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Mar 28, 2012

Abbott's nanny state could expose kids to lesser levels of care

Tony Abbott's thought bubble on government funding for nannies may expose children to lesser levels of care as well as assisting more affluent women to exploit many less powerful ones.

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Asking for government funding for nannies may expose children to lesser levels of care as well as assisting more affluent women to exploit many less powerful ones. Rather than expanding this type of payment, government should fix the supply and other problems in its child care services that make access hard. Then the government can legitimately make it clear that the public subsidies are for quality childcare that meets clear standards as well as ensuring that their parents can be economically or otherwise engaged.

Tony Abbott has stirred a long time debate on what should child care funds subsidise. In the past he had supported subsidies for stay at home mothers, now he is trying to promote his new age support for working mothers. He is playing into the campaigns by Chief Executive Women who have supported nanny subsidies for some time. It’s still only a suggestion as he would refer the question of funding home-based care to the Productivity Commission.

Both his intervention and the arguments of the groups supporting nanny subsidies push the economic benefits of increasing the participation of women in paid work. They look at the serious difficulties that even higher income women have in finding appropriate care and argue therefore that public funding should therefore extend to parents who hire nannies. It is demonstrably very expensive to pay a home-based worker the pay they are entitled to for the hours needed for full time care.

Yes, there is a significant shortage of care placed for the under threes, the staff ratios make these places less attractive to commercial centres, despite demand. However, the government ignores these shortages, quoting only overall vacancy rates, not by age and locations. Services can also be inflexible because late pickup incurs extra costs. However there are options for changes here that could make more places available and offer more flexibility.

However, most noisy nanny advocates are not interested in better access to funded services, they want home-based care. It suits them better to have someone at home who can also do the cooking, clean up the children’s mess and be there if they have to stay back late. A surrogate wife in fact! And that is where the question become murky, as it meets their needs but not the needs of others.

There are many questions on both the quality of care on offer to the children in home and setting adequate working conditions for the carer. Arguments for nanny subsidies focus on parental needs. There are rarely mentions of the benefits of such care for either children or the home based worker.

The advocates say that parents should be the judges, but parents tend to ignore evidence of not-quite-good-enough–care in services because it is too hard to change. At least the services have regulations and other adults there to make sure basics are covered, but these safety valves are not there in home based care. If there were obvious problems, they may worry but parents are unlikely to notice lack of engagement, limited ability to meet emotional and social needs and lack of understanding of child pay and development. So care may not be as good as even an average centre.

So what is the purpose of public subsidies for a range of children’s care services? These were introduced specifically in the 1970s to ensure good quality of care was on offer for children in day care services. Governments set staffing ratios and qualifications so care services can meet children’s needs for social, emotional, physical, intellectual, and educational development. The recent child care rebate of a maximum of about $150 per week was added to ensure that higher costs of government regulated good care was affordable for all users. This is paid for full time care where at least double the amount is spent on fees.It is this payment that nanny users want, but it would not even cover one day’s care by a nanny, leaving four days plus still to be paid. If one estimates nanny pay as at least $24ph, as a casual payment, add on super and workers comp insurance and possible overtime, the costs go up to around a $1000 a week! If you had three children, there would be more subsidy, but think of  the one carer with no lunch breaks or relief! Current nannies are often in the black economy, paid cash, often students or travellers and settle for less cash in hand.

What about the working conditions of a sole worker in a household? Presumably, she will be expected to do the associated domestic work and have no meal breaks and often longer hours than normal work shifts. She may have a cert 3, the new minimum qualification for working in a centre, but these are designed for people working with better qualified supervisors.

Many are also suss as they are now delivered by a range of colleges of low repute. The qualification don’t cover skills in learning activities, assessing the needs of children or exploring ideas and creativity.

Those relatively low paid workers who take these jobs are often young and often students or on the move and not so likely to take up formal taxed jobs. Others may be recently arrived migrants and others who may have few other work options. None are likely to be confident enough to ensure that they have good working conditions and are not exploited. A scary possibility is if the nanny industry become more legitimate and expanding, the shortage of workers may bring demands for temporary visas for migrants from low paid countries. We would then seriously exploit women and parallel those already working as maids etc in Hong Kong and the Gulf states.

Home based workers are vulnerable, if not employed by an external agency who ensures they are appropriately paid and not exploited. Home and community care services have standards and regulations that ensure that workers have decent working conditions, mean breaks etc. The argument that registering them in order to get a subsidy will improve their situation is doubtful, as the isolation of the workers makes it too hard to regulate and police.

