Tag Archives: Childcare

Tell me something I didn’t know already

It turns out that getting good quality childcare is critical in allowing mothers to work. This time, policy makers might just get around to believing it; the claim is based on a paper prepared by the Australian Treasury.

Childcare key to mums returning to work

Well, that’s a no-brainer result. It seems perfectly consistent with my own experience, and with the reported experience of women in my family, and my friends.

It’s not just childcare for littlies that matters either. Good school holiday care makes a big difference to me. As you may know, I do adjunct work at local universities (just take all the problems associated with adjunct work as read – I find it too exhausting to think about the difficulties). One of the big problems for me is school holiday care. I need to make special arrangements with my partner, my friends, my mother (bless her!) to cover the two or three hours here or there that comprise my teaching work. Not enough work to justify the expense and hassle of taking the children to a whole day school holiday programme, but far too long to leave them kicking their heels outside the classroom door, or in the classroom reading a book. I’ve yet to find a university that provides school holiday care for permanent staff, let alone adjunct staff, despite all their fine words about gender equity and work life balance and being an employer of choice for women.

Yes, yes, I have my grump on. I’ve just been running up against the gap between ideals and reality in the last week or so.

You can download the Treasury article from here.

Keeping its promises

I see the National government of New Zealand is busy keeping the campaign promises it made. In particular the one it made about getting those lazy freeloading sole parents off the DPB (Domestic Purposes Benefit) and into work.

The Government is going to introduce part-time work obligations for two new groups of beneficiaries. These are DPB recipients whose youngest child is aged six or over, and people on a Sickness Benefit who have been assessed as being able to work part time. These people will need to be available for part-time work of at least 15 hours a week and accept suitable job offers, or undertake work-related training.

Back when National first released their policy, I welcomed it. As any parent knows, in order to be able to work while you have school age children, you need flexible work that falls within school days and school terms. So you need readily available and inexpensive childcare (inexpensive because otherwise the cost of child care eats up any extra income you might earn). You also need employers who can cope and understand if you have to take some time off work to care for a sick child. Understandably, schools don’t want sick children in the classroom, and as it turns out, if you leave a child unattended at home, Social Welfare gets very, very tetchy. National would also need to ensure that there were jobs available, and that at least some of those jobs were part time jobs. They would need to work with employers so that employers were prepared to take on part time workers, and to pay them well enough to ensure that workers had a living wage left in their pockets, after childcare costs.

I thought that in order to implement this work-obligation policy, National would of course ensure that all the necessary supports were there to enable sole parents to work. And that would have a huge benefit for all parents who are in paid employment. Even with two adults in a household, it can be very difficult to manage work and children. Trust me. I know about this, as I’m sure do many of the other parents who read this blog. On the whole, I thought that National’s policy could be a good thing.

Silly me. Those conditions aren’t in place at all. The provision of after-school care is still patchy, and it is still expensive. Unemployment is growing, and there’s no sign of the government engaging in job creation schemes at all. And check Julie’s post at The Hand Mirror to find out a little about the reality of part time working conditions.

So what on earth is the policy about? Of course, it’s not about punishing sole parents. No no no. It’s all about:

for most people, a benefit should only provide temporary support until they can return to work. In fact there is little chance of a better future for beneficiaries and their children unless they do come off a benefit and work for an income. Long-term welfare dependency imprisons people in a life of limited income and limited choices.

Many people on a benefit can’t wait to take the step back into work and we should applaud them for that. Some are fearful of it, however, and others are downright resentful. But the world of work is always going to offer more possibilities than the limitations of welfare.

Of course! That’s all they’re doing. Giving people choices, and setting them free!

Nothing about pandering to their base at all. Ah… no… wait a minute – there’s a bit more in that speech from the great blancmange otherwise known as John Key.

People who receive a benefit are able to do so only because others are going to work every day, earning a wage and paying taxes. In many cases these are people who are themselves far from well off.

So it’s not fair on working New Zealanders to have people receiving benefits but not making every reasonable attempt to pick themselves up, find a job, and stand on their own two feet.

I see a nasty, vicious dogwhistle in this policy. Actually, I take that back. It’s not a dogwhistle at all. It’s beneficiary bashing, pure and simple.

And the government plans to engage in beneficiary bashing itself. What’s it going to do to “encourage” people to get jobs? Cut the benefit if they don’t. But only by half for sole parents.

