A ‘game-changer’ is how the Grattan Institute described the effect on productivity of addressing the availability and affordability of childcare in 2012. There is clear evidence, which Treasury agrees with, that improving the quality, availability and affordability of childcare boosts women’s workforce participation which boosts productivity. How to do it is the $25 billion question Australian politicians now face.
How they propose to tackle it will be a deciding factor for some voters at the upcoming election. the National Foundation for Australian Women has just published a report comparing the major political parties’ proposed policies for doing just that.
In March this year The Australia Institute published a comprehensive report detailing what is wrong with the current childcare model and makes a very clear point: The issues around childcare are complex. From a public policy perspective the quality of care provided needs to be maintained, childcare workers must be paid a fair wage and the cost of care must be affordable to parents. It is clear that there is some tension between achieving each of those objectives.
So how do the political parties propose to address these issues?
A greater proportion of families reported difficulties with the cost of childcare in 2010 than in 2001.
- A means tested Child Care Benefit
- A non-means tested Child Care Rebate up to $7,500 (cap frozen until 2017)
- CCB and CCR applicable to out of hours school care (though lower rate of CCB for school-aged children)
- Additional funding to help parents on income support – mostly mothers – receive training and get the skills they need to move into work
- Proposed Productivity Commission Inquiry into childcare. Terms of reference include daycare and inhome services including nannies and au pairs and the out of pocket costs of childcare.
- Ruled out means testing the Child Care Rebate
- Supports continuation of Child Care Benefit
- Proposed Productivity Commission Inquiry into child care funding and how rising costs can be addressed.
- Boost public funding to support a more generous and streamlined benefit/rebate payment to assist families, particularly those with special needs or in remote or regional areas.
- Support indexation of child care assistance payments to address current high costs.
- Pay all child care assistance directly to childcare centres to reduce the pressure on parents who may have to pay fees up-front and claim reimbursement.
- Proposed a generous Capital Grants Fund to assist new centres to open in high pressured areas meaning daily fees will have to stay competitive
The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that childcare availability issues are greatest for families with children who are not yet at school and demand is set to increase.
- Field trials of flexible child care (including overnight and weekend care) with industry, business and child care operators to commence in July 2013
- Providing over $190 million in training support through waiving TAFE fees for diploma in children’s service, introducing a recognition of prior learning program for early childhood educators and the HECS/HELP Benefit for Bachelor of Education (Early Childhood).
- Reviewing the Budget Based Funded child care program
- Commissioned research into how to increase supply of childcare and reduce red tape
- A $450million investment in out of school hours care at schools.
- Proposed Productivity Commission Inquiry into childcare.
- Terms of reference include consideration of care in the “24 hour economy” (the hours parents work or study, or wish to study); subsidising nannies and the particular needs of rural, regional or remote parents, as well as shift workers
- Proposed to re-establish the Federal Planning and Advisory Commission to ensure that new services are approved on an as needs basis.
- Committed to access for all children aged 0 to 5.
- Increased financial assistance for child care centre programs that offer flexible hours and occasional care.
- Enhance flexibility by expanding the number of places in the in-home care scheme.
- Proposed Capital Grants of $200m over 4 years for community and not-for-profit centres to access funds expand and build new centres to reduce long waiting lists.
- Proposed a three year pilot of a Micro-Care Scheme, with Commonwealth funding, to help community childcare centres and collectives of local businesses and workplaces, to set up a quality long day care centre on site to provide care for children of employees.
Quality of care is vital as child care is increasingly focussed on as a form of early childhood education
- Introduced the National Quality Framework to establish national standards for staffing levels and qualifications.
- Supported by assistance through the Early Years Quality Fund
- National Partnership Agreement on Early Childhood Education setting a goal for universal access to preschool for 15hrs per week for 40 weeks in the year before commencing school.
- $25 billion over the next four years to continue to pursue the Government’s Early Childhood Agenda.
- Introduced the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) to help children to learn and develop through play and the Framework for School Aged Care to guide developmental programs in OSHC
- Published the quality ratings of child care services on the Government’s MyChild website.
- Proposed Productivity Commission Inquiry
- Terms of reference includes a reworking of the current national Quality Standards framework and the needs of at-risk or vulnerable children.
- Support the National Quality Framework in principle. Will work with the States to find practical ways to improve implementation.
- Committed to the roll out of the National Quality Framework and have called for more support for the sector as it faces deadlines for national quality standards.
- The Greens have said that quality child care includes having highly-trained and fairly renumerated staff in long day care centres
- Have announced a fully costed scheme to improve the comparative conditions for teachers in long day care and urgently attract more graduates.
Low pay, poor promotion prospects and arduous working conditions are critical challenges for the sector. There are concerns that ensuring childcare remains affordable may create an underclass of women workers.
- $114 a week pay rise for child care workers subsidised by Federal Government delivered through Enterprise Bargaining Agreements.
- Established a Pay Equity Unit within the Fair Work Commission to look at wage levels across the whole children’s services sector, including OHSC.
- Funding to Child Care Industry through the Early Years Quality Fund to support employment of appropriately qualified staff.
- Training support for staff set out in “quality” table above.
- Productivity Commission Inquiry to include consideration of extending support to care provided by nannies and au-pairs.
- Opposed the mechanism adopted to deliver pay increases through Enterprise Bargaining Agreements as they’d not apply to all workers. Pay issues should be addressed through making a case to the Fair Work Commission.
- No mention of working conditions for existing workforce.
- Workers in the industry should be fairly remunerated for the work they do. Pay rate should reflect the skill and importance of the work. Improved professional development opportunities should be made available for all workers. Lifting wages will lift quality.
- Have expressed concern that the Early Years Quality Fund wage rise does not cover all early childhood educators.
- Expressed full support of the Fair Work Australia Pay Equity unit for child care educators and expect that improving wages across the sector will be a key focus in the next parliament.
- Recognising the teacher shortage, launched a policy initiative in early 2013 that would waive the HELP fees of recent graduates from early childhood teaching degrees, so that for every year they stay in the long day care workforce, a year of their HELP debt would be removed.