From 11.59pm on Monday night in Victoria, childcare centres will close to all families, except for children who have at least one authorised worker parent, amid the introduction of tougher lockdown restrictions in the state.
These restrictions on access to early childhood education and care in Victoria are the strictest Australia has seen during the pandemic, and they will put a harsh burden on parents of children under the age of 5, who are already buckling under an increased unpaid workload during the lockdown.
According to economist and CEO of the Grattan Institute Danielle Wood, 170,000 Victorian children under the age of 5 are currently enrolled in formal education and care. Many more families use in-home or informal care, including from relatives and grandparents.
The effect of closing childcare to everyone but children of authorised workers will increase the workload of parents with young families across the state, who already have the highest paid and unpaid workload of any other group.
According to Wood, parents of children under the age of 5, do an average of 80 hours of paid and unpaid work per week, while the average child enrolled in formal care attends 25 hours a week. In single parent families, or families with two parents working full-time, children often attend more than 40 hours of care.
These restrictions come as many parents with children in early childhood education and care are already juggling the near-impossible task of maintaining paid work and the remote learning of their older, school aged children. And as we’ve seen since the start of the pandemic, in heterosexual couples, it is most likely to be women who take on the brunt of this unpaid care work.
Caring for a younger child is not something that can be done ‘on the side’ while you work. It demands almost 💯 of your attention and energy. The same is true of remote schooling for younger primary-school aged children.— Danielle Wood (@danielleiwood) August 22, 2021
As Wood shared on Twitter, international evidence suggests that the longer children remain at home amid school and childcare closures, the more likely it is women will reduce their hours of paid work, or potentially leave their jobs all together. The long-term economic security consequences of this for women are dire and will be worse for single mothers.
Last week, the Workplace Gender Equality Agency revealed Australia’s gender pay gap has widened to 14.2 per cent, meaning on average, women working full-time are now taking home $265.50 a week less than their male counterparts. As of yet, no one within the Morrison government has addressed the widening pay gap.
The international evidence suggests that if childcare and school closures persist, women are more likely to cut hours of paid work, take a less demanding role or leave the workforce all together. This will further entrench the earnings gap and economic disadvantage facing women.— Danielle Wood (@danielleiwood) August 22, 2021
With the Delta variant affecting children – who are not eligible for vaccination in Australia – at a rate never seen before, 5 new cases of COVID-19 were linked to the MyCentre childcare in Broadmeadows cluster over the weekend.
With school and childcare closures likely to continue for as long as children remain unvaccinated, Danielle Wood suggests we should investigate how rapid antigen testing is being used in other parts of the world to control the spread in schools.
She also says there needs to be a financial package for childcare centres, as we are currently at risk of losing centres, and childcare workers altogether when we come out of the other side of the lockdown. Single parents also need to be considered and given greater access to childcare, while employers need to come to the table and recognise the intense burden parents are currently under.