On Sunday the Treasurer Josh Frydenberg announced the Morrison government will include a further $1.7 billion investment in early childhood education and care (ECEC) in their upcoming budget.
It's welcome recognition from the Federal government that the cost of ECEC is a barrier for a lot of families in this country.
The fact no family will experience any fee relief until 1 July 2022 is dismal. If the government accepts affordability is an issue right now why make families wait more than a year to feel any difference?
The other big kicker is that early analysis shows that - at best - only a quarter of all families in Australia using ECEC will benefit.
It is all a bit deflating isn’t it? But it's not deflating because this problem is too hard to solve. It's just that we keep trying the same thing and - surprise! - it's not working.
The way ECEC is currently funded and subsidised is very complicated and the subsidy model is flawed. Tinkering around the edges will never deliver parents, children, educators and the nation the full benefits of universally accessible quality early education and care.
Consider this. Back in 2015 when Scott Morrison was the Social Services Minister, he unveiled a package that came into effect in 2018 that was not dissimilar to this one - it increased the subsidy to make ECEC more affordable. For a period of time it did... but the savings are long gone because since that time fees have continued to skyrocket.
When the government increases the subsidy for early education the fees eventually creep up too. Just last week new figures showed that families in Brisbane and Sydney are now paying 23% more in out of pocket fees then they were when that package was announced.
Tweaking the subsidy is limited in its ability to address affordability. And notwithstanding increasing subsidies and out of pocket fees, early educators are not being paid any more ... and many are leaving the vocation altogether as a result.
All around the country ECEC services are struggling to hire staff. Without staff, clearly, these services cannot educate and care for as many children.
One third fewer people enrolled in vocational training to become educators between 2016 and 2019 and only a quarter of the number of people enrol in early childhood teaching degrees now as did 9 years ago.
Educators need to be valued, supported and paid better. The early education workforce is predominantly female and one of the lowest paid cohorts of workers in Australia. Compared to male-dominated workforces that require a similar level of training, like concreting, the pay gap is substantial. Is it any surprise that 30% of the ECEC workforce say each year that they’re planning on leaving the sector within a year?
This is very problematic because we know that the quality of ECEC is very closely linked with the quality of ECEC educators. If we are not paying educators appropriately and if they are not being offered secure employment, they will leave.
We need to look at the BIG picture! Australia’s early learning and childcare system needs to be high quality for children, it needs to be accessible and totally affordable for all families and it needs to be delivered by a workforce that is appropriately paid and respected and valued as outlined in our recent report. Tinkering at affordability for some families isn’t enough.
Australian families face crippling fees to ECEC that are among the highest in the OECD representing a major cost of living pressure for many households, impacting on family budgets and the workplace participation of parents.
A high quality, universally accessible and affordable early learning system will allow an extra 98,800 parents, mostly women, to get back into the workforce. This would boost productivity, and employment, and increase GDP by an estimated $11 billion.
Gender equality won’t be achieved without universally accessible, high quality and affordable ECEC. Many Australian women don't work more than three days a week because that is the tipping point where the cost of care becomes unreasonably expensive when compared with earning potential. As a result, these women experience difficulty when they try to increase the amount they work and face lifelong challenges through lost earnings and low superannuation.
And a universally accessible, high quality and affordable early learning and care system would deliver huge benefits for children. It would mean that all children could benefit from early learning in the critical first 5 years.
The need for reform in early childhood education is greater than just fee relief. Ultimately the goal has to be universal access to high quality, early childhood learning and care for every child in Australia. That is where the full social and economic rewards will be reaped.
If you support this please sign our petition calling on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to do better for Australian parents.
We’re on our way. The $1.7billion package is proof that when we come together, we are powerful and we can't be ignored. The trick now? To keep on going.
Thank you for your support.