Catholic Social Services worried about childcare quality

Catholic Social Services is worried that changes to the Government's childcare benefit scheme will result in low income parents missing out on much-needed childcare places as providers chase profits in high-income areas.

The Age reports that the Government has used this year's Budget to remove the cap on the number of places it is prepared to fund through the childcare benefit.

The move prompted a warning from the Catholic Social Services that if providers take up the offer, they are likely to follow the "map of profitability", leaving poor communities without services.

"We don't want the placements to follow the profitability map," Executive Director Frank Quinlan said. "We think that's a significant risk."

A lack of budget measures to address affordability and quality concerns has also raised eyebrows.

"The emphasis on quality can't be over-stated," Mr Quinlan said. "We think the danger in childcare is where quality is sacrificed for profits."

Parents have weathered a five per cent hike in childcare fees in the first three months of 2006 alone - more than five times the inflation rate for most other goods and services.

Prime Minister John Howard, dogged by complaints over childcare even from within his own party, has defended the government's measures.

"What we have done is create a situation where childcare now becomes demand-driven," he told ABC radio. "There is no limit to (the number of) places that we will fund."

Meanwhile, Catholic Health Australia has criticised the "glaring omission" in Tuesday's Budget of a strategy to improve the public hospital system.

CEO Francis Sullivan said the "federal Budget bypassed increasing public hospital funding despite the widespread public angst over waiting lists and hospital conditions."

"Let's be very clear," he said, "giving people tax cuts does help them with discretionary spending, but it does nothing to improve hospital efficiencies and capacities."

He said it's too easy for the Commonwealth to "wash their hands" of their responsibility to public health by blaming the states and territories.

"The Commonwealth collects taxes and has an on-going responsibility to invest across the economy including in the public hospital system," he said.

"Until the financing responsibility for public hospitals rests with the level of government which raises the tax revenue, the public hospital system will remain captive to the whims of the Commonwealth and the precarious nature of provincial government finances."

With a Budget that includes $36.7 billion in tax cuts mostly to high-income earners, the President of the St Vincent de Paul Society Victoria also has voiced his concern for the nation's poor.

Mr Jim Grealish says that the demands on the Society are ever increasing and the Budget "brings no relief" to the vast majority of the poor.

He said that the Society will have to rely on the "goodwill" from the public in its response to its Winter Appeal. Donations can be made by calling 13 18 12, he said.

Poorer families 'miss out' on childcare (The Age/Australian Associated Press 11/5/06)
Federal Budget Reveals The Use By Date of Dual Public Hospital Funding (Catholic Health Australia 10/5/06)
Ignored - No comfort to the people we see (St Vincent de Paul Society 10/5/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Budget 2006-07 (Australian Government) | Budget Speech
St Vincent de Paul Society
Catholic Social Services Australia

Vinnies sees long-term focus missing from Federal Budget (CathNews 10/5/06)
Federal Budget boosts family relationships (CathNews 11/5/05)
Catholic Health sees missed Budget opportunity for aged care (CathNews 11/5/05)
Budget non-event for poor but Govt delivers on aged care (CathNews 12/5/04)

Fall in scripts saves $260m (The Australian 11/5/06)

11 May 2006