National has released their welfare reform policy. In general I agree there’s probably a need for some reform, but above all else one aspect of it bothers me… Sole parents.
My wife and I are married and live together with our three children, so it doesn’t affect us, but I’m not unfamiliar with the issues involved. We’re lucky enough to be able to live on my income so my wife can be a stay-at-home mum for our kids, however we have previously looked at the possibility of her returning to work… It didn’t make any sense economically.
The National policy would require all solo parents with children over 14 to be “available for full time work”. The argument is that at fourteen children are legally able to be alone unsupervised. This is not a major problem really – I’m sure there are cases in which it wouldn’t be especially beneficial, but in general that seems okay.
But for solo parents with younger children they have to be available for part-time work once their kids are five. In theory in this case they are at school most of the day, and can be in some sort of after-school care at other times. There are many more cases in which this won’t be practical but it’s still not the worst scenario.
For solo parents who have another child they get an exemption for 12-months. So a solo parent of a 6-year-old who has another child would be expect to return to part-time work on that child’s 1st birthday. A parent of a 15-year-old having a new baby would need to return to full-time work when the child turned 1.
The problem is the cost (and limitation) of childcare compared to part-time work. Childcare costs between $6-10/hr in most cases, and is often charged on a half-day/full-day basis. A part-time worker is likely on a low income, perhaps as little as $13/hr. After tax the cost of childcare can easily be more than half of the income.
Then there are other issues – getting into childcare (there are often waiting lists), timing (childcare hours are limited, part-time work often requires weekends and late nights) and sickness (can’t work when child is sick as they can’t go to childcare).
Personally I think it is a small price to pay, as a society, to try an ensure parents aren’t forced into situations where they are apart from their children, working simply to pay for childcare.