Tuesday, 26 May 2020
For those of you without young children, I know early learning and child care might not be the most important issue to you.
Of course for families with young children, the value of early education is front and centre. Parents are often dependent on it to participate in the workforce and can see the benefits of early learning on their child’s development.
But why would the rest of our community care about child care?
The value of early education extends far beyond families and children. Every Australian, our entire country and our economy stand to benefit from a successful childcare system.
Child care is essential to workforce participation, particularly for women. Without access to affordable child care many parents are unable to work and this sacrifice is often taken by mums.
This is also a hit to our economy. KPMG modelling suggests if the gap between Australia’s male and female workforce was halved, our annual GDP would be $60 billion greater in 20 years. The same report cites that getting more women into work results in greater national prosperity, more revenue from taxes and better returns on our investment in higher education.
Every day we all benefit from the support child care provides to parents — when a working mum treats you at the hospital, serves you at the checkout or runs a local small business. Working parents keep our economy going.
Child care is often pigeon-holed as a social issue, but this overlooks that it is one of the smartest economic investments a country can make. The improved educational, economic and health outcomes for children who receive an early education attract significant returns for our economy throughout their lives.
Research conducted by PwC shows that for every dollar our country invests in early learning, our economy gets two dollars back. This is a higher return than many infrastructure projects.
Investing in early learning and child care is now more important than ever. If we get it wrong it will not only impact those children who miss out on the lifelong benefits of an early education, but it will be a handbrake on our economic recovery from this crisis.
The Government implemented significant changes to child care through the COVID-19 crisis, and a lack of funding has left many services struggling to remain viable and families locked out of the system.
I have been contacted by women who are now unable to return to work from maternity leave because they have lost their childcare place. Despite the Prime Minister declaring all Australians with a job are essential workers, these workers now can’t return to their jobs and do their bit for our economy.
We are also on the precipice of early learning services shutting their doors, causing a shortage of childcare places and the unemployment of educators.
In response, the Government is now flagging a snap back to their old childcare system that saw families paying some of the highest fees in the world. The cost burden will be even greater for parents now, as many continue to face financial strain and a reduced earning capacity due to the current crisis.
The old system also came with a strict work activity test that I fear many parents will be unable to meet during this time of economic downturn.
Rather than mindlessly moving between one flawed system to another, we must give concerted thought and effort as to what Australia’s childcare system should look like as we emerge from this crisis.
The Government is now faced with an opportunity to do early education and child care better. This is an opportunity to chart a new course with early learning that delivers affordable and accessible care for every Australian child, keeps the sector viable and keeps parents in work.
Failure will be devastating for the almost one million families who rely on child care, the thousands of early educators and our economy as a whole.
Getting child care right must be a social and economic priority for our Government. I think you’ll agree, it is in the interest of all of us.
This piece was published by the West Australian on Tuesday 26 May 2020.