Childcare costs are hurting all of society

by Jane Hunt

When we talk about the cost-of-living crisis, we typically talk milk, bread and petrol. But what’s causing much more pain in countless Australian households right now is childcare.

According to the Front Project’s landmark survey of more than 1000 parents and almost 150 professionals working in the sector, early childhood education and care is now unaffordable for many.

Sixty per cent of families surveyed say they’re making significant financial sacrifices to educate their children. That’s up from 47 per cent two years ago.

And 49 per cent of parents tell us they’ve changed their work arrangements in order to find or afford care for their children.

And 50 per cent of parents told us that once the cost of care is factored in, it’s hardly worth working.

Out of the major cities, the situation is even worse - 39 per cent of parents living in these areas don’t use paid early childhood education and care because they can’t find a place.

Just think of how this must be affecting our national productivity and not just through the effect on work. We know that giving children a good educational start in life has long-term effects on health, wellness, relationships, and workforce participation.

And we know that for every dollar invested in early education in the year before school, Australia receives $2 back over a child’s life.

So, what are the key moves the federal government should make now? The ‘activity test’ needs to be removed. This fiddly redtape, with its complex assessments about working hours and subsidy levels, disincentivises parents from using childcare.

It also creates a barrier for children experiencing disadvantage from accessing care, when they are the ones who need it most.

We also need greater investment priortised so services can be located where they’re most needed, like in our regions. This investment must include the most critical element: quality educators and teachers.

As published in the Sunday Telegraph and the Courier Mail.