What women want out of childcare

Fiona Mueller

14 October 2020 | Financial Review
Labor has made cheaper childcare a centrepiece of its response to the federal budget, saying that women’s workforce participation is crucial to Australia’s economic recovery and lifting the child care subsidy by 15 per cent as the best way of facilitating this.

But what problem Labor is trying to solve?

The Productivity Commission’s 2020 Report on Government Services (Early Childhood and Care) points to nearly $10 billion already spent in financial year 2019 by federal and state/territory governments in this area.

Yet the inquiry concluded that on women’s participation, childcare is only part of a “broad range of work, family and financial factors which influence parent work decisions.”

Moreover, the decades of policy emphasis on supporting mothers in the workforce has also shifted over time to an expensive focus on ‘early learning’. The National Quality Framework’s strict regulations around the qualifications of staff and the operational accountability of childcare centres. All of those things have raised the cost of childcare but without making it more accessible or flexible.

If governments genuinely want childcare to be more affordable, and open to more parents, the first thing it needs to do is cut out the quality framework, which research shows is ineffective once children reach the age of seven, in any case.
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