The Government is going to give case managers more flexibility, and a better range of tools, by introducing an intermediate step of a 50 percent reduction in the person’s benefit, followed by full suspension and then cancellation of the benefit.

Where beneficiaries have children in their care, however, they will face a maximum sanction of half their benefit.

It’s just a bit of a shame about the kids going hungry.

Update: The government’s proposal to work test beneficiaries is inconsistent with the Human Rights Act, and the bill’s Regulatory Impact Statement admits that they have no flippin’ idea whether cutting the benefit will have any impact on people getting jobs. No Right Turn has all the details: Discriminatory, unjustified, sadistic

Tiger Airlines breastfeeding fail and win

A mother from Melbourne was asked to cover her baby up while she was feeding him on a Tiger Airlines Flight.

Airline Breastfeeding Bungle

The fail bit – a flight attendant covered the baby up with a blanket without even asking the mother, saying, “I know it’s natural, but some people may not like to see it.” When the mother checked with the passenger near her, he assured her that he wasn’t offended at all – “No, not at all.” So the flight attendant retreated to suggesting that people walking up and down the aisle might be offended.

I’m guessing that it was the flight attendant who was twitchy about a mother feeding her baby, and she just used “other passengers” as a handy excuse. It’s a big fail on the part of the flight attendant.

But the Tiger Airlines win? They reviewed the incident, disciplined the staff member, set up a new policy and are training staff in it to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Excellent!

Get those sole parents working

Cross post

I’m inclined to see the National party’s plan to work-test sole parents as a good thing.  We’ve been told a number of times that National has comprehensive policies prepared, and that it will release them during the election campaign.  We know it’s not really a matter of money – after all, the policy will only save the government about $20million each year, so I’m guessing that the point of the policy is one about the value of working and supporting yourself and your dependents. I’m going to assume that given that the policy is about ideas rather than the money, National has some comprehensive policies that will need to be in place to make this particular policy work.

The detail (so far) of the policy – sole parents will be required to look for part-time work (15 hours a week) once their youngest child has turned six, and presumably is at school. The advantage of waiting until then is that this solves some of the childcare issues for sole parents.

So what is going to be required to make this happen? First up, there’s going to have to be a number of employers who are prepared to offer 15 hours work a week, during school hours. There’s no point in requiring sole parents to work 15 hours a week if no such jobs are available, so I’m assuming that National will be putting some sort of incentives in place to encourage the creation of such jobs.

Those jobs will need to be provided by employers who don’t mind too much if a worker works say, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday one week, and different days the next, in order to look after sick children, or to attend events at school (parent teacher interviews, school sports days, all the usual commitments that come with having kids at school). So the work will need to be very flexible.

And the work will have to be just in term time. Kids do need to be supervised in school holidays, or otherwise, as Blogger on the Cast Iron Balcony Helen so fetchingly puts it, they will end up building meth-labs in the back yard. It will probably take a bit of legislation or maybe incentives for employers to make this happen too, so that might be another dead rat that National needs to swallow, given that traditionally, they’re all about “keeping government out of business” and “leaving people free to make their own decisions” and “cutting compliance costs for businesses.”

Alternatively, if employers prepared to offer flexi work can’t be found, then National will need to look at developing some serious out-of-school care services, and paying for them. At present it can be rather hard to find out-of-school care, and state schools are not required to provide it, so parents can be left struggling. Of course, state schools are not resourced to provide out of school care, and many of them don’t have suitable spaces for it. Classrooms aren’t available – they are teachers’ working spaces, and contrary to popular belief, most, if not all, teachers are at school working before 8am each day, and there until 5pm in the evening. School halls often don’t have toilet and kitchen facilities handy, and they are often too big to be heated easily. And even then, out-of-school care programs don’t really work for teenagers, so you’re into the meth-lab problem again.

You see, here’s the critical thing about sole parents. They are, for whatever reason, sole parents. That means that they have no other back-up, they have no one else who can step up and help in an emergency. The other parent is, by definition, not there. And most times, family members aren’t available to help either. They are busy working themselves. That means that if the state is going to require sole parents to work, then the state will need to ensure that conditions are such that sole parents can work.

I’m assuming that in order to make the work for the DPB policy effective, National has some comprehensive policies about the provision of childcare and out-of-school care too. I’m also assuming that they will be paying for them, because there’s little or no point in forcing sole parents to get part time jobs, but then turning around and taking the income off them through high childcare fees.

