August 17, 2017

Editorial: Facing up to the childcare fiction

PHOTO: Ilya Yakover

Over the last week yet another report on the ever-mushrooming costs of childcare appeared in the nation’s media. Unsurprisingly, the report revealed a worsening situation in terms of the costs being faced by couples who place their children in care.

The figures being reported are almost astonishing except for the fact that they are not really news. Since childcare has increasingly become a normality in Australian life it has increasingly become a profitable business. The more that corporate business seeks to maximise its profit from looking after other people’s children, the more parents can expect to pay.

Meanwhile, harassed parents facing financial difficulties in meeting childcare costs  increasingly call, understandably, for increasing taxpayer subsidies to offset their expenditure. What is now a billion dollar business is locked into a nightmarish cycle which is also a growing political problem for governments besieged by calls to lessen the burden on parents.

The figures being cited by the latest reports are remarkable and disturbing: around 40 per cent of Australian families are paying the same amount for childcare – or more – as they already pay on their mortgages each week, causing immense financial strain and worry. This kind of burden on families and the fact that it has become “normality” is bizarre.

More than 20 per cent of respondents to one survey admitted they were basically working purely to meet the costs of childcare. Around 34 per cent of respondents said they were regularly late paying bills such as their mortgage or rent because of the cost of childcare. Meanwhile, in the last 15 years wages have increased by around 12 per cent on average but childcare’s costs have increased by around 44 per cent.

Numbers such as these are impossible to sustain.But there is a much bigger problem which is far less financial and far more philosophical. The fundamental problem with childcare is that while most Australians now think of it as either essential or some sort of right, childcare is, in fact, a system of inverted values. The giveaway is in the name. Australians are fooled by the name “childcare” into thinking that we are talking about a system that looks after children. But this is not the reason childcare exists.

The primary reasons for childcare is the financial benefit of investors who form companies to offer childcare services. Yet that we have a national business model called “childcare” which is placing ever more tectonic financial burdens upon parents and guilting them into believing its existence is essential to their lives is ridiculous and almost beyond parody. Childcare, in short, is a business designed to take advantage of the economic and financial stresses placed upon parents, families and especially mothers.

The underlying philosophical principle which should be applied to all issues connected to childcare is that it is the welfare of child, the parent and the family that should be the primary concern of our society. Yet our economy and our culture have actually accepted the opposite: that it is the welfare of the corporations that run childcare services that is of paramount importance. If this is the philosophical error at the heart of the financial and political malaise that is childcare, it follows quite logically and reasonably that its solution is the application of the philosophy of the primacy of the human person and the family over corporate entities.

In this case, the solution is to be applied through economic, financial and taxation measures which give practical recognition to this primacy. In other words, the way to halt the monopoly that is childcare is to completely sidestep it. The simplest way this can be achieved in the first instance is to recognise the economic value that unpaid primary caregivers (overwhelmingly mothers) contribute to the nation – and then to pay it. This is financially and economically feasible and, humanly speaking, desirable. Politically, it would be a sure-fire winner.

Enabling families to not only afford to have children but to care for them would be a major step forward in Australia’s economic and social progress compared to the present mess propped up as a sacred cow by both major political parties. Removing impossible financial and economic pressures such as the latest childcare figures should be a national priority. Officially recognising the vital contribution that primary caregivers make to the welfare of this country – and distributing it – will also assist a reconstruction of the primacy of the family unit in Australian life. Treating the primary caregivers of this nation as nothing other than a natural resource to be expended is the shortsighted path to ruin.

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