Childcare costs lock parents out of work

·3-min read

The sky-high cost of childcare has locked a family member out of the workforce, almost half of Australian adults with kids say.

Polling of 1000 Australians adults for AAP showed 47 per cent of respondents for whom childcare was relevant said the cost prevented a relative from returning to work.

Just over 40 per cent of the same demographic also said access to childcare had prohibited a family member from returning to work.

The poll results come after data released by the Productivity Commission earlier this month revealed 90,000 Australians stayed out of the workforce in 2020 due to the cost of childcare.

The survey, by Fifty Acres x Pollinate, found seven in 10 Australian adults - childless or otherwise - think the service is too expensive.

Three quarters believe the financial assistance available to parents and carers should be boosted.

Families in Australia earning up to about $350,000 are currently eligible for a subsidy of between 20 and 85 per cent on their childcare fees.

The payment, made directly to early education providers, depends on parent income and is often capped.

But with Australians paying some of the highest out-of-pocket fees for child care around the world, mother and former lawyer Georgie Dent is not shocked by the polling.

Returning to work can even end up costing secondary workers - mostly women - more than staying home to care for children themselves.

"When you are a professional, high-income earning woman and you have children, the cost of childcare and our tax system means... there's literally no point in you working beyond three days a week," the executive director of advocacy group ParentHood told AAP.

Australian Childcare Alliance Vice President Nesha Hutchinson says the rising cost of running childcare centres is forcing "mum and dad" operators to hike fees.

Yearly increases in the subsidy, in line with the increasing overheads, are needed.

"For every dollar spent in early childhood education, $2 is generated in the Australian economy - that's not even looking at the long term benefits to children or families or careers," she told AAP.

"If families have the opportunity to work and they want to work, then it makes sense to have a subsidy system that supports them in those decisions."

But Ms Dent says increasing the subsidy has proved to inevitably increase fees.

"In Brisbane and Sydney, two and a half years after the last significant increase, all of the cost savings have now been absorbed."

Instead of "tinkering around the edges" of a system that isn't working, massive reform is needed, she says.

"Whether you have been unemployed for 15 years or you earn $1 million, wherever you live in Australia, when your child turns five there will be a position available for them at a primary school."

"It will be entirely affordable and they will be well cared for and have a high standard of education."

"We need to start looking at why we have decided that five is the age where we're comfortable with perceiving education as a societal public good that we all need to invest in."