Working Mum or Stay at Home?

The question of whether a parent – a mother in most cases – can return to paid employment and in what capacity is directly influenced by the availability, flexibility and affordability of childcare. And in Australia, high costs of childcare, long waiting lists, reduced subsidies and the logistics of managing small children as well as paid work are often leaving women with very little choice.

A bigger issue in this country than paid parental leave, many groups say they want childcare rebate extended to nannies and au pairs. By allowing nannies to qualify for a rebate, up to $7500 in childcare fees per child per year could be covered.

According to Consult Australia, nannies are a sensible option for parents who have limited flexibility and can’t afford long day care. By adding nannies to the ‘approved care’ system, the pressure on childcare centres would reduce and we would see shorter waiting lists.

Other groups are putting forward submissions to see childcare targeted toward lower-income families.

“The current childcare rebate fails to deliver benefits for the costs involved, inflating fees and disproportionately benefiting families on higher incomes,” says Dr Cassandra Goldie, CEO of Australian Council of Social Service. According to Dr. Goldie, families who are on the lowest incomes see minimal benefits and the government needs to better target funds to provide assistance to these families.

Australia already shows a smaller proportion of working mothers when compared to Britain, USA, Canada and New Zealand, and the expense of childcare is contributing to the gender imbalance in the working industry. Even more sobering is that one in four women who do return to work receive no net financial gain as a result of childcare expenditure.

Over the past six years, childcare costs have increased by up to 50%. With a threat to childcare subsidies now looming, Mission Australia’s childcare survey confirms a real possibility that 23% of working mothers may be forced to quit their jobs and 40% will have to reduce their work hours.

Mission Australia’s Early Learning Services General Manager, Marie Howard, said the results emphasise the need for ongoing funding to ensure the best possible education and care is provided to young Australians during the most crucial years of their development.

The survey results also showed that parents cared deeply about the quality of childcare, and that it’s not just about finding a babysitting service while they go to work. They want to give their children a place to learn and interact, to develop life long skills and successful transitions into school. Howard notes this is particularly important in disadvantaged communities, where good learning programs can help children gain a good start in life.

When it comes to flexible and affordable childcare, Australia still has a long way to go. The results of the Mission Australia survey strongly imply that if subsidies are eroded, things will go backwards for dual working parents and/or single parents. Therefore it is paramount that the call to action to make childcare more accessible and flexible be prioritised on political and business agendas.

Here are a few suggestions:

– See if your organisation is on the list by Workplace Gender Equality Agency. Their report includes the latest employers of choice for women, supporting issues including pay equity, flexibility and childcare. The 2012 report can be viewed here.
– Generate support for a vacation care program or onsite childcare centre.
– Generate support for adding nannies to the ‘approved care’ system.