Menzies Centre report recommends economic supports for ECEC should remain
A new report, released late last week by the Menzies Centre for Health Governance, has examined the health equity implications of the 156 policy measures that were introduced by the Australian Federal and State/Territory governments in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic, recommending that the temporary supports put in place to support the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector should continue, and that access to free childcare should be retained for socially disadvantaged households.
The report titled ‘Australian COVID-19 policy responses: Good for health equity or a missed opportunity?’, notes that the wide-ranging and rapid policy responses to COVID-19 risks and impacts at Federal and State/Territory levels are “impressive and to be commended”, showing that “if there is political will, action can happen”.
In relation to ECEC, the authors outlined that early childhood experiences, and early and later education, “lay critical foundations for the entire lifecourse”, highlighting that while the Australian Government has provided support for early childcare services, “there has been notably little policy response to help students, parents and educational establishments deal with the COVID-19 impact.”
“From July to the end of September 2020 the Federal Government will provide childcare services with half of the previous subsidy,” authors highlighted.
“Families will resume paying childcare fee gaps. This is unfortunate. Stopping the subsidy will disadvantage already disadvantaged households and children. The evidence tells us that once a child starts from behind, the prospect of catching up to their peers, in schooling and in life, is much diminished,” they said.
The final recommendation of the authors, in relation to ECEC, was that, to prevent an accumulation of disadvantage and health inequities throughout the life course, the temporary supports for ECEC should continue, allowing access to free childcare “at least for socially disadvantaged households”.
“Austerity cannot be the policy response going forward” the authors stressed, saying long-term investment “is vital across the conditions of daily living”.
‘Bouncing back better’ from COVID-19 could see a healthier, more equitable and sustainable Australia if political leaders choose to use this unfortunate event to drive positive societal change. Governing going forward requires a new social compact, supported by a national whole of government health equity strategy.”
The ‘Australian COVID-19 policy responses: Good for health equity or a missed opportunity?’ report was authored by Professor Sharon Friel, Sharni Goldman, Belinda Townsend, and Ashley Schram and may be accessed here.