It’s very simple: if you want to get women into the workforce, you need to provide childcare. That’s what the evidence from Germany is showing.
Germany has a complicated network of allowances and taxbreaks for families with children, and it spends about €200 billion on them a year. According to the article in Spiegel (linked above), that’s about 2/3 of the federal budget. But still the birthrate is low, at just 1.39 births per woman aged 15 to 49. By comparison, the OECD average is 1.74, New Zealand’s is about 2.02, and the replacement rate is 2.1. So Germany’s rate is very low indeed, despite all the support for families and children.
The conclusion of a major study into this issue: the big problem is a lack of affordable childcare.
So let’s think about the implications for New Zealand, and in particular, the implications for National’s policies with respect to women (and men) receiving the DPB. It turns out that there are two things that really matter if you are going to be able to get people to move off the DPB and into jobs. The first is obvious: there must be jobs to be had. And the second is straightforward too. There must be affordable childcare. That means childcare centres for the littlies, and after-school and holiday care for school age children.
National will need to look at developing some serious out-of-school care services, and paying for them. At present it can be rather hard to find out-of-school care, and state schools are not required to provide it, so parents can be left struggling. Of course, state schools are not resourced to provide out of school care, and many of them don’t have suitable spaces for it. Classrooms aren’t available – they are teachers’ working spaces, and contrary to popular belief, most, if not all, teachers are at school working before 8am each day, and there until 5pm in the evening. School halls often don’t have toilet and kitchen facilities handy, and they are often too big to be heated easily. And even then, out-of-school care programs don’t really work for teenagers, so you’re into the meth-lab problem again.
You see, here’s the critical thing about sole parents. They are, for whatever reason, sole parents. That means that they have no other back-up, they have no one else who can step up and help in an emergency. The other parent is, by definition, not there. And most times, family members aren’t available to help either. They are busy working themselves. That means that if the state is going to require sole parents to work, then the state will need to ensure that conditions are such that sole parents can work.
The evidence from Germany is very clear. The biggest factor in enabling parents, and particularly mothers, to enter paid employment, aside from the presence of enough jobs, is the availability of childcare. When the government starts making some serious moves to ensure that there is enough childcare available, then we will know that their policies with respect to beneficiaries are more than just a dogwhistle.