There are other options as there is already a service of in home carers, that is subsidised for families who for good reasons can’t use centre-based care. This could be expanded for carers who are both qualified and supervised by an external agency.

Eva Cox —

Eva Cox

Writer, feminist and social commentator

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27 thoughts on “Abbott’s nanny state could expose kids to lesser levels of care

  1. beckstuff

    @Groucho, I’m having difficulty understanding your point, because if you have a high income, yet this is eaten by exorbitant day care fees, the upshot is you either keep working to keep your toe in your career, or you stop working because there’s no point because you’re not getting ahead financially. So when you’re looking at fees that high, it effectively achieves the same thing – parents being forced to choose between their careers and their day care fees.

    I think it’s ridiculous to pretend in-home care would not be a more workable option for many average working families, particularly for those who have more than one child in day care. If parents outside the high income bracket are saying they’d like to have that option, why should that possibility not be examined? Also, no matter what argument you mount, nothing can actually clarify the strain of paying any kind of day care fees like the statement that the fees are higher than most private school fees. And people still want to argue that government policy (either past conservative or current ALP) is supportive of parents in the workplace.

    No one has yet answered the question of how parents access care for their children outside the operating hours of the centres in their areas. With some exceptions, in most places outside metro centres, day care doesn’t operate outside 6/7am-6pm or weekends. In-home care would be an enormous help in these situations.

    You can’t really be accurate if you’re accusing only the Libs of trying to sell better day care options to parents. I’d dearly love to be able to take the chance to get stuck into Abbott (there’s obviously no shortage of topics you could start with), but I’d be selectively forgetting the grand (and rather exciting) hoo-ha regarding promised day care reform in the lead-up to the ALP’s election win with Kevin07. Those of us who watch those debits leave our accounts are left having to acknowledge it’s all a major disappointment, from EITHER side of politics. And meanwhile, the costs just keep rising, and rising, and rising, as does our bitter gall.

    Until the system is fixed, and someone bites the bullet to reform day care (hopefully to mirror the school system where you have a choice between government and independent facilities), we’re stuck with what we have, and we need to look at as many options as possible for working families.

  2. Liz45


    I’m on your side. I wonder if you live in NSW as we have the most expensive child care in the country. O’Farrell announced prior to this school year, that children attending pre-school on a school site will have to pay fees for the first time. In other States, particularly WA, more schools have a child care centre and parents do NOT have to pay. All other States are cheaper than NSW, and yet O’Farrell has just made it worse. He’s not taking into account the socio-economic status in the area, kids who have English as a second language and aboriginal parents are sick to death of being used as a ‘yardstick’?

    Like Health and other areas, education is becoming a business, with the main focus being on cost, outcome(in a business sense) and profits.

    Rebecca, I’d like to see a better child care system altogether, but firstly, let’s bring NSW up to standard. I believe that women like you should have access to first quality, AFFORDABLE child care. Further, that parents, single or other should NOT have to justify their reasons for working. I’m constantly amazed by the double messages of all govts – state and federal. On the one hand childcare is too expensive, but govts want women in the workforce, and so do bosses. In fact, sole parents, (most of whom are women) where the youngest child is 6 or8? MUST show that they’re trying to get a job or they lose their sole parent benefits. The same applies to too many people with disabilities. The Govts should make up their mind, and stop ‘bashing’ women around the head!

    As I’ve said earlier, workplaces should be encouraged to have child care on site. This could be phased in, but it would be ideal for babies and toddlers to have at least one parent available. There’s heaps of businesses that take handouts from State and Federal govts, but apart from wages(of which they whine about, constantly in many cases) they don’t contribute to the community at all. All state schools should have a child care centre attached. Didn’t Kevin Rudd say that that was his goal? What happened? At the moment, a family of three children could travel to three different addresses every morning and evening. My son and daughter in law did this for a couple of years! Child care centres on school grounds? One drop off point for all kids, with care after school hours for working parents. That’s what should happen!

    I’m not in favour of Abbott’s views on women, kids, families, just about anything really. He’s a misogynist and is trying to buy womens’ votes – he’ll never get mine! His latest sexist comment re Julia Gillard’s wardrobe would be classed as sexual harassment in another workplace – ‘unwanted comment about appearance, based on sex’? Again, the media let him get away with it! I did NOT!

