ChristenUnie leader Gert-Jan Segers left a formation document in the train last month. It would have no status, but there is talk. “We are working towards a situation where childcare becomes free for many people and the childcare allowance can be abolished or reformed,” it said.
The rules should be less complicated, partly because of the allowance affair. There is also an important caveat: if politicians say something is free, you will eventually pay. Through taxes and premiums. But how and how much is not clear.
The costs for four days of free childcare per week for both working and non-working people are in any case estimated at 5.5 billion euros per year (CPB). Incidentally, that amount can be reduced through a personal contribution or the abolition of tax benefits.
In 2019, the costs for childcare amounted to around 3.8 billion euros, the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) has calculated. The government paid 3 billion euros in the form of childcare allowance, the rest came from the parents themselves. This involved a total of 656,000 parents and almost 986,000 children in formal childcare (0-4 years).
According to WomenInc, an organization that promotes gender equality, Dutch parents spend an average of 20 percent of their income on full-time childcare.
Do we want to collectively pay for childcare – and thus make it ‘free’? Interest groups such as WomenInc and Stichting Voor Werkende Ouders and parties such as GroenLinks and D66 say yes. It is good for the development and equality of opportunity of children, they say, for example.
Another important argument is the traditional division of roles in the family. On average, men work longer hours than women and women care more hours than men. This should be more equal with free childcare. This also makes women more financially independent.
Break through system
“We know that many heterosexual couples want to share the tasks equally, but 10 percent only manage to do that,” he said Suzan Steeman, expert on the labor market at WomenInc, recently told RTL Z. According to the organisation, that breakthrough starts with the system, among other things.
Something that has also been successful in Sweden, where a more equal distribution has been created thanks to a policy of almost free childcare and half a year of almost fully paid leave for mother and partner. Sweden has one of the most family-friendly governments, according to UNICEF, but income taxes are also relatively high.
‘Free childcare pays off’
According to Women Inc. (almost) free childcare pays for itself in the long run. Because we are going to work more and get better educated, that will ultimately yield more for the state than it costs, they say based on calculations. Including in the form of income tax.
Two to four days of childcare with a personal contribution of 1 euro per hour can result in a plus of at least 500 million euros.
Many parents are enthusiastic about free childcare, a recent survey by EenVandaag showed. About 40 percent say they want to work more. Even if that is not everyone, it is still good news for our economy, says Marjet Winsemius, director of the Stichting Voor Werkende Ouders. “For us this is a no brainer.”
According to her, it is important that a multi-year plan is drawn up to ensure that everything runs smoothly. “Put the responsibility with a separate authority, away from the tax authorities,” she says. WomenInc also emphasizes that the quality of the reception comes first.
‘Organizations are already sacrificing quality’
If childcare becomes free, then it will only be ‘very difficult to guarantee that quality’, says journalist and author of ‘What do we do with the baby?’ Marilse Eerkens. “The idea of free childcare is sympathetic,” she says. But many organizations are already losing money, partly due to staff shortages.
“Young people in training have to work as full staff members, because otherwise they can no longer cope.”
Pressure gets bigger
The quality of Dutch childcare is relatively high, also in an international context, say researchers. But the pressure is great and will increase with free childcare, says Eerkens. “Then I fear that children are worse off.”
Incidentally, the Childcare Branch Organization itself is also critical. Free comes at the expense of quality, they warn. It is becoming too non-committal, where good childcare stands or falls with regularity, structure and involvement of parents. If this is not done step by step, demand will explode and (longer) waiting lists will arise.
How will you guarantee the personal attention and warmth that children need? Eerkens points to Canada as an illustration. Research has shown that children who use free childcare there more often suffer from fear and aggression. Children from underprivileged families in particular benefit from free childcare, while others benefit less.
Really good care should be an improvement on home, says Eerkens. “It is costly and complicated to organize.” Money should therefore rather be spent on quality than quantity. Towards the right guidance for children. If you don’t, you create a recipe for problems later in life, says the journalist.
In short, the well-being of the child must come first. For that reason, Eerkens is also in favor of longer parental leave for both parents. She also argues for a collective pot to pay for this, for example in the form of national insurance. “Children are a social responsibility.”