Childcare costs not simple to address

17 June 2016

Despite the fact that I’m not a parent, I’ve been in situations where I wasn’t able to work if someone else wasn’t able to work.  In a sense, this makes me appreciate why people rely increasingly on childcare.

There have been times in the past where another person’s ability to work directly affected mine.  If that other person, for whatever reason, was unable to work, and there was no chance of finding a replacement worker, it meant that I, too, wasn’t able to work.  And most of my work over the last decade or so has been of a casual kind, where I didn’t get sick leave or similar entitlements – casual workers generally only get paid when they show up for work, whereas people in permanent employment often don’t have to worry about lost pay if they get sick or take time off for other reasons.

This is probably as close as I can get to having empathy for people putting their children in childcare centres while they work.  How many stories could you tell about people being unable to work because of being unable to find anybody to look after their children, and how their inability to work has effectively meant that other people couldn’t work?  In a society with an ever-growing number of families having both parents working, whereas once families could get by with one parent working and the other parent looking after the child or children, it’s understandable why childcare becomes an important issue.

There are, of course, many instances where parents have relatives or neighbours or trusted friends with whom they can leave their children, and many parents have access to nannies or babysitters.  But these options aren’t available to every parent.  So it’s no wonder that parents turn to childcare.  Mind you, because childcare centres aren’t necessarily available in every suburb or region, parents might have no choice but to put their faith in being able to find nannies or babysitters – if they’re lucky enough.

And even though many parents are increasingly becoming able to work from home, meaning no need to worry about childcare or babysitting or the like, not all parents have this option available to them.

What can be done about issues surrounding childcare?  I’ve lost count of the number of stories that I’ve heard about childcare centres with waiting lists, and parents struggling to find places in childcare centres for their children.  And with those stories have also come stories of people paying fortunes to send their children to those centres, if or when they’re lucky enough to get them into them in the first place.  So governments see fit to pay parents in the form of rebates and other public subsidies to offset those childcare costs, which triggers comments because of how many billions of dollars are spent on childcare subsidies, especially when the Federal Government has a massive budget deficit to reduce.

I’m open to ideas on reforming how we subsidise childcare costs, if they’re out there.  But I also feel that some questions on childcare costs haven’t been answered, and that they’re not that simple to address.

At the same time that countless childcare centres have waiting lists, over the years I’ve seen and heard stories of childcare centres with vacancies, which would seem like quite a contradiction.  How is it possible that childcare centres could have vacancies at all, when demand for childcare is so huge?  Why is it that they can’t attract parents currently struggling to find childcare places?

Ideally, parents looking for childcare will want places as near as possible to their regular route of travel to work.  If we assume, quite safely, that most parents using childcare services will drive to and from work, they’ll look for services not requiring them to go far from their work route.  For example, if you’re a parent living in a place like the inner Sydney suburb of Concord and you work in the Sydney CBD, you might drive to suburbs like Drummoyne or Leichhardt, which wouldn’t be too far from your direct drive into and out of the city – you wouldn’t willingly deviate as far out as Lane Cove or Mascot unless you were desperate.  I must stress that I use these suburbs as hypothetical examples because of my knowledge of Sydney’s suburbs and roads, rather than what childcare services are like in these suburbs.

If childcare centres actually have vacancies, is this because of their locations or their costs or something else?  Are they situated where they are because it’s easier or cheaper to open such facilities in those locations?  Do they charge as much as they do because it’s what costs them to keep their centres financially viable?  Are general costs part of the reason why childcare generally is expensive?

I’d support a review of childcare, in so far as questioning why it is that childcare centres charge as much as they do, or whether governmental regulations or laws or other factors are driving up costs or triggering waiting lists.  I just want to see taxpayers’ dollars used more wisely when it comes to childcare and other areas, rather than just throwing more money at problems without understanding what causes them.



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