The number of Australian children in child care has grown by almost 90,000 in just 12 months, according to new figures released today, backing the need for a more affordable, flexible and accessible child care system.
The release of the Federal Department of Education’s Child Care & Early Learning in Summary Report for the December Quarter 2013 comes as the current Productivity Commission Inquiry into Child Care and Early Childhood Learning begins drafting its final report.
Assistant Minister for Education Sussan Ley said the Summary Report showed a record 1.12 million children were enrolled in formal child care in the December Quarter 2013, compared to 1.03 million in December 2012 – a significant 8.5 per cent increase in 12 months.
However, Ms Ley said she was concerned to see growth in Federal Government spending on child care fees assistance outstripping enrollments by more-than two-to-one (19.1 per cent) over the same 12-month period.
Ms Ley said today’s figures again showed the current child care system was struggling to cope with the growing needs of families and supported the Abbott Government’s decision to task the current Productivity Commission Inquiry into Child Care and Early Childhood Learning to develop a better system for the 21st century.
“The demand for affordable, flexible and accessible child care continues to grow as more and more Australian families find they can’t afford not to work, but also can’t afford to return to work either,” Ms Ley said.
“Unfortunately it’s not surprising, given child care fees skyrocketed by 53 per cent during Labor’s six years in office. That’s almost $75 extra per week in fees or over $3,500 per year.
“This not only amounts to greater pressure on family budgets, but Government spending as well.
“The Abbott Government will invest $28.5 billion in child care fee assistance over the next four years and we want to ensure it delivers maximum value for both Australian families and taxpayers. This includes better workforce participation opportunities, particularly for women.
“We believe Australian families should be able to plan child care around their work life, not their work life around child care.
“It’s exactly why we tasked the current Productivity Commission Inquiry – the largest review of the child care system in nearly two decades – as one of our first priorities in government.”
The Productivity Commission Inquiry’s draft report found: “the affordability of childcare was the most commonly reported barrier to workforce participation for parents with children under 5 years old”.
Australian Bureau of Statics figures, released last month, also show that “while 57.5 per cent of mothers whose youngest child is aged 0-5 years were participating in the paid workforce, 94 per cent of fathers, whose youngest child is 0-5 years, were working.”
Ms Ley said the figures showed there had also been a slight reduction in long day care fees – the first in two years – with the hourly price falling from $7.65 per hour in the September Quarter 2013 to $7.60 per hour in the December Quarter 2013.
Ms Ley said that the December Quarter was traditionally a slower time of year for fee increases and she was therefore “not reading too much into it”.
However, she said any slowing of the rapid fee increases seen under Labor was welcome as part of the Government’s focus on making child care more affordable, flexible and accessible.
“Every little bit counts if we’re to slow future child care fee increases and bring them back to more-manageable levels for family budgets,” Ms Ley said.
The Productivity Commission Inquiry is currently drafting its final report following the closure of consultation last week, with the final version to be handed to the Government in late October 2014.
Child Care and Early Learning In Summary December Quarter 2013 is available at: http://education.gov.au/child-care-and-early-learning-summary