There have been pleas for Australia to “wake up” on childcare after a UNICEF report revealed just how much work Australia has to do on ensuring early childhood education is accessible and affordable, and that parents have access to the paid parental leave they need.
The new report has seen Australia ranked 37 of the 41 richest countries on access to childcare. We are ranked 34 on the affordability of childcare, and 37 on access to parental leave.
In better news, Australia is ranked 12 on quality of learning and care.
Today, the Thrive By Five campaign has taken the report’s results to call on the Australian federal government to lift its game and do better on all of these factors, or “risk leaving a generation of Australian children behind”.
Thrive by Five chief executive Jay Weatherill said the report should serve as a wake-up call.
“Australia is desperately lagging behind most of the world’s prosperous nations on recognising the essential value of early learning and investing accordingly,” he said.
Thrive by Five’s own research has also identified geographic gaps in the delivery of affordable and quality childcare across the country, including in Western Australia and Tasmania.
The UNICEF report finds that Luxembourg, Iceland and Sweden dominate the childcare league table, noting how they manage to combine the affordability of childcare along with the quality of organised childcare. The authors note these countries also have generous leave policies for mothers and fathers, which gives them greater choice over how to care for their children.
At the bottom of the league table is Slovakia, the United States and Cyprus, where the authors say childcare are seen as more of a “private” rather than a “public” responsibility.
The report also highlighted significant gaps in Australia’s parental leave policies. It says that a typical length of leave available to mothers in these countries is 55 weeks — or 32 weeks when calculated as weeks of full pay. They say gaps develop when the end of these paid leave periods fail to align with accessible and affordable childcare options. UNICEF did note that Australia has added more flexibility on its current leave entitlements to parents, currently at 18 weeks minimum wage for primary carers.
However, Australia lags significantly on other countries when it comes to the percentage of children whose fathers used paid parental leave or related benefits.
“Far greater investment in early learning and care is urgent and overdue,” said Weatherill.
“Childcare is on the agenda for the National Cabinet meeting next week and there are five key actions the National Cabinet should take to reform the early learning and childcare system, including a five-year Federal-State Partnership to deliver universal three year old preschool.”
This article was first published by Women’s Agenda.