By Peter Boyle
The Hawke Labor government's budget last month contained new rules for federal subsidies for child-care which will deny the children of people without jobs equal opportunity to child-care, according to Cheryl Cameron of the Victorian Child-care Action Group (VCAG). This measure came as a complete surprise to child-care workers.
From January 1, there will be two tiers of child-care subsidies for parents who pass the means test. Children whose parents work or are disabled, or who are disabled themselves or are judged to be in danger of being abused at home, may be subsidised up to $85, while children of parents not within this category will have a maximum of only $55 of their child-care fees subsidised.
The single biggest group affected by this change will be children whose parents are on the single parent's pension, said Cameron. The child-care fees for such people could triple as a result (from about $3.50 per day per child to $10). It will force these parents, who are mostly women, to look after their children by themselves.
"This is a cost-cutting exercise which ignores the intrinsic educational and social value of child-care to children and deprives some children of equal opportunity to quality child-care", said Cameron.
She estimated that between a quarter and a third of the children at the child-care centre she works at may be disadvantaged by the two-tier system. The Department of Social Security is supposed to determined who will be eligible for first tier benefits, but detailed guidelines for assessing eligibility have not yet been provided to the DSS.
Subsidies for children attending out of school hours child-care centres will also be reduced, on the grounds that their parents are benefiting from having free child-care in school hours.
The VCAG believes that the government should fund universally accessible, free and quality child-care. "At present it costs more for child-care than it costs to send a student to a private school", said Cameron. The latest changes will raise the costs of child-care for some of the poorest families in society.
The Hawke government has also increased financial pressure on publicly funded child-care services by deferring promised indexation of fee relief for a quarter, saving $6.8 million. Meanwhile, it is setting aside $1 million to set up a new bureaucracy to accredit child-care services, a job already being done by state governments.