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.

Eva Cox

Writer, feminist and social commentator

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.

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

  1. Michael James

    For all of Ms Cox’s horor at the concept, it works very well in Singapore, where the government encourages the placement of maids (Nanny’s by another name) to encourage and facilitate the return of educated professional women to the workforce.

    The Singapore government has a comprehensive licencing and monitoring system in place to ensure that both maids and families are protected, from unscrupulous maid agencies, from abusive families and from manipulative maids.

    I am not suggesting that we should introduce such a scheme here, just that there are pros and cons to all proposals, and perhaps a more nuanced article might have looked at both sides.

  2. Michael

    Eva you degrade yourself by placing ideology ahead of sensible Coalition policy

  3. Paul

    The only reason to take this seriously is is the realization that Abbott will offer any bribe imaginable to get the vote of selfish rich and high income families. But that is Abbott to the core.
    It will mean the low income families will receive less support, as is the way with the Tories (don’t believe me look at the UK government – advised by Australian right wingers). Sadly Abbott and most of the media will present it as a quasi female friendly policy and many Australians will be sucked in.

  4. 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?

  5. Clytie

    Family Day Care can already care for children in your own home, and it is licensed, qualified and attracts the childcare subsidy.

    However, you can get a grey-market nanny for a lot less money. Hey, we’re offering you room and board etc., we’ll let you study in your (chuckle) spare time, so how about a bit of cash in hand and we’re square, huh?

    Registration won’t be enough to protect these workers, overwhelmingly women with few support structures and little knowledge of their rights.

    Family Day Care (in your or the carer’s home) also allows for late pickups etc., and simply charges by the hour. So I don’t see why relatively well-off women need a nanny, if they’re looking for available and flexible childcare.

    If they’re looking for a P.A. on less than minimum wage, in an environment they can control completely, that’s another matter.

  6. John64

    “Then the government can legitimately make it clear that the public subsidies are for quality childcare that meets clear standards”

    … or the parents could, of course, look after the little rugrats themselves without any care for “quality” or standards needing to be met.

    I think as a society we’ll one day become aware of the obvious conclusion that the best people to look after children are that child’s parents. No ifs, no buts and no “economic” excuses.

    You’d think raising children was some sort of terrible punishment the way some of these arguments play out. “Imagine, having to look after a child without someone else coming in to cover the lunch break!” Sometimes I wonder just how my parents did it with four of us.

    I think what I’ll do is register the wife as a nanny and “pay her” (money that goes right back into the family bank account of course) just to get the Government bonuses, then register my home as a “childcare premises” to score some more hand-outs. It’ll be a great little earner.

  7. 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.

  8. geomac

    Another policy that invites rorts and does nothing for the average punter . Remember how well the ABC child centres went with government largesse and how non profit child care centres were squeezed out of the industry . Who were the Nationals who had a part in that industry ? Y can,t recall but I think Kroger was involved as well .

  9. AR

    From this is is a short, ideological step to tax deductible nannies, maids, butlers and sundry other domestic servants, as per the UK tories.

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