Heather is a single mum who wants to go back to work. The cost of childcare means she can't.

Heather Kelly is frustrated. The pharmacy student and single mum-of-two is keen to go back to work. But the high cost of childcare is making it unviable.

“I was offered a full-time pharmacy assistant job,” Kelly tells Mamamia. “Even on a decent amount of money, by the time daycare fees are factored in, I am honestly better off staying at home on Centrelink, looking after my kids.

“It’s frustrating as you want to set a good example of working for a living to your children, but realistically, I can’t return to work until my kids start school, because school is much cheaper than daycare.”

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Kelly, who lives in Coffs Harbour, NSW, has two daughters, one aged two and the other eight months. The local childcare centre charges her $58 a day for her two-year-old and $61 for her baby.

“This amount is after my childcare benefit and rebate I get from the Government,” she adds. “These are the exorbitant prices I pay under my circumstances.”

The struggle for parents of young kids – especially single parents – is real. A national survey has shown that the cost of childcare for families has almost doubled in just over a decade.

The survey, Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA), has been tracking almost 10,000 Australian households since 2002.

In that time, the cost of childcare for kids under five has gone up 75 per cent for couples and 104 per cent for single parents. Couples are now spending an average of $162 a week on childcare, and single parents are spending $114.

The study’s author, Professor Roger Wilkins, says parents’ out-of-pocket expenses have gone up when it comes to childcare, for a number of reasons.

“Mostly it’s because prices have been going up faster than inflation,” Professor Wilkins tells Mamamia. “I guess there has been some improvement in childcare wages, and I think more and more people are hitting the $7500 [cap] on the childcare rebate per child per year, because that hasn’t been increased in real terms for quite a few years now.”


Professor Wilkins says generally, mothers are staying in the workforce, but many of them are turning to family and friends to help them save money on childcare.

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“One pattern we’re seeing is increased use of informal care, be it grandparents or neighbours or other family members.”

However, single parents often have less informal care options, and can’t juggle work schedules with another parent. The increased cost of childcare is hitting them hard.

“It’s really constraining their ability to improve their income situation,” Professor Wilkins says. “If they try to work more hours, they incur substantially more childcare costs.

“If we want to facilitate single-parent employment – and I think we do, because I think it brings benefits beyond income, in terms of a sense of self-esteem and a positive role model for the kids – we’ve got to make it easier from a government policy standpoint for them to actually do that.”

Has the cost of childcare made it difficult for you to return to work?