The great nanny debate

There has been a lot of debate lately about taxpayer subsidised nannies.

We asked for feedback when the debate kicked off with this great piece from journalist and working mum Stephanie Peatling about Tony Abbott’s pitch to working mothers.

Most of you agreed anything which helps working mums is a good idea, but didn’t have strong views either way. The piece kicked off a week of debate about support for working mums, with Childcare Minister Kate Ellis saying on Adelaide radio  that nannies shouldn’t be subsidised because;

Often they’ll clean the house, they’ll do a whole range of things which taxpayers have never previously subsidised those families that can afford that to have that service and I think that we’ve got other priorities.

Another Minister, Chris Bowen, shared his family’s experience with a nanny and why he didn’t think it should be subsidised here.

Misha Schubert summed up the debate (and exasperation of many working mums) in yesterday’s Sunday Age, which you can read here.

The best thing about this issue is that both parties seem to agree that more support for working mums is a great idea, even if neither is proposing definitive solutions.  They also disagree on how to provide that support, and most working mums would probably agree no one has got it completely right.

What many commentators seem to get confused is that the two forms of child care assistance have been developed to help families in different ways, and have a different impact on the economy.

Some politicians even got this wrong when they claimed that all child care assistance is means tested.

First, the Child Care Tax Rebate is not means tested. You have to be working, studying or training to qualify but you can get up to $7500 per child per year regardless of your income.  Verification of this from a government website is here.

This isn’t because the government wants us all to have ten children or even because it thinks working mums are ace.  Although wouldn’t that be nice?

It’s because it’s in the interests of our economy to get women who have had their education paid for at least in part by the  government to back into the workforce and being productive in a jobs generating sort of way.  (No, we are not saying stay at home mums are unproductive!  The geniuses who measure our economic performance are, because they measure cash money and how it creates jobs for other people.)  It also creates more taxpayers, and helps the government in the long run.

The other form of support, the Child Care Benefit is designed as what the government calls an ‘equity measure’, in that it is designed to help people who need the financial help most.  This one is only available to families on incomes up to around $160,000.  You can read more about this one here.

For both forms of care, long day care, family day care and outside school hours care and occasional care all qualify but any informal care (grandparents, nannies or babysitters) doesn’t.

I understand why nannies aren’t subsidised, but I think the reason it’s such a popular idea is because the current system of care doesn’t work for lots of people and even people on average incomes are prepared to consider something ridiculously expensive for more flexibility.

Some people don’t think day care works for very young children, especially if you need it more than one or two days a week.  Some people work odd hours.  Unfortunately most of the debate in the media has been focussed on highly paid executive women when I suspect the people who have the most trouble are women who work shift work.  I can’t imagine how difficult it is to work as a nurse, a waitress or real estate agent at Saturday open inspections if you need formal day care outside of “8 til 6, Monday to Friday”.

Being a Sydneysider, I also wonder how much travel time plays a role in decision making.  If we use local day care, and have a 45 minute commute each way, that’s another hour and a half factored into our kids day at care, and how many hours we are available to work.

For me, on the days Miss 3 is in care, I have to drop her off at 7:45am at the absolute latest and only get to pick her up at 5:45pm, which means I don’t get to work a minute early and I leave exactly on 5pm.   Not all employers are as okay about this as mine is, so I wonder how much of a problem it could be for others. It’s also a prety long day for Miss 3, and means a pretty ratty evening of overtired three year old tantrums.  Fun for the entire family…

For what it’s worth, what I think I’d like to see any government do would be;

1. Continue to keep the two levels of support as they exist – they complement each other well and help different families in different ways.  Make both of them them more generous if at all possible.

2. Improve availability of care so that we could all get places at the centres close to our homes and/or work.

3.  Bring in legislation so that any employer who judges or punishes a working mum for scooting out the door at exactly 5pm is forced to spend an evening with a ratty three year old and then asked whether they think their employee is taking it easy.

There’s my policy solution. What do you think?

For about child care support, read our post on Five things all working mums need to know about changes to childcare.

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2 responses to “The great nanny debate

  1. Pingback: The daily commute. Is there such a thing as Mummy Road Rage? | workingmumsaustralia

  2. Pingback: Is your child care costing you more than it should? | workingmumsaustralia

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