When going to work costs more than staying home with the kids.

I’m a working mum. So, like most working mums I have a constant calculator going in my head. Costs in. Costs out.

At the end of the day, I take home a salary. With that money, I pay for my day. Parking, pre-school fees, a babysitter and petrol. There’s a little bit left over. Not much. But a bit.

For a working mum who earns a basic income, that ‘bit’ averages around $4.09 an hour. Which is basically the cost of a cup of coffee.

A report published by News Limited over the weekend showed that the reason women are walking away from the office with so little, is largely because of a rise in childcare fees.

It’s broken down like this:

A low income mother, working part-time who decides to return to full-time work, gets to pocket $4.09 an hour from her $16.37 hourly wage after child care and tax are removed for the extra 20 hours she spends at work each week.

A middle-income mum in the same situation, keeps $7.83 from her $30.70 hourly wage.

And because of a likely reduction in government benefits, a low-income single mum working the same way, pockets just $3.44.

From News Limited:

The Childcare Affordability in Australia report, prepared by AMP and the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling, shows increases in the costs of childcare have outstripped petrol price rises over the last five years.

“(Childcare) prices have increased sharply … that’s a challenge for government and families over the next few years because there is no magic way of making child care cheaper,” NATSEM’s principal research fellow Ben Phillips said.

Most wages go towards childcare fees and tax.

The prices of child care in Australia’s major metropolitan cities is extraordinary. Some parents in Sydney are paying up to $170 a day. It’s not unusual for an average family to be paying around $100 a day. This doesn’t provide a child with any posh extra curricular activities like French lessons, yoga or sushi making classes.

This is just standard – good, justifiable, inner city – care.

The report states: “The cost of care, as a percentage of the family budget, also varies widely across the country — ranging from 9.3 per cent of the disposable income of residents in the well-heeled Sydney suburb of Mosman and 11.4 per cent in West Australia’s Kimberly region, to just 3.7 per cent in Queensland’s Charters Towers. Of all the capital cities, Brisbane offers the most affordable childcare.”

It is true that a significant portion of fees can be claimed. For the lower-income earner – the childcare benefits kick in. And for every Australian who has a child in child care, they can claim the rebate. But …


What if you can only get a spot at a $170/ day centre and you’re not eligible for the child care benefit?

What if you can’t find a cheap (non-claimable) nanny?

What if you have two kids in child care and the centre jacks up the fees twice in the past six months? And the rebate has stayed the same?

What if you’re a nurse/ waitress/ journalist/ retail worker and you do shift-work?

What if you don’t have any grandparents willing to help?

It’s a fruitless venture for so many mums.

Let’s get real about the $4.09 ‘superfluous hourly income’. When a mum has little kids, $4.09 can vanish very, very quickly.

Those coins won’t buy much. A coffee. A mini nail polish. One and half bananas. Two packets of snakes.

And some mums are happy with that. They’d argue $4.09 is enough. As long as they aren’t LOSING money. Every dollar earned is a dollar they didn’t have when they walked out the door.

But for many, it’s just not worth it.

Once that’s disappeared, a working mum’s salary is on the cusp of being in the red. She’s a few dollars away from earning negative-dollars. It’s costing her money to work.

I have a girlfriend who says, “my salary affords us pizza on a Friday night. That’s it. My kids are in day care so I can have eight hours to myself.”

Sure, that might sound rather indulgent to a lot of mums but a lot of women aren’t working to profit $4.09 an hour. They’re working to work. It’s as simple as that. It’s about the long game. It’s about going to work. Turning up to an office. Having a cuppa. Talking to adults. Having a deadline.

And the point is – it’s unfair if a mother can’t have that choice.

How do you spend your profit? Can you afford to work? Is it worth it?