Families who pay out-of-pocket childcare costs to benefit from Labor’s subsidies promise

Jess van der Walt estimates at least one day of her pay a week goes towards out-of-pocket childcare costs.

The 34-year-old is doing a juggle many Australian families know all too well.

The Sydneysider works full-time in human resources while raising her two-year-old daughter Estelle with her husband Izak, who is a junior doctor.

Walt said she sometimes worth it if it was financial.

“At the moment, we are almost paying full fees … you do second guess it every few months,” she said.

The pair will benefit from Labor’s promise to increase subsidies and lift the household income threshold to $530,000 from July next year.

“It is ultimately a three, four-year commitment … but for myself, I guess the advancement of my career is quite important, so it’s worth the cost,” Ms van der Walt said.

Families missing out

While Labor has to get the ACCC to pledge prices and the Productivity Commission has to review the sector, in thed thousands of families continue to miss out on childcare.

Among them is new mum Sophie Papasergio.

The 30-year-old only gave birth to Isabelle seven weeks ago, but put her daughter’s name down for a place when she first got pregnant.

A woman wearing blue, holding a newborn baby.
Sophie Papasergio was told by childcare centers she won’t get a spot until at least the middle of next year.(ABC News: Andrew Seabourne)

She is a beauty therapist who runs her own business, and has been told by centers in her hometown of Broome that she will not get a spot until at least the middle of next year.

“It’s a bit stressful. I’m glad that I still have my partner who can work so we can still be financially stable,” she said.

“As much as I enjoy spending every minute with her. I just want to be able to get back out and work… I don’t want to lose all my hard work.

More workers and higher wages needed

During the election, Labor sold its childcare policy as a win for families and women.

But while experts have agreed the changes would initially make care cheaper, they say there is an urgent need to attract more workers to match the demand for places.

University of Sydney political economy expert Elizabeth Hill said increased subsidies alone would not fix the sector’s structural issues.

“Low wages are the number one challenge for workforce sustainability in the model,” she said.

“Essentially the money for those wages will need to come from the government.”

The national authority has estimated 39,000 more childcare staff will be needed by next year.

Mira Ghamwari has 13 years of experience in the industry under her belt but is among those looking at other options.

“I personally am looking for a different career,” the Adelaide worker said.

A photo of a woman, standing in front of a colorful background.
Mira Ghamwari says low wages are pushing workers out of the sector.(ABC News: Ben Pettitt)

She wants politicians to think of the effort staff put into the physical, emotional, and psychological development of young children.

“Wages is a big thing. That’s what’s pushing everyone out of the sector.”

The ‘very tired’ childcare workforce

Many operators and the industry union agree the pandemic has only exacerbated a long-running problem.

“COVID has had a major impact upon the sector and on the workforce,” Early Learning and Care Council of Australia CEO Elizabeth Death said.

“We have a very tired workforce at the moment who have been on the frontline.”

Elizabeth Death
Elizabeth Death, CEO of Early Learning and Care Council of Australia, says the pandemic exacerbated issues in the childcare sector.(ABC News: Byran Milliss)

Helen Gibbons, the executive director of early education at union United Voice, said there had already been a crisis prior to COVID.

“We already saw vacancies and really significant turnover in the sector,” she said.

“But COVID made that a million times worse,” she said,

United Voice has called for the federal government to direct funding specifically tied to educators’ wages as a stop-gap measure.

“Over 50 percent of the sector is in it to make money and that is not a system that is tenable in this country,” she said.

“We need reform of the sector.”

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