A disproportionate number of women small business owners find affordable access to childcare in Australia a barrier to starting and growing their businesses.
The latest data from the Productivity Commission shows there was a 22% rise in the number of parents in Australia who did not work due to the cost of childcare in 2020 compared with the previous year.
Based on those figures, 90,000 Australian parents stayed out of the workforce last year because the cost of childcare was too high.
Australian small business and family enterprise ombudsman Kate Carnell has come out in support of reforming the childcare system, saying access to high-quality, affordable early education would deliver “essential support to women in small business”.
“Women make up more than a third of Australia’s small business owners — 38%,” Carnell said in a statement on Wednesday.
“We know the COVID recession had a disproportionate impact on women. With childcare fees remaining too high, mothers — more often than not — need to spend more time at home to look after their kids rather than working to grow their business,” she said.
Carnell is urging the government to consider innovative ways to increase participation rates for women in the workforce to ensure productivity gains and to benefit businesses.
There are a number of ways for the government to do this, Carnell says, including making childcare more tax-effective or by phasing in an expanded subsidy scheme which is estimated to deliver an $11 billion boost to the economy.
Angela Henderson, who owns a business consultancy and is a mother of two, says unaffordable childcare is the biggest barrier women face when pursuing business growth.
“If women had better access to daycare, we would also be making Australia a wealthier country,” she says.
Ultimately, Henderson says the issue boils down to choice, because the cost of childcare reduces the options women have when making decisions about their businesses.
Henderson sees her own clients constantly face tough decisions about whether they should devote more time to their business or family and, in some instances, whether to establish a business in the first place.
“We no longer have choice. Women have to decide between either this or that because of circumstances,” she says.
“Whereas if women had access to universal childcare, they could choose to send their kids to childcare for three days and know they could focus on their business.”
When her business was a side-hustle back in 2010, Henderson says she delayed investing more time in growing the business because she was not able to afford to work less in her full-time role.
“It was a catch 22. I still had to keep working, even though I knew my business could have taken off and grown a lot faster, but I had to keep working and pay for day care,” she says.
The push for access to universal childcare is gaining pace, with a new campaign by Thrive by Five urging federal and state governments to make childcare universal and taxpayer-funded.
Speaking to the National Press Club on Wednesday, former South Australian premier Jay Weatherill and Nicola Forrest, co-founder of Minderoo Foundation, called on governments and the broader community to have the will to make childcare affordable for parents.
“There’s no doubt the current system really punishes women,” Weatherill said on Wednesday.
“We have got all these highly educated and talented women who are close to the peak of their productivity. We’re not actually utilising their services and we need them.”