I see this as a fantastic outcome of National’s “work for the the DPB” plan. If the state gets serious about creating the conditions for flexi-work and providing good access to childcare, then all working parents will benefit. All working parents will be able to access good, low-cost childcare.

So I see the “work for the DPB” plan as a good one. It entails a whole lot of other family friendly policies too, and I’m delighted to think that the National party is prepared to put them in place.

Unless of course, the policy is all about bashing sole parents.

Of course you would work for $4.40 per hour

It’s budget season in the great southern land (and no, that wouldn’t be New Zealand, not yet). The Australian Federal government is due to deliver its budget next Tuesday, and in line with recent fashion (no surprises for the markets, and a healthy dose of keeping the approval ratings high for as long as possible), it is doling out the budget announcements now, one at a time. Or leaking them strategically. Whatever. The effect is the same.

Over the last couple of days the Rudd government has made some announcements about childcare, seemingly with the aim of getting more women into work. Like other Western liberal democracies, they have noticed that there is a shortage of workers, and at the same time, there is a whole pool of potential workers, doing nothing except sitting around at home looking after children. If only those people would get out and do real work, we could solve a couple of problems at once. Ordinary families would have more money in hand, to meet rising household expenditure, and businesses would at last be able to get the employees they need.

Except there’s one huge fly in the ointment. (Or maybe one of those flocks of pesky little Australian flies which will hover around you and go with you wherever you go, like peculiar ornaments.) As it turns out, lots of women (and some men) choose not to go back into paid employment because by the time they have paid for childcare and taxes, then there is nothing left in their pockets. They end up working for virtually nothing.

The clever Treasury boffins in Australia have been working away on this problem (and believe me, all sarcasm aside, those people are indeed very smart and able), and they have come up with a critical point. For most women, there is very little point in increasing their days of work from two days a week to three days a week. The net gain is just seven dollars for the extra day of work.

So they have put their thinking caps on, and come up with a suite of measures that should help – increasing personal tax thresholds, increasing the low income tax offset, and raising the childcare tax rebate. The net effect of these? A mum who takes on that third day of work will now take home $23.

Treasury modelling obtained by The Sun-Herald shows a middle-income mum with two children in child care who moves from two to three days’ work a week gains just $7 for the extra effort. From July 1, she will keep more than triple that, with a take-home gain of $23.

Big sum, huh. That is of course, an after tax figure, so let’s gross it up to a possible pre-tax figure. If you work only three days a week, then even if you are in a high-powered job, chances are you will be in one of the lower tax brackets. So, to be on the safe side, I’m going to assume an average tax rate of 30% across that $23 (after tax). That means that the pre-tax income would be about $33, or for a 7.5 hour day, $4.40 per hour.

If the numbers are crunched another way, then a woman who takes on another three days work will take home $121, instead of $63. Converting that into pre-tax terms, using a 30% tax rate, and assuming 7.5 hours per day, I get a pay rate of $7.68 per hour.

How tempting is that? Would you really take on extra day’s work just for the sake of $4.40 per hour? Or an extra three days for $7.68?

No matter how you juggle the figures, and juggle household budgets, it turns out that for many mothers, working in paid employment just isn’t worth it. The marginal gain to a family’s budget simply doesn’t outweigh the intangible cost of working.

And that’s something that the Treasury boffins haven’t taken into account. Indeed, they can’t. Our ways of measuring gain and loss simply don’t accommodate non-monetary costs like lack of time with children, tired children who are in daycare for 8.5 hours a day (to allow 30 minutes commuting time each way for parents), stress managing the daily routines, stress coping with sick children, stress getting to and from work and childcare centres and the rest. Add to that increased household expenditure, for say, someone to clean the house, or for more pre-prepared or bought-in meals, because when both parents are working, there’s simply no time during the day to do all the work that’s required to keep a household ticking over. Alternatively, parents who have spent the week in paid employment spend their weekends doing housework, cooking meals, getting the supermarket shopping done, and get to spend very little time with their children, or indeed, very little time resting. For them, on Monday morning it’s back to work in order to rest.

From a policy point of view, none of this matters if having both parents in paid employment is simply a matter of people’s personal choices. But if the government and their advisors think that they will be able to tempt women into work, and thus solve some of Australia’s workforce woes, by the grand sum of $7.68 per hour (before tax), then may I suggest, respectfully, that they spend their time talking to the Mad Hatter. It’s likely to be just as effective as crunching more and more numbers. Or maybe they could talk to some real life parents, and try to find out what it is that would really make a difference.