Parents still struggle to get ahead: study

MORE WOMEN VOICES: Zali Steggall says she wants the needs of working women to be heard in parliament. Picture: Simon Bennett
MORE WOMEN VOICES: Zali Steggall says she wants the needs of working women to be heard in parliament. Picture: Simon Bennett

PARENTAL leave entitlements in Australia have fallen behind other developed countries, meaning many parents are paying to go back to work after having children.

This is according to the Equity Economics report commissioned by advocacy group The Parenthood and launched by Member for Warringah Zali Steggall. It found the average OECD paid parental leave was 55 weeks (compared to our 18 weeks) and created much greater women's economic equality and female workforce participation.

Ms Steggall called on the government to extend paid parental leave to 52 weeks split equally between parents, to make early childhood education free and to increase mental health support for parents. "It is to facilitate both parents participating in the parent roles and the career roles and sharing the load," she said.

Traditionally, childcare affordability and parental leave policies had been positioned as social rather than economic, she said, and there had been no substantial changes since after the last Global Financial Crisis in 2010. "The decision makers have been men with stay-at-home wives and they haven't had to grapple with these issues. One of the reasons I got into politics was because we need more women bringing forward these issues."

LESS STRESS: Working mum Jill Bentley, with husband Dave and daughters Hazel, 3 and Maeve, 1, believes changes to childcare would decrease parental anxiety. Picture: Dallas Kilponen

LESS STRESS: Working mum Jill Bentley, with husband Dave and daughters Hazel, 3 and Maeve, 1, believes changes to childcare would decrease parental anxiety. Picture: Dallas Kilponen

Manly mother-of-two Jill Bentley works at Macquarie Bank and her husband Dave Parfett is a consultant. She believes that strengthening paid parental leave and subsiding childcare would have a huge impact on the anxiety levels of new parents. "I think even a month or two of being the primary caregiver and still being paid would give the males the opportunity to care for the kids, and they will get to see that it's not that easy. It's a lot of work and if you're not there you have no idea. It's also about men getting equal opportunity at home."

But the biggest impact for her family would be cheaper childcare. "The childcare subsidy is a joke," she said, adding that it was almost impossible to get into the council-run centre, The Roundhouse. "If you want women back in the workforce, that's the way to do it. I don't earn any money to go back to work but I have all this added stress in my life. I know it's for my future and my sanity but you start to think, 'it's super difficult and so stressful so what's the point?'"

Funding the scheme would cost an additional $7.6 billion in 2021, and Ms Steggall said: "I feel strongly on the back of the October federal budget having been so blokey, it's important to get this issue on the agenda early and I've written to the treasurer to ask him to review and discuss it."

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