Childcare subsidies announced in last night’s budget will increase demand on an already strained system and could cause prices to go up for care, experts warn.
The budget has allocated $1.7 billion to offer rebates of up to 95% of costs that the government will offer to families with two children in childcare.
“As the subsidies increase, historically, the price of childcare increases… and so we need measures to somehow restrain that cost increase for families, otherwise they’re always losing,” Professor Christine Woodrow from Western Sydney University said.
Griffith University’s Professor Parvinder Kler says that the issues with the supply of childcare come down to lack of availability and workers dropping out of the sector, arguing that the government needs to do more to train future workers.
“It’s going to take time to train up staff, and the government hasn’t addressed any of this, or they have indirectly addressed training more people with the other schemes,” he said.
1.7 billion allocated for affordable childcare in budget. What happened to free childcare, as we saw during the pandemic surge in Australia? Economic modeling, research evidence, show investing in quality childcare is a game changer now & in the future @MonashEducation
— Marilyn Fleer (@MarilynFleer) May 11, 2021
“39,000 extra educators are needed by 2023. I don’t think we’re going to achieve that without some pretty radical high profile strategies to build the workforce and retain the workforce,” Professor Woodrow said.
Professor Woodrow said that the government needs to do more to attract people to work in childcare and to keep them in the system, with so many workers considering leaving the profession altogether.
“How about some incentives [to stay] in the childcare sector? It is highly feminised, is poorly paid, and the work conditions are tough,” she said.
Some figures talk about 250,000 families that will benefit, and that is very welcome, but there are over a million families using childcare in Australia
Professors Woodrow and Kler ultimately both welcome the subsidies but say that it’s a “lost opportunity” to create lasting change.
“I don’t want to sound too pessimistic, it is better than nothing… It’s a good policy, but it has its weaknesses,” Professor Kler said.
He also warned that gaps in the childcare subsidies outlined in this year’s Budget would leave families with one child in the system worse off.
“We are definitely leaving families behind,” he said.
Professor Woodrow agreed, saying that there’s a long way to go in terms of meeting Australia’s childcare needs.
“Some figures talk about 250,000 families that will benefit, and that is very welcome, but there are over a million families using childcare in Australia,” she said.
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