It’s time to invest more in universal child care

Posted on December 17, 2017 in Child & Family Policy Context – Opinion/Editorials – Child care fees in Toronto have skyrocketed by 21.4 per cent in the last three years, causing some parents to wonder whether they can afford to have another child. The federal government must invest in universal child care as other progressive countries do.
Dec. 17, 2017.   By

Toronto is already the most expensive city in Canada when it comes to child care, and the situation keeps getting worse.

A new study from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives finds that median fees for preschoolers have jumped 21.4 per cent or $214 a month, in the past three years. That’s almost six times faster than inflation.

Fees are now $1,212 a month, or $14,544 a year. And median monthly fees are even higher for infants at $1,758 and toddlers at $1,354. An average couple with two young kids could end up paying close to half its after-tax income on child care alone.

No wonder then that parents like Caroline Starr and Matt Reid, who pay $1,600 a month in child care fees for their 3-year-old preschooler Charlie, are wondering whether they can afford to have a second child.

It is unconscionable that parents in a country as rich as Canada are forced to make these kinds of heart-wrenching decisions. But too many are.

The solution? The federal government should work toward creating an affordable, universal child care program for families across the country. It only makes sense. Study after study has shown it would help women get back into the work force, boost family incomes, close the wage gap between men and women, improve early childhood skills for poor kids, add to government coffers — and, most importantly, reduce child poverty.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau need only look at Quebec to see the immense advantages of providing universal child care on a national scare.

There, fees range from $168 to $183 a month depending on parents’ ability to pay. As a result, even though the province has the second-lowest household income level in the country, it also has the second-lowest rate of child poverty. Statistics Canada says that is thanks to having the lowest child care costs and the most generous child benefits of anywhere in the country.

Nor is the cost to the province an insurmountable barrier. Studies of the Quebec model have shown it pays for itself with economic benefits. In fact, 40 per cent of the cost is recovered in income and payroll taxes alone.

(The same could be expected in Ontario, where a recent provincial government study found that every dollar invested in child care adds $2.47 to the provincial economy.)

Further, Quebec is not an outlier. The $2.4 billion it spends on child care annually is about 0.6 per cent of the province’s GDP. That is close to the average spent on child care by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development countries, and below the 1 per cent recommended by UNICEF.

In contrast the OECD ranked Canada, which overall spends about 0.34 per cent of GDP on child care programs (a figure, let’s not forget, that is boosted by Quebec’s investment), dead last out of 25 countries for quality and accessibility.

Indeed, outside of Quebec, it’s not just the cost of child care that is problematic but the lack of access to quality licensed child care spaces. A recent study, for example, found that three-quarters of Toronto families can’t afford licensed child care. Many middle-income families make too much money to be eligible for fee subsidies but not enough to afford the staggering costs. Poor and moderate income families, meanwhile, face a Toronto waitlist of 14,000 to access subsidized daycare.

Back in 2005 the Liberal government of Paul Martin found the money to invest $5 billion over five years to kick-start a universal child-care system across the country. Unfortunately, the plan was scuttled when the Harper government was elected in 2006. So far, all the Trudeau government has offered up — in 2017 dollars — is a paltry $7 billion over 10, not five, years.

That’s not nearly enough, quickly enough. It’s time Canada joined Quebec and other OECD countries in prioritizing the care of our most precious resource: children. An affordable, universal child care program would go a long way toward protecting them, helping families and boosting the economy and tax revenues. It’s long past time it was in place.

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