Expensive and inaccessible childcare reducing women’s workforce participation

20 March 2024

The high cost and limited accessibility of childcare continues to keep women out of the workforce and affects women's economic security in the short and longer term, according to research by the Brotherhood of St. Laurence (BSL).

The latest report from BSL’s longitudinal Life Chances study, Finding a balance? Work, family and economic security , investigated how having children affects financial wellbeing.

Our report shows how the high cost of childcare influenced decisions around returning to employment and the number of hours worked. As Tonia, a parent from the study, shared: ‘So, if it’s quite expensive, and that cancels out the pay, then I may as well not go to work.’

The study also found limited flexibility and availability of childcare created pressure to accept whatever was offered, rather than parents being able to choose the care that suited them. 

Following the birth of her first child, Bridget and her wife had wanted to wait six months longer before using childcare but felt forced into accepting a place much earlier because: All the decisions are just around, “Don’t let the door slam shut in your face. You have to take this spot and you have to take it now.” You do not have a choice about that.’ 

More Government action is urgently needed to address these problems especially for those on the lowest incomes. BSL welcomes reforms of recent years, including an increase in the federal childcare subsidy, and the plan to increase paid parental leave to 26 weeks by 2026. But more steps need to be taken for a system that supports women’s workforce participation. 

These include addressing high effective marginal tax rates that make it less attractive for mothers to work more than three days per week, and the prohibitive costs and rigidities of the childcare system. The federal government must also ensure that the paid parental leave system has adequate provisions to encourage fathers/partners to take parental leave to enable them to share the care of their children. 

BSL also supports today’s Thrive by Five launch of a draft bill proposing more affordable childcare and preschool along with 52 weeks’ paid parental leave shared between partners. 

The Brotherhood of St. Laurence is a social justice organisation working to prevent and alleviate poverty across Australia.

Media enquiries: Bridie Riordan 0491 159 256