The NIB State Of The Nation Parenting Survey (Pt 5)

Linked Article: Daycare stress highest in Auckland: survey

Today I look at a further article from the NIB State of the Nation Parenting Survey. The NIB State of the Nation parenting survey quizzed 1200 parents throughout New Zealand. The article linked is about childcare.

The article states that; ‘12 percent of the parents surveyed were "extremely concerned about placing their children in daycare when returning to work". A further 17 percent were "very concerned".’

It would be interesting to also find out how many parents were also “concerned” rather than “extremely concerned” and “very concerned”. The two categories presented already add up close to 30%. My real question though is, what are parents concerned about? Is it the quality of the care? Is it the separation from their children? Or is it the expense of childcare, as the article seems to assume as it continues? While it would be nice if the discussion was around the former questions there are still many fascinating observations that we can make as the financial issues are discussed.
It seems that the cost of childcare is going up, particularly in Auckland but also around the country. The mother that is interviewed in this article comments that; "What I find shocking is how much it costs for a child under the age of 1 or up to 3 years old to be looked after at daycare, because you only get subsidy at age 3. Chances are most people have to go back before that time, so it's almost like you're penalised by going back to work."

Yes, the costs certainly are high. According to a 2014 study carried out by BNZ and Plunket, the average Kiwi parents spent about $11,500 a year on childcare. No doubt that number has gone up since then.

The mother’s comments above also bring another issue to the fore. The idea that people are being “penalised”. However, if you are not being subsidised it doesn’t mean you are being penalised. This notion that if “someone got something and I didn’t” and therefore “life is unfair” and “it’s immoral” is something that has been part of human society for a long time but is also irrational. Even Jesus commented on this perception that humans have in his Parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard. In this parable, Jesus describes how a vineyard owner went to hire workers at the start of the day and made a contract with them that they would be paid a denarius to work till the end of the day. The men agreed to the contract as it was a good deal and set to work. As the day progressed the vineyard owner went out, again and again, each time offering the same contract right up to the last hour of the workday. At the end of the day, everyone was paid the same amount irrespective of when they started working as that was the deal. This upset those who had started working first. “Why do they get paid the same amount as me, I’ve worked longer than they have”, the first workers complain. The first point of the story is that the owner of the vineyard has the right to use his money in whatever way he wants. The story also highlights envy and the fact that the first workers would have been perfectly happy until they started comparing themselves to others. The same is true in the case the mother puts forward. Nobody is being penalised, but yes, some people are being subsidised. Yes, there is a difference in that the government gets its money through your taxes but it is also the nature of a democracy that the decision on how that money is spent is decided by the government and “the majority” rather than you as an individual.

However, it seems in the case of childcare that even those subsidies are not enough. According to further news articles, many childcare centres are charging on top of the “20 free hours” scheme. The complaint is that the subsidies are not keeping up with the rising costs. The basic economic reality is of course that subsidies don’t just come from thin air, in large part, they come from taxes. If we raise the subsidies, the higher the taxes we’ll need to pay for them, the higher the cost of living, and so on and so forth…

I’ve saved my biggest issue for last and it has to do with the words, “...most people have to go back...to work.” I find this curious because there is some serious cognitive dissonance with the fact that people realise that financially it doesn’t make sense to go back to work, as you just end up spending all that income on childcare, and yet they still think they have to go back to work anyway. A general rule of budgeting is that if you’re losing money or not really making any then maybe it’s time to reconsider if this is the best option. There is no “have to” when it comes to this. No-one is being forced. Lack of money is a personal problem to be solved not a state of being. Certainly the vast majority of people don’t “have to” live in Auckland. That is certainly one way to cut costs and there are numerous examples of people doing exactly this. There are, in fact, plenty of ways to cut costs but it all depends on our priorities. As much as we shout and moan about it, the truth is that if we lived more consistently with our stated priorities instead of our hidden motives, our lives would look very different. This realisation has certainly been very true when reflecting on my own life too.
If people aren’t going back to work for the financial reward then why are they going back anyway? The article states that many people “...feel anxiety and guilt about having to place their baby into daycare early on” (see my previous article on guilt). So why do people go back? It seems to make no sense!

Is it the societal expectations that we should all be working in a paid job to be seen as a productive human being the issue? Or is it a fear of parenting in that we seem to struggle to know what to do with our children and how to connect with them? Is it that our work really can’t compete with the wonder of raising a real live human being? What is really going on?