Meeting the prohibitive cost of child care first-hand
By Mike Layton
It’s 5 a.m., it’s dark, and I just changed my baby’s diaper. Why won’t she go back to sleep? Is she hungry? She’s been fed. Maybe gassy? She’s been burped. What do I do now?
Phoebe just celebrated her one-month birthday and our lives have already completely changed.
We changed our home. We moved out my wife’s art studio to accommodate the nursery. We changed our eating habits. There are no more complex meals cooked late at night after evening public meetings. Simply leaving the house has become an elaborate affair.
One of the most significant changes for me has been my perspective on how the City of Toronto (and other levels of government) provides (or doesn’t provide) services that support families. I was always sympathetic to the needs of parents, but I am now beginning to have first-hand experience in the matter.
Health care, child care, recreation programming, and accessibility are just a few that I’ve been confronted with recently. More than ever I am thankful to live in a country with universal health care. The cost of a birth alone would have buried my family in debt. I’m sure pediatrician costs would have been equally as financially devastating.
Fortunately, my wife is able to take parental leave for 12 months (sadly the life of an elected official is not as accommodating for new parents), but after that we will be hit with a new monthly expense, almost as large as our monthly mortgage payments: child care.
In 2014 David Macdonald and Martha Friendly wrote a telling report for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives called The Parent Trap: Child Care Fees in Canada’s Big Cities.
Infant care provided by the city costs $107 a day (and it’s going up in the 2016 budget), which at $2,140 a month amounts to over $25,000 a year. In Quebec, it’s just over $7 a day, or $150 per month and $1,800 per year. That means we pay $23,000 more a year in Toronto for infant care than they do in Montreal or Quebec City.
The city does provide around 25,000 subsidized spaces but there are also over 17,000 children on the waiting list for the subsidy. Once subsidies and other forms of care are accounted for, the average infant care cost in Toronto amounts to $1,676 per month — still an incredible amount compared to Quebec’s $150 per month, or even Winnipeg’s $651 per month.
Both the Harper and the Trudeau governments are committed to the Universal Child Care Benefit rather than helping to provide affordable child care. Their $160 monthly cheque covers about 1.5 days of monthly child care costs. That’s merely a drop in the bucket that does little to help families pay for child care.
My family is fortunate enough that with changes to our spending and our mortgage we can make the cost of child care work. It will be tight, but we can make it work. But what do other families do? What if we had two kids in child care? What about single parents? What about those still paying off their student loans?
As kids get older, while some things get easier and less expensive, other things get harder. My nieces will miss swimming classes at the community centre this season because my sister couldn’t get online fast enough to register them — the classes seemed to fill up in minutes. There just aren’t enough spaces offered.
Pushing a stroller through uncleared snow and around improperly placed recycling bins reminds me of a slalom course. We’re often forced onto the street to find a clear path. We don’t own a car, so subway accessibility is key but Christie station doesn’t have elevators yet.
While kids now travel for free on the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), too many stations and streetcars are inaccessible. Rather than increase property taxes more our last and current mayors are turning to user fee increases. Child care, TTC fares, swimming lessons, dance classes, sports field rates, and much more will go up for families in 2016.
We can make life more affordable in Toronto for everyone if we commit to increasing property tax rates just a bit more: at approximately $1,000 per year lower than the average, ours are the lowest in the region.
Each 1 per cent property tax rate increase is about $27 a year for the average household but brings in over $26 million in revenue to the city. Using taxes helps us to share the costs of public services like child care and transit, but sadly our mayor isn’t willing to go this route and is turning to user fees and transit fare increases — so individuals will continue to pay much more or services will be cut.
Throughout January we will be debating the 2016 city budget and I plan to make affordability and accessibility for families a huge part of the conversation. This is something we need to make an issue of at all levels of government, so that by the time Phoebe’s generation has children, we have made life better for her family and everyone else’s.
Read the Centre for Policy Alternatives’ paper on child care at www.policyalternatives.ca under the section on publications by the National Office.
Mike Layton is the city councillor for Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina.