The Federal Government has proposed changes to the funding of childcare. Samatha Page, CEO of Early Childhood Australia (ECA), responds to comments made by the Education Minister Birmingham and says that if the Package and Activity Test remains as proposed many thousands of families will opt out of the system and the children who stand to benefit the most will miss out.
The much awaited Federal Government’s childcare package must support both the participation of children in early learning and working families to access stable and afforable childcare services.
Australian families need confidence that the Childcare Package the government delivers is fair and allows them to have stable, afforable access to quality services.
To be fair and ensure all children will benefit from access to early learning the package must:
- Subsidise families to access two days per week of childcare
- Only apply a work/study activity test beyond two days per week
The current system provides 24 hours per week of subsidised childcare and under the proposed Childcare Package it will only provide half these hours (24 hours per fortnight).
Currently 12 hours would typically cover just one day worth of long day care and this is just not enough to cover children’s needs.
Minister Birmingham’s assertion that 12 hours a week is the equivalent of two 6 hour school days and that childcare and pre-school service providers should adjust our business model does not take into consideration key differences between the school system and early learning.
Unlike schools, early learning providers must pay commercial rent and other costs, and they must have staff on for 12 hours a day. These services don’t get the same level of funding as the school system, and the new subsidy will only cover families for 85% at most, with higher earning families receiving 30% or less subsidy.
The practical reality is that if the Package and Activity Test remains as proposed many thousands of families will opt out of the system and the children who stand to benefit the most will miss out.
We urge the government to preserve two days per week of subsidy for all children regardless of their parent’s stability in work. Then apply an activity test above that – for three or more days.
We know that children will benefit from two days a week and ultimately everyone benefits from children accessing good early learning. This also gives parents stability to engage in job seeking, study or volunteering.
We are concerned that the currently proposed activity test and safety net programs are overly complicated which will potentially lead to a lot of confusion. There are many families with at least one parent in highly variable work – casual, irregular, seasonal – and those children could miss out.
Children’s access to early childhood education led by qualified educators amplifies their achievement at school. Research shows that children who attended early childhood education and care score 18 to 20 points higher in reading, spelling and numeracy and 13 points higher in writing compared to children who do not attend early childhood education and care.
Investment in early learning will also increase our future prosperity as a nation. Research by PricewaterhouseCoopers last year shows that increasing participation in quality early learning by vulnerable children would add more than $13 billion to GDP by 2050.
It is encouraging that the Federal Government and Education Minister Simon Birmingham see the value in investing in early childhood support; we just urge the government to get the balance right to ensure everyone benefits from our children being able to access quality early learning.