Why a ‘snap back’ on childcare means I can't afford to work full time

Why a ‘snap back’ on childcare means I can’t afford to work full time

"I haven't had a pay rise and have seen my career regress since having kids. Childcare costs will now stand in the way of changing that."

They say there are two sides to every story and this is certainly true when it comes to the Australian governments ‘free childcare’ program.

On the one hand, you hear about the need to stop free childcare, that centres can’t afford it and/or that parents can’t access the care they need. On the other hand are the small business owners, parents who have lost jobs, and those hit hardest by the global pandemic, pleading with the government not to be so hasty in reverting back to the old model.

Whichever side you are sitting on there is one thing I’m sure that we can all agree on:

The current (pre-covid) childcare system is broken.

Having spent the majority of two and half years at home with two kids, I recently started thinking about returning to work full time.

But now with a return to the previous childcare model slated for July, I don’t have much of a choice to make. We quickly realised no matter which way we cut it, our family would be worse off if I was working full time.  

In three days our family hits the childcare subsidy cap of $10 373 per child. When we did the sums it came to light, I would basically be paying for the privilege to work any additional days over three. If I wanted to work part-time in my own business we, hands down, couldn’t afford it. And if I went back to work full time for an employer, our childcare costs would be so high there would barely be any point.

Given the current global climate, I couldn’t believe I would be saying no to work due to unaffordable childcare.

KPMG looked at the ‘cost of coming back’ for mothers in 2018 and highlighted how when women want to increase their days above three per week, they are faced with significant financial disincentives. Our family, like many others, would be worse off by myself (the mother) wanting to return to work full time. 

One KPMG example that really struck me was one where two partners are each earning the equivalent of $100K annual income. I like this example because I previously worked as a Physiotherapist in the NSW public healthcare system, given the award wages this would most likely be my income had I stayed on.  Okay, so we have two hard-working, health care professionals working in the public healthcare system. This is not the story of corporate couples working in finance and law with huge amounts of disposable income. If the mother decided to return to work full-time, she would cost the family $4,082 a year, if she increased her work days from three to five.

It doesn’t make financial sense for women to work more.

It is clear how we have landed with the common parenting model of one primary earner (usually the father) and one primary carer and secondary earner (usually the mother).

Prior to having our first child, my husband and I were on even salaries. Since taking maternity leave and returning to work part time, I have had no career progression, and have actually experienced career regression when I wasn’t able to return to work part-time as a manager. Nor have I had a pay rise. From an operational and performance-based reward perspective, I understand why I am in this position, but as a result, our family’s gender pay gap is substantial.

The problem: Now that I am in this position, it’s hard to get out

We now have a clear primary income earner. We can’t afford for me to go back to work full time, to put myself back in the race and start to even out the playing field again. My partner and I had always considered that he may take paternity leave and be the primary carer if we had more children, but now our pay gap is so large, this is no longer an option. 

There has been so much talk about essential jobs and keeping those with jobs in work. Here is an opportunity to change things for the better so women can actually afford to work more.  

Why would we ‘snap back’ to a broken system when we should be taking the opportunity to fix it? 

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