  3. Ben Dudley

    Our household would be snookered without our nanny. She has also become our daughter’s best friend. Having said that, we have been very fortunate to find an excellent nanny (fourth time lucky!) and we believe we pay her appropriately and do not ask her to do any inappropriate tasks (yes, she cleans and cooks but that is about it) or work inappropriate hours (8 til 6 is a long day but so is 7 til 6 in an operating theatre).
    My wife is a professional who has spent 15 years getting her career established and to stay at home would jeopardise that. She feels guilt on a regular basis for not spending more time with our daughter.
    We have been on waiting lists with 4 childcare centres in our area since our daughter was six months old. We still have not been offered a place in any centre at any time (originally we selected our preferred days but later we extended our preference to any day and any time). We registered our daughter to start in a pre-school around the time she would turn 2 but we were recently notified that the centre has changed its policy due to changes in government regulations and they are no longer taking kids until after their third birthday and so they hoped to be able to offer us a place a year later than expected.
    We pay about $1,000 per week. Ok we can afford it but why not make it tax deductible? It is an expense incurred in enabling both of us to work and with the skills shortages etc etc shouldn’t there be encouragement to keep professionals in the work force?
    (Don’t imagine for a moment I am a coalition supporter. I think their current economic offerings add up about as well as Enron’s accounting and I think they’re racist, homophobic and untrustworthy.)

  4. Rebecca Te'o

    The level of ignorance and prejudice on this topic is astounding. Given the reasoning above, we should also have no in-home care for the aged or people living with disabilities, just because in past eras someone else always looked after that sort of stuff. Contrary to what many of you seem to believe, parents who pay for day care aren’t monsters; they are merely trying to make the most of providing for their families in a nation where the cost of living is extremely high.

    I’m a professional, I use day care, I love being with my kids, but I also have to work. We don’t own any property, have one working vehicle, have no medical insurance because we can’t afford it, and don’t own extravagent items like a plasma television (in fact, we have to bang the side of ours to get the colour right). I mention the plasma TV because that’s a product that usually crops up as an example of a modern parents’ apparent skewed sense of priority: “There’s something wrong with today’s parents – they think it’s important to have the very best of everything”. Well, I call bullsh*t. This is not the experience of anyone I know.

    This I’m fed up to the back teeth with a simplistic dismissal of parents – and let’s face it, you really mean “women” – who use day care as selfish and privileged. Apparently, in previous eras, parents could leave children with neighbours, relatives, their mums, friends, or, according to all the rose-coloured memoirs banging around the place, just let them (apparently) play in the street until sun down. Or you could give the old lady from around the corner a bit of cash to mind them twice a week while you went to work. That is not the world we live in, and pretending things are still this way is at best unhelpful and at worst ignorant.

    Like a manky carpet, the entire child care industry needs to be flung over the back fence and given a good whacking to get the parasites out – the only losers in day care are the parents who pay a fortune and the workers who are paid a pittance for their excellent care.

    Get real, and stop avoiding the issue by pretending it’s about class or political persuasion. Those who carry on about it being a class/party issue are demonstrating they know absolutely nothing about how the average person lives. It’s embarrassing, it’s incorrect, it’s ignorant and, actually, it’s bloody patronising.

  5. Liz45

    @MICHAEL – I do NOT agree with you. I much prefer Eva’s “idealogy” to Abbott’s? As Paul correctly points out, Abbott is only concerned with one person – HIM! He wants to live in the Lodge, and by his own words, he’ll do anything to achieve that, including “selling my arse”?

    Image the horror that would be shouted about if somebody suggested, that mothers of small children could have their childcare paid for if they continued their studies etc. The shock jocks and programs like TT and ACA are persistent in their demonising of young unmarried women with babies, but I assert that they’d be equally condemning if the Labor Govt offered this incentive? I can almost hear the screams, and the smoke is coming out of numerous nostrils! Sophie M would be leading the charge. ‘Working class’ welfare is always fun to guarantee irate followers?

    I think it would be better to support child care at the workplace/s. Women with babies could more easily breast feed their babies if they were on site. All kids would benefit if they had access to one parent at least, during the day.

    If the right wing in the Coalition parties are horrified by Abbott’s maternity benefit scheme, imagine how they’d respond to this suggestion.

    Anyway, after he was elected (NO!) he’d do what he did over the Private Health Rebate. Do an ‘ooooppppssss’, sorry folks, didn’t realise it would cost THIS much! Sorry! It’s off the table! ‘And not a murmur would pass the lips of the Murdoch press or the shock jocks and others!

    As many of us are aware – a Coalition PM can tell lies, withdraw promises etc and not a criticism is heard, but let one Labor PM do it – wow! (Anyway, it was never removed as ALP policy, but who’s interested in facts???).

    MICHAEL JAMES – How much do Nannies get paid in Singapore? Does this include the physical and emotional cruelty that’s dished out to them?

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