Proposed childcare changes amount to little more than tinkering

The government’s proposed childcare changes amount to little more than tinkering

childcare

Political parties know that families are so rushed these days that skimming headlines is as good as it gets. $1.7b childcare boost? 95% childcare subsidy? Lower fees the more children you have in childcare? Woohoo!

But there are key details you may have missed, and which the government is likely hoping you do. So, here’s the lowdown:

  • None of this cheaper childcare happens till July 2022. After the next election.
  • Part of what’s announced is only for children under 5. All those families hoping for fee relief from vacation care and before and after school care fees won’t see it.
  • It will cost a whole heap less than the $1.7 billion announced. That figure’s based on projections of how women will respond to the changes. And the government has been silent about the whack of money they are going to save because families where only one parent is working are only eligible for 12 hours of subsidised care a week. Post COVID, lots more families are in that position. Remember what the Government did with the NDIS – make a budget provision that they didn’t actually spend? Maybe they are treating the “perception” that they have a woman problem by creating a “perception” of handing out more money?
  • By making some of the changes only for children under 5, some families will choose to start their children at school earlier. Nice bit of cost shifting to the states and territories.
  • At best, less than a quarter of families who use childcare will receive any benefit from what has been announced.
  • Although the announcement was about ‘childcare’ the services that provide it are early education and care services. A lot of these are waiting for an announcement about the funding that goes from the Commonwealth Government to the states and then to these services to provide early education for children in the year before school. There was nothing about this funding in this announcement.

You have to hand it to the Government though. The Coalition truly excels at making childcare funding announcements. In 2013 they announced they would make child care more affordable and accessible if elected. On Mother’s Day 2015 they announced a new Child Care Subsidy system – designed to make childcare more affordable. In 2020 they announced they had to suspend the Child Care Subsidy system and make all childcare not just affordable, but free, in order to stop the entire childcare sector from collapsing in the face of COVID. And now in 2021 they have announced changes to the Child Care Subsidy system to make childcare, you guessed it, more affordable.

They excel in making announcements, but not in taking responsibility for designing a dud Child Care Subsidy system in the first place. One that despite costing taxpayers more and more each year, has not yet delivered families affordable care. This government designed the subsidy cap they are now removing. This government designed every element of the Child Care Subsidy system that they now have to change because childcare is so unaffordable that they become un-re-electable.

But there is an important announcement that the Coalition haven’t yet made. That’s the one about who is going to do the minding of our nation’s children when the last childcare educator and early childhood teacher quits. We are in the grip of a huge workforce problem in the early education and care sector. Our childcare centres can’t get the staff they need and because staff numbers are set by regulation, if they can’t get the staff they need, they can’t care for as many children.

Last year the Government itself year reckoned that the sector would need an additional 30,000 educators and 7,000 additional teachers by mid 2024. And yet the number of people training for these roles have dropped dramatically. One third fewer people enrolled in vocational training to become educators between 2016 and 2019 and only a quarter of the number of people enrol in early childhood teaching degrees now as did 9 years ago.

So there are not enough new people going into these roles and there are also not enough people staying in them. And who can blame them? The low wages are well known. A lot didn’t take kindly to being expected to work through COVID lockdowns in 2020 with little acknowledgement, little support, and being thanked by being the first workers chucked off JobKeeper.

So maybe whatever announcements the Government makes about the Child Care Subsidy system won’t actually matter in the long run. We are perilously close to not having the educators the system needs to even function.  

And women will probably be even less happy with the government when they rock up to their childcare centre and discover they can’t leave their child that day because there aren’t enough staff.

That’s the sort of problem that really gets governments unelected. And it’s a problem that’s frighteningly close.

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