As far as slogans go, “no jab no play” is not too bad, not in the least because of that extra word in there. Apart from the tiny percentage of voters who think that immunising their child is akin to child abuse, most of the population generally feel comfortable about immunisation. “No jab, no play” was guaranteed not to be one of the more annoying translations of complex public policy into a short slogan. The same may not be true of the slogan next on the horizon – “no job, no play”.
The Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced at a business lunch on Wednesday that the government’s long awaited childcare initiative for families is contingent on the delivery of savings to pay for it. Social Services minister Scott Morison has been waving this one around against recalcitrant Senators for a while; approve a tranche of savings measures that have been hanging around since the last budget and we’ll whack that money into childcare. Given previous Senate form however, it is unlikely that this will happen.
This leaves the PM and his social services Minister with a big, big problem. The Government has been promising real action on the childcare system since before they were elected. In his speech today, the PM summarised why – “because parents hold the key to increasing workforce participation”. He promised that “a key component of the government’s family package will be to make child care more affordable to give families more choices”.
The Prime Minister may be positioning himself as the messiah of childcare, but can he do that without a major fishes and loaves act?
At the risk of stating the obvious, it is hard to make a service more affordable without putting more money into it. Unless, that is, there are some winners and some losers. Unless more affordable for some comes at the expense of less affordable for others.
This is where it appears the Abbott Government is heading. Who could pay more? The obvious answer – those parents that can afford it, for example wealthy parents, should pay more, does not seem to be under consideration.
Instead it seems that the families who are not using childcare as a means to participate in the workforce will be cut out – hence “no job, no play”.
When the Productivity Commission did their review of childcare they suggested the imposition of a work/study/training activity test. They suggested that those parents that don’t work or engage in study or training for at least 24 hours a fortnight would not be eligible for funded childcare. The exact numbers of children that this would affect, if implemented, is unclear, but it could be up to 100,000 children.
Is this a problem? If they are not working, why should families be able to access childcare on the public purse?
Maybe this is a question we should ask other leaders of other countries. On Tuesday night, the UK Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to bring in tax free childcare to support British parents back into work and provide 30 hours a week of free childcare for three and four-year-olds. This is on top of the existing system of 15 hours a week of free childcare for all three and four-year olds and the most disadvantaged two year-olds.
Why would he make such promises? Why should Prime Minister Abbott consider something similar?
Maybe because the country’s future productivity depends on having a well educated population, and access to high quality early learning, which is what childcare is, will assist this? Or maybe because access to early education should be every child’s right, regardless of what their parents are doing? Or maybe because for many parents, having childcare is actually a precursor to even thinking vaguely about re-entering the workforce. Or maybe because the children whose parents aren’t in the workforce (and can’t afford to pay for unsubsidised childcare) are the ones that would benefit the most?
Or maybe because childcare savings for some families should not come at removing the rights to access any childcare for others? Currently every child has access to at least 24 hours of subsidised care a week regardless if their parents meet an activity test. Why should this be changed?
The Prime Minister has promised a more affordable, accessible childcare system. Maybe it’s time the Government found the money this is going to take. If they don’t, they may find that ‘no job, no play’ just really won’t cut it as the next government slogan.