We are told that the first 5 years of life are the most important in terms of brain health, school success and adult physical and mental health. If we agree that the highest quality care is usually provided within the family, the logical conclusion is that families need to spend as much time as they can during this period with their young children and that they need access to quality support.
Yet we provide only 18 weeks paid parental leave (compared with 36 weeks in the UK, for example) and no guarantee of quality, available, affordable and flexible childcare to substitute family care when parents return to paid work. While there is extensive information available to parents, parenting advice is often inconsistent and it is constantly changing. Outreach support services are limited and are extremely stretched.
When returning to paid work, individually negotiating flexible work arrangements with employers (under ‘right to request’ laws) is an uncertain process and there is no right of appeal if requests are refused. There is strong evidence that in Australia, flexibility for some workers is actually decreasing (and for most, it is certainly not increasing). Considering the dual challenges of finding suitable childcare and flexible work, for some it is economically rational (and desirable) for one parent to leave the paid workforce to undertake most of the childcare. In most cases, this is mum.
We say we value the important work of nurturing and developing our children and yet we pay our child care workers only $18.58 per hour and we recently cut the financial support available to single mums.
If mums become long-term primary carers, they find that we ask them to accept that child care ‘isn’t real work’ by Federal governments that have consistently failed to compensate mums for the $220,000* in lost superannuation payments throughout their lifetime (not to mention the actual income that’s lost).
If and when mums make it back into the paid workforce, they are welcomed with a gender pay gap of 17.5 per cent, a gap that has actually widened by 1.5 percentage points over the past 18 years and a ‘motherhood wage penalty’ that averages at $1,566 per person per year in foregone earnings.
Advocating workable solutions to issues like these is what United Mothers exists to do. Join us now!
If you have already joined United Mothers or ‘Liked’ us on Facebook, why? What do you want to see changed?
PS – While writing this post, I came across a fantastic article by novelist, TV presenter and journalist Tara Moss. She makes some similar points. Here is an excerpt from ‘Families lose out again – particularly women and children‘.
“According to the Human Rights Commission, women working full-time today earn 16 per cent less than men. Women on average also retire on about one third the superannuation of men ($37,000 compared with $110, 000) and are more likely than men to live in poverty.
One of the primary reasons for this significant economic disadvantage is that more women do unpaid work, and lots of it. They take time off to raise children and are also more likely to accept part-time work for the same reason. And let’s just say that the many women who work full-time are also unlikely to return home to find a clean house and meal on the table, ala the traditional gender roles, reversed. In fact, though it really should not be the case, child care and housework is still largely the woman’s job even for women who are working full-time. The Australian Institute of Families Studies have been looking at the gender differences between parents when it comes to paid and unpaid work. They found the following:
Mums working full-time with a youngest child under five were found to be spending an additional 3.6 hours on child care and 2.4 hours on housework a day.
That is, on average, 6 hours unpaid work per day being performed by women working full-time.
There may be some good arguments for changing the Baby Bonus, however it concerns me that by putting many single parents on the measly Newstart allowance (see: ‘Newstart benefit fails even to pay the rent’) and changing the Baby Bonus (see: ‘Scrapping of baby bonus will put strain on welfare agencies’), many women will now find even more of their financial resources cut off. These recent changes do nothing to address the pressing issue of financial inequality for those who do the valuable unpaid work of caring for others. The changes appear to add to the problem.”
* Calculations by CANSTAR indicate that just five years out of the workforce, on an average salary, can impact a woman’s superannuation nest egg by over $220,000.