Childcare costs finally an election issue

As childcare costs finally become an election issue, there are calls on politicians to acknowledge this as not just a woman's issue but a parenting one.

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Women’s Agenda – Childcare affordability has finally rated a significant mention in the 2016 Federal Election campaign, after the Labor party unveiled details of its $3 billion relief package today.

For plenty of parents facing rising childcare fees the news is certainly welcome, with Bill Shorten promising to increase the childcare rebate from $7500 to $10,000 from 1 January 2017, along with a 15 per cent increase in the childcare benefit. That’ll offer more immediate relief compared to the Coalition’s promise to reform the system from 2018.

The package also includes a number of compliance measures designed to prevent service providers from simply pocketing the additional funding.

These include mandatory fee reporting by service providers, a complaints hotline, new ACCC responsibilities for independent price monitoring, and new powers for the Department of Education and Training to investigate fee hikes and price gouging.

Announcing the policy with Early Childhood Minister Kate Ellis today, Shorten said the move will not be funded by new money, but rather off existing savings, including cuts to the baby bonus payment.

The Coalition has already questioned how the proposals will be funded, with Education Minister Simon Birmingham stating it’s, “A short-term, unfunded, bandaid” solution.

Labor says 813,000 families currently access the Child Care Benefit, with the new measures offering an addition $31 per child per week, or $1,627 a year.

It also quoted findings from the Productivity Commission’s report into Childcare and Early Childhood, finding many families manage their rebate cap by only accessing three days of care a week over a year (and consequently then working part time.

So, from the outset, this looks like a positive step from Labor for working parents. It’ll be interesting to watch how the Coalition responds in the coming weeks.

Shorten gave a passionate speech announcing the policy on Sunday morning, claiming he understands the high costs facing Australian families and the need to support working women.

There was just one grating issue in the press conference today: the language that continues to be used around childcare.

Shorten clearly marked this as a ‘women’s issue’. This is about getting women back into the workforce. It’ll enable women to pick up extra shifts, to work additional days and to get on with their careers. It could better encourage a working woman — who could currently be spending up to 80 per cent of HER income on childcare — to stay put in the workforce, he said.

All of the above may well be true. And we’re certainly all for policies that support working women.

But framing childcare as a woman’s issue alone perpetuates the norm that this is a woman’s problem to deal with.

Women shouldn’t have to subtract childcare from HER salary before determining if her work is worth it or not. Childcare should be subtracted from the combined household income.

So aside from that small gripe, we welcome childcare relief. In my household at least, Mum AND Dad will benefit, along with the children.

Below’s an edited version of a statement on the announcement from Assistant National Secretary of United Voice Helen Gibbons

“The policy announced today by Bill Shorten and Kate Ellis demonstrates that Labor values the education of every child and the contribution of every educator. This sets Australia on a path for a fairer, more affordable and sustainable early education sector. 

“The Turnbull Government’s delays on affordability and head in the sand approach on woefully inadequate wages of the overwhelmingly female workforce cannot continue.

“Labor’s commitment to quality education for our youngest children is especially welcome because it recognises that funding and supporting quality early childhood education and care must be a priority for our nation.

“But words are not enough. By improving affordability and accessibility this policy will minimise the chances of children missing out on the lifelong benefits of quality early education.

“On behalf of more than 155,100 early childhood educators United Voice welcomes Labor’s commitment to the workforce, including funding for a development program and a workforce strategy.

“Educators welcome the announcement that Labor will support professional wages with a submission to support educators’ claim for equal pay currently before the Fair Work Commission.

“Educators who teach children up to age of five are paid up to one third less than similarly qualified educators who teach older children.

“Ninety-seven percent of educators are women. They are some of the lowest paid professionals in Australia, many struggling on just $20 an hour or less than $40,000 per year. 

Below’s an edited version of a statement from National President of Early Childhood Australia, Ros Cornish

“Increasing the Child Care Benefit by 15 per cent for all families and raising the cap on the Child Care Rebate to $10,000 would bring very welcome immediate relief to all families using child care.

“This is a substantial boost within the current system, which will help all families meet the increasing costs of child care in the short term.”

“While we welcome this commitment by Labor, whichever party forms government after July 2 will need to finalise longer term reforms to build a better system for Australian children and families.

“Early Childhood Australia believes families need immediate fee support and that full reform of the subsidy system must ensure that all children have access to a minimum of two days per week of quality early learning, regardless of their parents’ ability to work or study.

“We are still waiting to hear what the Coalition Government plans to do in this regard. We are especially concerned that the current Early Childhood Workforce Strategy winds up at the end of this year with no word on whether it will continue.

“Labor’s promise to increase funding for indigenous early childhood services by 15 per cent is very welcome and necessary.

“Currently two out of five Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are developmentally vulnerable when they start school and Early Childhood services make a huge difference to improving the chances of success for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.

“We would like to see both major parties commit to enduring funding arrangements beyond 2017 for universal access in the year before school,  and to taking steps to improve the participation of three year olds in a high quality early learning program delivered through a range of education and care settings.” 

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