Australian families are grappling with our first recession in twenty-nine years and for some reason the Australian Government has chosen to turn its back on working mothers. July saw us slapped with the ‘snap back’ to a broken childcare subsidy system, one that discourages women to work more than three days a week and encourages women to say no to higher paying, leadership roles. This story is of Rhea, a working mum who, as the all too familiar story goes, has little choice when it comes to progressing her career and care responsibilities due to the failures of the current subsidy set up.
There is sufficient evidence to say we need a change to the current childcare subsidy system. Participation in early childhood education, has significant economic benefits from the perspective of increased female workforce participation and benefits for children. A ‘shecession’ has been called out as a result of the global pandemic and it doesn’t make sense to go back to a childcare subsidy that encourages women to work less, not more.
Rhea recently grappled with the restraints of the child care subsidy model that meant she had to choose between working five days a week, for effectively six-dollars an hour, or saying no to a promotion she had been working towards for years.
Rhea is a social worker for a large, non-government organisation, her promotion meant she would be taking on a leadership position following her maternity leave. Most people would think that a promotion and a pay rise could only bode well for the family budget. Unfortunately, it means her family would hit the child caresubsidy cap (an annual cap of $10 373 per child) and as a result child care would become unaffordable. Working full time, in a leadership position means that her family would be worse off, despite her working longer hours, in a more stressful job. Rhea said:
“I could choose between saying no to the promotion or working for six dollars an hour after tax and childcare costs. What would be the point?”
We are talking about an economy that is struggling, so why are we ignoring the evidence? Female leadership is good for business. The Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre (BCEC) and the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) Gender Equity Insights report (2020) lists ‘critical actions’ that companies need to take to address gender inequality in the workplace and make the most of this fact. Two key call outs are increasing the representation of women in leadership and addressing the gender pay gap. The subsidy the way it stands discourages both of these critical actions.
Now more than ever we need a childcare subsidy system that supports Australian families with a better choice.