The Childcare Industry and the De-Fathering of Society Part 2
One of the most notable features of the present Federal Government is its desire to help families.
However, the impact of its policies often goes well beyond its intentions. Sometimes, at great expense, a new set of problems is created far greater than those being solved.
Consider the Federal Government’s funding of childcare centres. The benefits provided have increased six-fold over the past decade. Funding in the last year was about $1.65 billion. Childcare, once provided by parents, grandparents, or non-profit community-based centres, is now a gold mine for investors. A 36-year-old Brisbane milkman, Eddie Groves, has made $90 million since early 2001. Andrew Peacock, the former Liberal Party leader, made $1 million in a few months.
Government funding has increased the value of places at child care centres to $5,000 per child, from about $2,000 five years ago. Meanwhile, the proportion of costs spent on labour in the private centres (60%-70%) is significantly less than the traditional non-profit operators (80%). The difference feeds the pockets of the investors, and is a reflection of the level of care offered and the priorities of the operators.
The generous funding of childcare centres is specifically intended to assist working mothers. However, the majority of women whose youngest child is under five do not work. Only about 15 percent work full-time. About 30 percent work part-time, many for only a few hours per week.
The childcare industry does not serve the needs of mothers whose main activity and desire is the care of their own children. Nor was it ever meant to. In fact the childcare subsidies are designed to prise stay-at- home mothers away from their children by encouraging them to re-enter the workforce while their children are still very young.
This may work for mothers who have partners and who wish to work for financial or other reasons. This is because they receive little benefit from social security entitlements: the social security system is based on household income, so their partner’s income is treated as if it is their own. However, the taxation department treats them as individuals and provides them with a tax-free threshold. They are therefore able to add substantially to household income, even by working only part-time.
But what about sole parents? The story here is entirely different. For them any encouragement to re-enter the workforce is overridden by the great stream of financial benefits provided by the social security system and the Child Support agency. A substantial proportion of these benefits would have to be surrendered by the sole parent re-entering the workforce. The degree to which this happens depends on the amount of income earned. The working sole parent simply displaces their untaxed and unearned income with their taxed and earned income. Why then should they bother working?
Sole parents who don’t work remain entitled to utilise the services of the childcare industry without losing any financial benefits. 91% of these sole parents are women. However, if they choose to allow the children’s father to care for the children, then the financial independence and security the government provides them is put at risk. Childcare subsidies line the pickets of investors while they deny fathers the opportunity to care for their own children
The effect of childcare subsidies on separated parents and their children was never considered by the government or factored into the design of their policies.
The cost of childcare for sole parents receiving social security is about $2 per day. For $2 per day a custodial parent can offload their responsibilities to a government-funded profit-making childcare centre without risking their income stream. They are not required to inform the Child Support Agency, which continues to create ‘child support’ entitlements and enforce its collection on their behalf.
Childcare subsidies are designed to encourage mothers to re-enter the workforce while their children are still very young. In the case of sole parents, why should they bother?
For $2 a day a custodial parent can go off and amuse themselves, while collecting a parenting allowance of up to $421.50 per fortnight and the associated benefits, rent assistance of up to $120 per fortnight, family allowance of up to $160 per fortnight for each child, and child support of up to $1,353.30 per fortnight — all tax-free.
And as for the non-custodial parent grieving over the loss of contact time with their children? Where is their place in this landscape of benefits, subsidies, assistance, tax-free income, entitlements and profit?
Every non-custodial parent knows the answers to these questions.
There is no place.
I know of one father who desperately wants to care for his young children and has the capacity to do so. He wants no subsidies or financial benefits. He just wants to be a father to his children. These children are in subsidised childcare being looked after by paid workers. They are there for 5 days per week from 7.30 am until 6 pm. Because he is not caring for his children, the father has to pay child support to the mother. The mother, who has priorities other than the personal care of her children, would receive huge financial penalties if she allowed the father to care for his children.
This should be criminal, but it’s not. It’s the law, Australian law, Australian family law.
[Photo by Lina Kivaka