DCA has made a submission in response to the Productivity Commission’s Inquiry into Early Childhood Education and Care (“ECEC”).
In our submission, DCA supports the government’s view that “ECEC is an essential part of Australia’s education system and is integral to Australia’s economic prosperity as a powerful lever for increasing workforce participation.”
Early childhood education and care is about so much more than simply enabling workforce participation for parents. It has important social and community benefits, and plays an important role in children’s education, health, and development. However, as a workforce diversity and inclusion organisation, our submission focuses on how childcare impacts workplace gender equality.
We believe this review is an opportunity to consider and explore solutions to a number of issues with Australia’s current system. First, the cost of childcare in Australia is amongst the highest in the OECD. DCA supports finding ways to make childcare more affordable for families, but questions whether merely increasing subsidies will be effective. Previous increases to the childcare subsidy ultimately failed to make childcare more affordable, as increasing fees negated the benefit of the subsidy. This review should consider alternative funding models, in order to make ECEC truly affordable for families.
Second, on top of being expensive, families often also struggle to find childcare places that match their needs and wait times for spots in childcare centres are increasing. Research shows that the availability of childcare places is highly dependent on the postcode, with regions characterised by lower socioeconomic status having fewer childcare places per child. This review should consider how targeted action could lift childcare availability in the regions with the lowest level of access per child.
Third, the ECEC sector is experiencing significant staffing shortages, driven largely by low wages and poor working conditions. This is because traditional gender norms surrounding caring, with childcare being seen as “women’s work”, leads to the undervaluation of paid caring roles and low award wages in the childcare sector. Australia’s complex funding model also poses a barrier to achieving better and fairer pay for ECEC workers.
Fourth, lack of access to childcare remains a significant barrier to women’s workforce participation, and time out of the workforce due to caring responsibilities is a major contributor to the gender pay gap. This review is an opportunity to consider how to improvements to childcare can help lift women’s workforce participation and help close the gender pay gap. Further, there is an opportunity to promote gender equality, not just through boosting women’s workforce participation, but also through increasing men’s participation in caring. The Commission should consider how to break down barriers and address stigma, in order to encourage more men to take on more childcare.
Finally, the review should consider the significant benefits of improving ECEC in Australia, as investing in ECEC is good for women and the economy.