Catherine Delahunty

Bennett’s unhelpful benefit cliches

by Catherine Delahunty

The Minister of Social Development Paula Bennett made a speech recently at the National Party Regional Conference in Oamaru, in which she talked about how terrible it is for children to see their parents on a long-term benefit.

I must experience a more complex universe than the Minister.

The worst experience for a child is when their parents are in distress and desperation because they cannot feed their family or, alternatively, when there is plenty of money but they never see their parents.

These experiences place a burden on children at both ends of the economic spectrum. I agree with Paula Bennett that a lack of hope in a family is a terrible thing, but not with her other comments.

Most people who go on the benefit do so for a short time during a period of major transition or upheaval. They use it as a means of support that allows them to make it through a tough time, and then move on.

Those who do access welfare support for extended periods usually do so with good reason: they might have several young children, have sick or elderly relatives to care for, or be chronically ill and unable to work.

It is not a disaster to rely on welfare. It probably feels like one because of the dreadful lack of social status associated with being on a benefit. But if a parent is strong and loving and supportive and society provides access to health and education, then children from homes which have relied on the welfare system have every chance of having a great life.

I know many children like this who grew up with the support of the welfare system and now make great contributions to their communities. In fact, their parents on benefits made great contributions as well. Beneficiaries pay taxes, volunteer in their communities, and support children and other family members.

It would be nice if there were appropriate, well-paid jobs for everybody, but there aren’t. The problem is as much with the structure of our low paid economy as it is with benefit dependency.

It is complex, Paula! We need to ‘Mind the Gap‘, not bash the people with clichés!