Make It Free: More than 70 women-led businesses and 600 business owners demand urgent childcare reform

Verve-Super-co-founders

Verve Super co-founders Alex Andrews, Zoe Lamont and Christina Hobbs (L to R).

A group of predominately women-led businesses are spearheading an urgent campaign calling on the government to make early childhood care and education free.

The Make It Free campaign was borne from the frustration and disbelief a number of female entrepreneurs experienced when the federal government announced it would snap back to the old “inaccessible and unaffordable” childcare system.

Shebah, Verve Super, Frankly Co, Logie Interiors and Her Lawyer are among the campaign’s founding partners, but in just a few days, 70 businesses have signed on to support the campaign.

Dee Behan, co-founder of Make It Free and founder of Frankly Co, knows how crippling the cost of early childhood education and care is — and how badly it’s exacerbated in the current economic climate.

“The cost of childcare is so high in Australia that it is a real barrier for parents like me who run their own businesses,” Behan says.

“The devastating economic impact caused by COVID-19 has just exacerbated how unaffordable it is, while simultaneously proving how invaluable and essential it is.”

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Women make up 97% of childcare workers and do 72% of unpaid care work. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Women do 72% of unpaid care work (exacerbated by the pandemic) and women continue to be put on the back foot by a broken childcare system. It’s time to even the playing field. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ The pay gap starts for women as soon as they enter the workforce, yet the gap considerably increases when they have children, known as ‘the motherhood penalty’. Women are typically primary carers and are disincentivised from working more in the paid workforce due to the prohibitive costs of childcare and a poorly structured Child Care Subsidy (CSS) scheme. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Sign the petition today. Make you voice heard and together we can demand the Government #MakeItFree. Link in bio ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ #MakeItFree #freechildcare #equality #women #families

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In Australia, some parents spend approximately 31% of their household income on childcare — more than double the OECD average — with 50% of families struggling to afford often exorbitant childcare costs.

Australian families have never struggled with the cost of early childhood education and care as much as they are nowThe Parenthood’s national survey in May showed that a third of families would not be able to afford the care they previously could.

For women like Dee and so many others involved in Make It Free, these costs are crippling, and totally compromises their ability to get their businesses back on track. These are businesses that have taken years to build up and businesses their founders want to salvage.

But if they can’t afford childcare, it will be almost impossible to do.

“For most Australian families it only makes financial sense for one parent to work full-time, and as we know, in most cases, it is a woman who forgoes their salary, superannuation and career,” says Verve Super CEO Christina Hobbs.

“If we expect to make significant change when it comes to gender equality and financial parity in Australia we need to take a hard look at the childcare system and parental leave.”

Without addressing the high cost of care, the pay gap that sees women retiring with 37% less super than men will not shrink.

“For many women, the years spent working unpaid to care for children have lasting impacts on their superannuation,” Hobbs says.

“Often it is not a choice to forgo their paid work but instead a decision made out of necessity.

“While the cost of childcare remains a barrier for Australian families we will fail to close the pay gap and women will continue to be underrepresented in leadership positions,” Hobbs adds.

“We shouldn’t be making money out of our children,” says Georgina McEncroe, the CEO of women’s ride-sharing service Shebah.

“It’s time for the government to pay up and make childcare free for good, and for all.”

2019 report by PwC for The Front Project found that, for every dollar spent on childcare, two dollars flowed into the economy — yet campaigners have been told for decades that making this essential service free was out of the question.

That was until Prime Minister Scott Morrison overnight made it free in April 2020, offering a liferaft to many families and businesses impacted by COVID-19.

“You don’t have to be a parent or a business owner to see that making it free makes sense but as both a mum and an entrepreneur trying to keep my business afloat during a pandemic,” Behan says.

“I hope the government makes the obvious decision and makes childcare free, permanently.”

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You may have seen the Government’s announcement to end the COVID-19 free childcare package for most Australian families. For many it has felt like a rug has been pulled from under their feet — a step backwards at such a crucial moment. ⁠ ⁠ That’s why over the past week we’ve teamed up with some incredible organisations to launch a campaign to bring free childcare back, *for good and for all*.⁠ ⁠ To sign onto the #MakeItFree campaign go to the link in bio. If you’re a business owner or employer you can pledge your support by adding your company logo to the campaign. Or ask your employer to sign on with you. ⁠ ⁠ The Government has shown us that this change is possible overnight. That's why we're demanding that the Government:⁠ 📣 Make early childhood education and care free PERMANENTLY for EVERY Australian family⁠ 📣 Ensure that every Australian family has access to quality childhood education and care ⁠ 📣 Pay early childhood educators a FAIR wage⁠ ⁠ Why is this issue so damn important? ⁠ ⁠ 👉 This is the boost to the economy Australia needs right now. For every $1 spent on childcare $2 flows into the economy. ⁠ ⁠ 👉 It has been reported that Australian parents spend almost four times as much as their international peers on childcare. Costing the average Australian family 17-31% of their household income. ⁠ ⁠ 👉 For many families under the current system, it only makes financial sense to have one parent to work full time — and as we know, in most cases it is a woman who forgoes their salary, superannuation and career. ⁠ ⁠ 👉 90% of brain development occurs in the first five years of a child’s life. Having access to quality early childhood education is something all children deserve, not just those who can afford it. ⁠ ⁠ 👉 Access to quality childcare is a key driver of productivity. It evens the playing field for workers, and improves access to the best talent pool of job applicants.⁠ ⁠ 👉 Free childcare would generate 30,000 additional work days per week for the economy by better supporting parents to get back to work. ⁠ ⁠ Join us as we urgently call on the Government to reform the Early Childhood Education and Care system. ⁠ ⁠ LINK IN BIO 💪⁠ ⁠ #MakeItFree

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The benefits associated with the provision of universal high-quality affordable early childhood education and care are immense and not just for children and families. It does set children up for the best possible future and it facilitates parents being able to work and provide for their families.

But it would also provide much-needed stability and security to the underpaid workforce that delivers this essential service.

And it will boost Australia’s productivity and recharge the economy.

More than 70 businesses have joined the Make It Free movement and more than 600 business owners and parents have signed their petition.

Behan says the Morrison government has shown that it’s aware that making early education free is possible.

“It’s time to recognise the life-changing impact it can have on Australian families, children businesses, and the economy.”

Indeed.

This article was first published by Women’s Agenda.

NOW READ: A $5 billion-a-year spend on childcare subsidies could result in an $11 billion-a-year increase in GDP, says Grattan Institute

NOW READ: Why the closure of Victorian childcare centres will be especially tough on working mothers

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Susie Campbell
Susie Campbell
3 months ago

I totally agree – it was a huge issue for me juggling the costs of 2 in long day care in Sydney whilst trying to grow a business – it was a catch 22; reduce their hours to save money but reduce the opportunity to grow or put them in 4 or 5 days a week and simply work to pay childcare. That is pretty much what I did for the first 3 years of my business – I took no wage as all profit went on childcare. Each time my profit increased, I paid for an extra day. I intentionally had to stunt growth to cope with the demands of looking after children until they were old enough for school. And when homeschooling hit, that brought it all back to me! It is impossible to have meetings and focus and support staff when you are teaching 2 kids in your office!