Sunday, August 11, 2013

Mostly true. Did Labor push child care numbers past one million?

“As a result of our policies, the number of children in approved child care has grown to more than one million.”

Kate Ellis, early childhood minister, August 7 2013

It’s been a big week for child care. Kevin Rudd kicked off his campaign with a promise of $450 million in extra funding to improve child care centres. His minister Kate Ellis said: “As a result of our policies, the number of children in approved child care has grown to more than one million”.

Is it really Labor’s policies that have driven that growth, or would childcare numbers have got there anyway?

Supporting evidence

The one million figure comes from Child Care in Australia, a report released by the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations this month. It finds the number of children in officially-sanctioned care hit 1,030,970 in September 2012, passing through the one million mark for the first time.

Around 616,000 were in child care centres, 125,000 in family day care, 315,000 in after-school care and the rest in occasional care.

Does it stack up?

In the three years leading up to Labor’s election, child care numbers barely grew - inching ahead a total of 2.8 per cent. In the five years since, child care numbers surged 29.8 per cent. The graph turns up sharply at about the time Labor took office.

But this doesn’t mean that Labor did it. Just before Labor took office John Howard’s brought down a final budget was awash with support for parents using child care. It boosted the benefits paid to the centres, allowed parents to claim two years worth of rebates in one year and introduced real time rebate payments so parents wouldn’t have to wait until the end of each financial year to claim money back through the tax system.

Labor built on Howard’s moves, boosting the size of the rebate from 30 per cent to 50 per cent and allowing more parents to claim it. It introduced fortnightly payments, so parents wouldn’t have to wait until the end of each quarter.

And long-term trends are at play. Sydney University economist Stephen Whelan says for the past quarter century increasing numbers of women have been to returning to work after having children. ANU economist Robert Breunig says it is happening because women are increasingly university-educated and having children later in life.

Coalition child care spokesman Sussan Ley pourscold water on the one million total saying it may include some double-counting, but it is hard to deny that the numbers are going up. Although long-term trends are at play, the actions of this government (as well as those in Howard’s last budget) would have a lot to do with it.


The Howard government boosted support for child care. Labor supercharged it.

Politifact rates the claim mostly true.

With Ellie Harvey, in and The Sydney Morning Herald

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