Australian families juggling sky high petrol prices, soaring rents or loan repayments, and a 20 per cent increase in electricity prices this year alone didn't need the ACCC to tell them childcare fees are verging on the unaffordable.
They already know. In 2022, The Wimmera Mail-Times looked at childcare deserts, a term coined by Victoria University's Mitchell Institute to explain the vast issues in the services.
Several Wimmera mothers shared their desperate search for childcare, where up to seven children vie for every childcare space.
Unfortunately, parents are in a catch-22 situation given childcare is an essential service in an era when both parents have to work - and in some cases at more than one job - to make ends meet.
It's just not feasible for one parent to stay at home even though an increasing amount of what they make is being eaten up by the cost of childcare.
It's also important to remember that in addition to the productivity benefit from the increase in workforce participation that almost universal childcare has made possible, there is also a social dividend.
Numerous studies have found that children who have attended childcare and early education services have significant social skills and have been introduced to literacy and numeracy by the time they start at kindergarten. This can contribute to better educational outcomes for years, indeed decades, to come.
So, given these benefits and much chatter from a succession of governments dating back to Tony Abbott about "free" childcare, how did things get this bad?
According to the ACCC, a family on average wages with two children spends 16 per cent of the total household budget on childcare. This is almost twice the OECD average of 9 per cent.
That is a massive disparity.
It's hard to pin the blame on the government given it is on track to spend a record $12.9 billion on childcare subsidies this financial year.
While some deride this as "middle class welfare" it's actually a massive investment in national prosperity in the here-and-now and better future for all further down the track.
According to the ACCC, a big problem is the market driven approach that has been adopted by the big childcare centre operators.
They choose to target wealthy suburbs in big cities because that is where they can maximise their returns.
That means that while many of these areas are actually being over-serviced, parents further out and in rural and regional areas are struggling to find places.
"We have found market forces under current policy settings are not delivering on accessibility and affordability for all children and families across Australia," ACCC chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb said.
The ACCC is recommending direct government intervention to guarantee services in remote and Indigenous communities.
It has also said the government should review the current "activity test" that is based on hours worked and which penalises low-income families dependent on part-time work.
While both of these reforms would come at a significant cost to taxpayers, the ACCC's most controversial recommendation - to impose price caps - would probably not.
Such a move, which the report said would need to be backed by a "credible threat" of government intervention, would of course be strongly opposed by the large, market driven, childcare providers.
While there are legitimate concerns about staff shortages and rising costs, profit-based day centre operators average a 9 per cent return.
Given the level of taxpayer support the sector receives, there is an obligation to provide affordable access in rural and regional areas, not just the big cities.
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