Eliminating the cost of childcare by reforming the Child Care Subsidy and Early Childhood Education and Care system would be the most significant and impactful policy change for boosting participation in the paid workforce, especially for women, and even the playing field for Australian families.
For most children, ‘childcare’ or Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) provides the first experience of life in a group away from their families. Access to quality childcare plays a crucial role in children’s learning, development and wellbeing (OECD, Oct 2018).
‘Preschool’ or ‘Kindergarten’ programs are offered in the two years before school by both for-profit and not-for-profit providers in different settings such as Long Day Care centres, stand alone centres and school-based preschools.
The Federal Government supports ‘Universal Access to Early Childhood Education’ by subsidising preschool programs, and more than 90% of Australian children attend 15 hours per week of preschool programs in the year before school (State of Early Learning in Australia 2019 Summary).
Currently, the Government spends $6,789 on childhood education in the year before school, as compared to $19,000 per child per high school year (PwC, 2019).
Until COVID-19 hit, the Government offered means-tested support for childcare, as long as parents met a work or “activity” test. Even for a family getting the maximum subsidy (85% of costs for households with income less than $68,000), it costs approximately $9,000 a year to have two children in full-time care. For a family where each parent earns $80,000, the cost jumps to approximately $26,000 a year. This is unaffordable for the majority of Australian families.
In early April 2020, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that childcare would become free for about one million families, at a cost of $1.6 billion over three months.
Full time childcare absorbs almost a quarter of household income for a couple with two children, earning an average income, making childcare in Australia one of the most expensive options in the OECD.
But financial costs are not the only costs to take into account when it comes to childcare. Inaccessible and unaffordable childcare continues to be a disincentive to workforce participation, and places considerable emotional and physical costs on those who do the bulk of childcare at home, which predominantly impacts women and single parent households.
CAN WE afford to make it free permanently?
For decades, those campaigning on this issue have been told that making childcare free was out of the question. That was until the Government decided to make it free, overnight.
By making it free overnight, the Government acknowledged the life-changing impact that having a more accessible childcare system would have on businesses, families and the economy.
While subsidies for childcare are significant, we can do better. We also know that the Government is choosing to support many other industries, with packages for predominantly male-dominated industries like construction. Yet there is nothing for early childhood educators, who are overwhelming women, and who are, and always have been, essential workers.
With families already withdrawing their children from care due to the snap back, now is not the time to wonder whether or not we can afford it, but to ask if we can afford not to.
IS this a new issue?
Women, carers, feminist organisations, unions, and families have been calling for more accessible childcare for decades. This is not a new issue, and the ‘Make it Free’ coalition acknowledges the enormous body of work that has been done before us.
However, the times we are living in right now are new – which is why it’s time for renewed energy and new voices demanding that the Government make it free, for good and for all.
SIGN the petition
We, the undersigned citizens and businesses of Australia, are calling on the Government not to snap back free childcare, and instead to reform the Early Childhood Education and Care system and Child Care Subsidy by committing to:
Make childcare free permanently for every Australian family
Ensure that every Australian child has access to quality childcare
Pay early childhood educators and carers a fairer wage
Making it free, for good and for all, will create a positive impact on the social and economic situation of families, give the economy a much-needed boost, and build the foundations for future generations to thrive.
Let’s make it happen.