which is the cost of childcare.

There is a growing divide between the reality of raising a family and the political language associated with it. Paid parental leave is an excellent example of this, and recent calls by the Centre for Independent Studies to replace it with a HECS-style loan scheme demonstrate how wide the gulf has become. I argue PPL is fast becoming a noisy distraction to the real issue confronting working parents, which is the cost of childcare. 

Like most Australian workers, I believe in PPL. It provides a means for retaining women in the workforce, encourages families to have children and protects the right of women to have children free from discrimination. 

The main block to mothers (and increasingly fathers) returning to work after parental leave is not the continuity of their pay. It is the ongoing worry of the cost of childcare. Childcare costs have been rising in recent years as more mothers choose to return to work earlier and to work in more demanding positions.

The Rudd government’s national quality framework for early childhood education and care, which meant all educators had to have qualifications in childcare, led to steeper rises; the average cost of childcare has risen by about 7 per cent since its introduction in 2012, and by substantially more in areas of high demand. A loan scheme would only magnify the impact of this wage decrease, so that parents would have to worry about a 4 to 6 per cent wage cut for at least five years after returning to work, on top of the cost of childcare.

Before we chose to revert to a single income, my family was in this dilemma. Living in the central west of NSW, we had our two daughters in a local long daycare centre, at an annual cost of about $20,000 after the childcare rebate, a figure higher than our rent. Upon researching our options for our son's high school education, we found only the three most expensive private high schools in our area cost more in a student's final year than sending an infant or preschooler to a LDC. Without the rebate, any LDC would be more expensive than all but the most elite private schools nationwide. 

How can a high school, with its staffing, extra-curricular programs, pastoral care and somewhere in there a complex education for young adults possibly be less expensive to run than a preschool for 40 to 60 preliterate two to five-year-olds?

The answer appears to revolve around compliance, and the cost of establishing an LDC seems prohibitive. With the Rudd government’s quality framework, workers need a minimum of a certificate III in early childhood learning. In many childcare centres, the walls are adorned not with paintings or Paddle Pop stick artworks, but with printouts of government regulations and what looks like curriculum outlines.

Parents are just not as convinced as education bureaucrats about the need for comprehensive early childhood learning programs apart from school preparation, or preschool. 

The cost of childcare seems to be coming largely from the demands of government. The response of the government should not be HECS-style loan schemes: these just offset a cost that is rapidly spiraling beyond the means of many. 

The PPL scheme introduced by the previous Labor government will cost $1.9 billion this financial year. The scheme proposed by the Abbott government has been estimated at more than $5 billion a year. Were that extra $3 billion directed at cutting the cost of childcare, either by reducing regulation, creating incentives to make the market more competitive, or at least increasing subsidies, the rewards for the economy would be far greater, and the gratitude earned from working parents much deeper. 

Given the choice between maintaining their wage for six months to have a child, or having a reduced rate of pay for a time but a better deal on childcare when returning to work, there are no odds on what most working parents would choose. A wise politician chooses his battles, and recognises when he cannot win. Tony Abbott needs to listen and choose the right battle on parental leave.

Jonathan Hastie is a secondary teacher from the central west of NSW. He and his wife have three children, and are expecting a fourth in October.

58 comments

  • The real problem is people having children before they can afford to raise them themselves.

    Children are not accessories, and they have a right to be raised by their parents, not dumped in childcare five days a week.

    Commenter
    cook
    Date and time
    July 09, 2014, 7:13AM
    • The problem is that it is increasingly difficult to get yourself into a financial position where one parent can stay at home before ones fertile years are over.

      The "choice" to have 2 parents working is actually quite sensible when faced the highest house prices in the western world, HECS debts and a jobs market in which it is getting harder and harder to find full time, secure work.

      And please remember that childcare is not just about long day care for babies, it is also before and after school care. Many parents do take years off work to raise their kids, thinking that they will return once the kids are at school. Only to find that there is no before and after school care available, or the cost means that there is little benefit to working.

      Commenter
      RG
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      July 09, 2014, 1:00PM
    • Why are we subsidising these families that are having children they can not afford when youth unemployment is so high. Time to live within your means, not that people like being told that these days. Cheaper and better for society, less cost on umemployment benefits, less cost on childcare, parents looking after their own children. Housing prices will come down.

      No let's listen to the whingers that keep saying give us more money give us more money.

      Commenter
      gd
      Date and time
      July 09, 2014, 4:01PM
    • Absolutely. We don't need so many people breeding (there's 7 billion people on the planet and we can import people when we need them) especially if they can't afford to raise their kids and need taxpayer handouts to do so.

      Commenter
      Bender
      Date and time
      July 09, 2014, 8:20PM
    • Parents didn't have such problems raising kids 50 years ago, its just ridiculous that parents today EXPECT to put their kids in child care and then go to work while someone else looks after them!

      Commenter
      peter
      Date and time
      July 09, 2014, 9:19PM
    • If people waited until they could afford them they would be 45 in Sydney.

      Commenter
      Julie
      Date and time
      July 09, 2014, 9:49PM
    • Children have a right to be raised by parents and not dumped in daycare you say, "cook". I was raised by a working mum who had her own business with demanding hours. At the age of 65 she still runs that business. I have always been extremely proud of her and found her work choices inspiring for my own career. I am also a working mum and my son has spent a lot of time in long daycare leading up to his school years. I'd love for you to meet him so you could rest assured that working and utilising daycare facilities doesn't equal neglecting your children. He is highly intelligent, gorgeous, sweet and loved. Best part is that he is inspired by my achievements not just my play dough or cookie making skills (which are also up there). I feel your antagonistic comment may reflect your own desire to justify your choice to stay at home and "cook" instead of exercising your right to stay in the loop, using other valuable skills that you have to contribute to society in other ways besides child care.

      Commenter
      Clean
      Date and time
      July 09, 2014, 10:06PM
    • It takes years learning how to teach finger painting and how to read a story with the right inflection, boys and girls.........

      Commenter
      Barney
      Date and time
      July 09, 2014, 10:25PM
  • There is this strange assumption that all parents want to return to work as soon as possible and that one parent would not prefer to stay at home and look after their own children. Both parents are forced back to work because of the high cost of housing. Subsidized childcare is treating the symptoms of the disease and not the disease itself. I suspect that there are so many very powerful people with a vested interest in keeping house prices at obscene levels that we cannot expect anything to be done to reduce house prices. Our government currently has policies that seem specifically designed to keep them at such high levels.

    Commenter
    Tony McIntyre
    Location
    Lower Mitcham SA
    Date and time
    July 09, 2014, 8:01AM
    • Live somewhere you can afford.

      Commenter
      Kitty
      Date and time
      July 09, 2014, 10:31PM

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