A Senate inquiry has backed Government plans to streamline and means-test childcare payments
Apr 14, 2016 | News | by The Learning Press staff
A senate inquiry has supported the Government’s contentious new childcare reforms, concluding they will leave more families better off, are fairer and will encourage parents back into work.
The inquiry committee recommended the legislation be passed in its current form, despite concerns from the opposition and childcare groups that some low-income families will see their subsidised hours cut by half.
The committee, a mix of coalition and labour members, accepted Government assertions that the Jobs for Families package would encourage more families into work, provide a safety net for the most needy and lead to the nation’s highest earners paying more for care.
It said the package was aimed at improving access to and affordability of early childhood education and recognised the “substantial developmental benefit to children” of high-quality early learning and care.
And it acknowledged the legislation’s aim of providing the highest subsidies to the neediest families - and the highest number of subsidised childcare hours to parents working the longest hours.
“This approach, the committee believes, is in line with community expectations, whereby subsidies and assistance are targeted at those whom they will most benefit and reducing the subsidisation of those with the means to pay a greater proportion of the costs themselves,” it’s conclusion states.
Labor senator Sue Lions has called for the release of all data, research and evidence used in forming the legislation so that the Senate “can make a more informed assessment of its impact on all Australian families”.
Under the plan’s activity test, parents will need to work or study for at least eight hours a fortnight to be eligible for 36 hours of subsided childcare, for more than 16 hours to be eligible for 72 hours of subsidised care and for more than 48 hours to be eligible for up to 100 hours.
Families earning $65,000 will get about 85 per cent of their fees back, with that figure tapering as salaries rise to 50 per cent for families earning about $170,000 and 20 per cent for those on $250,000-plus per annum.
It also includes a safety net, giving families on incomes under $65 000 which don’t meet the activity test up to 24 hours per fortnight of childcare at an 85 per cent subsidy rate (an increase on the current 72 per cent).
Advocacy group Early Childhood Australia says the activity test will mean families with one or more parents not working for more than eight hours per fortnight will lose their eligibility for a childcare subsidy altogether.
“Low income families will still have access to 12 hours per week but this is a significant reduction from their current entitlement to 24 hours per week and it is insufficient to cover two days in a long day care centre,” the organisation said in a briefing paper.
“There are significant concerns amongst experts that the activity test may destabilise families and jeopardise workforce participation by reducing the participation of children whose parents are in irregular, insecure or variable work.
“These children are often those who stand to benefit the most from quality early learning programs.
“Parents returning to work after parental leave need to have children settled into early learning before they start work, it is a pre-requisite rather than an incentive to work. Making the eligibility for subsidy dependent on securing work first is back-to-front.”
The Greens’ Sarah Hanson-Young says the activity test should be amended to include a base-level subsidy for all families that fall within the 0-8 hours of activity, so that all children have access to a minimum of 24 hours of subsidised childcare per week.
And she has called for mechanisms to increase childcare places where vacancy rates are critically low, creating barriers to parents finding care.
For the latest Australian education stories delivered free to your newsfeed - like us on facebook: