Regular childcare is great – if you work standard office hours, can find a position close to your home or office, work no more than two days a week, have less than three kids and can afford the fees.
For everyone else, we need a range of options that can actually meet the flexible working arrangements we’re increasingly pursuing, as well as the expectations and demands of our employers. And why should we miss out on the childcare benefit because we need caring arrangements that extend beyond the norm?
According to a story in The Australian today, the Productivity Commission’s draft report into childcare – due to be handed to the Abbott Government later this month – will back extending the childcare rebate to families using nannies.
It’s a recommendation that’s long overdue, and has been supported by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, but is likely to be highly contentious. The childcare union United Voice has already issued a statement today declaring the existing system cannot afford it and that taxpayers’ should be footing the bill for “unprofessional and unregulated services”.
However, the Productivity Commission is being undertaken to develop a better system of childcare, and that could very well involve regulating the use of nannies.
Our current system isn’t working. It’s expensive, inaccessible and inflexible. It’s keeping many women out of the workforce, and seeing others not access the job opportunities they want due to the restrictive nature of the system. Too often we associate the use of nannies as something women want – an indulgence – rather than a service many working women need. The nanny debate falls victim to class warfare, a service associated with the desires of wealthy women (like those mysterious ‘millionaire women’ being paid to have babies). But consider this: childcare fees have risen 150% in the past decades, with some spots costing $170 and the average fee being well over $75. For those working full-time who have two or more children, a nanny or nanny-sharing arrangement can end up being more cost effective than putting the kids in standard childcare and may provide a much simpler and efficient option.
Even for those working traditional office hours, hiring a nanny is not always a matter of choice but rather necessity. Children can languish on the waiting lists of childcare centres for years before parents get even the whiff of a potential place. Hiring a nanny becomes the only option for many women to return to work immediately after taking maternity leave.
With the right regulation and safeguards in place, extending the childcare rebate to nannies could help formalise what’s become an informal means to getting by for many working parents. There’s much to be ironed out, and there’s more from the Productivity Commission to come, but this is one recommendation who’s time has come.