Bennett’s unhelpful benefit cliches

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!

19 Comments Posted

  1. Not wanting to personalise, but Lindsay’s desire to return to an economy with every household having one waged/alried person is rather old-fashioned. Such times of full employment ceased in the 1980s – at least – and the fact such a sytem of government intervention in the labour no longer exists is hardly the fault of those not employed.
    That children of beneficiary households, as they get older, may become aware their parents have insufficient income to pay for curicula and extra curricula activities in probably true because unless the school is prepared/able to fund these students to these activities without finding out they or their parents are “deserving” the children miss out. That this is an indictment of the mis of school funding and the levels of benefits is hardly the fault of the parents, ly lone the children. That there is little space to increase benefits beacuse of the reletive low wages for the bottom 50% of wage earners is an indictment of market reforms we have been victims of for the last 25 years. That the situtation of growing lack of access to all sorts of what some term the social wage is getting worse is sadly true and blaming beneficiaries seems to be misplaced.

  2. @sam

    actually also think of the pre1930s years …the old poor houses where people who went there to get help were given jobs and food in exchange for humiliating work- to denote the fact that they couldn’t help themselves as it were…

    anti beneficiary is deep in NZ/UK vains , aussie too for that matter

  3. What planet are you on Drakula – of course it’s terrible for kids to see their parents on a benefit long term.

    It is bad for examples of work ethic, self esteem, role modeling.

    If it WASN’T terrible, then we wouldn’t have so much welfare dependency that goes from generation to generation in the same families.

    It’s not just terrible – it’s it SO terrible that in many cases you can confidently predict the next generation of welfare dependents when they’re still at primary school.

    Never underestimate how strongly a parents example can effect a childs upbringing.

    “Children are usually unaware of social stigmas…” Yeah right. Kids are critically aware of who has nice clothes and who wears daggy hand-me-downs, who drives a flash car and who comes to school in an an old bomb, whose parents are gang members and who lives in a big house.

  4. I agree with Sam that it is the mindset that needs changing as well as Work and Income culture and practice. Why are people who care for children or live with an impairment so hated by others if they receive state support, but bankers who live off our money so revered? I am worried about our wealth dependency, and the addiction to being superior to poor people that seems to be alive and well. A decent job with a good wage brings good social status, a small and constantly contested benefit brings contempt and disrespect. But attitudes can change.

  5. “That is an incredibly hard thing to do – it would effectively requiring changing the entire mindset of NZ”

    Not so much so- there’s always been a hard core anti-beneficiary minority, but it’s really been the last ten or fifteen years that beneficiary bashing has been pushed into the mainstream. Benefits used to be seen as a necessary evil.

  6. ‘How terrible it is for children to see their parents on a long term benefit’ What a load of rott!!!

    Children are usually unaware of social stigmas because; one they are more concerned with being kids and having fun, and rightly so,
    second that good parents from disadvantaged backgrounds do their level best to shelter their children from the harsh stigmas and prejudices of the world. I have witnessed this personally.

    So where do the stigmas’ and prejudices originate? It could only be the inequality of wealth an issue Mrs Bennett could do well in addressing rather than cheap shots by attacking the victims like Ms. Fuller who are trying to better their position.

    So I agree with Sam why should being a benificiary be a source of shame and stigma.

    The majority of Kiwi’s may as well get used to it there is going to be a lot more unemployment in the future especially when/if the environment

  7. @Sam

    That is an incredibly hard thing to do – it would effectively requiring changing the entire mindset of NZ – which the 1.4 acre dream…or at least home/flat ownership, to say anything less would be to destroy that concept – part of NZ iconography…maybe in the same part as the Maori dolls…or in the same part as the Red Bee…

  8. @Lindsay

    Just wondering, if the govt gave people ownership of their current state council flat or house ( while building new ones) would you think that would help change their social structure problems?

    I know alot of young people trash their neighbourhoods because there isn’t any sense of personal ownership and that the govt will just clean everything up — leading to the grimy look that perforates around the areas – although perhaps an NYC subway method could be imposed to tackle that…

  9. If kids are suffering social stigma as the children of beneficiaries, shouldn’t we try and remove the stigma?

    I fully appreciate that there are parents whose lifestyles aren’t going to be source of pride – and some of these parents have jobs – but why should being a beneficiary be a source of shame per se?

  10. Stephensmikm, The older the children get, the bigger the problem. When parents on benefits can’t pay for school fees and trips, or have to get grants for uniforms and stationery, kids are very aware of getting their ‘pay’ from WINZ. What does ameliorate this is if the children live in the poorest deciles where being on welfare is quite prevalent and the schools get more funding per pupil resulting in less financial pressure on parents. Marie may be working with pre-schoolers.

    Call me old-fashioned but I believe it is imperative that children grow up with at least one working parent, especially when they have reached school age. The home environment is where they form their own life expectations. Granted there will be exceptions but girls in particular, raised long-term on the DPB, will frequently follow in their mother’s footsteps.

  11. @oob, leave off the name calling and trolling aye? there’s a good chap!


    I disagree, I’ve known a few children from benefit households, they know they are on them alot of the time, primarily through the way their parents will act when they ask for an extra glass of milk or a burger from McD, or once they start putting two and two together with the letters from WINZ or MSD and worked out what that meant or they were effectively told they were on one, either through the parent in an angry rage about money for one thing or another or through a bully at school whose parents earn an extra couple of hundie a week.
    Many children are really bummed about that , particulary on days such Take the class to your work day – one kid’s dad would take them all down to a law office to eat muffins, another to the American Embassy where their mum gave them all tootsie pops and pennies ( my experiences…) while there were always one or two, who had to finally say at somepoint why their mum and dad didn’t do a similar outing at any time. These kids actually want their parents to work and know there is an air of shame , whether personally imposed or by society, they want to be off the benefit so they can say at school that their dad’s a butcher or their mum’s a baker, even if it’s just a stereotypical new world ad image, I remember the glee of alot of my class going to visit a kid’s uncle at the woolworth’s butchers who gave out knuckle bones and lollies

  12. I work with children and I’d be surprised if the kids even knew their parents were on a benefit unless they told the kids. If the kids have food and see parents happy but minding the dollars, they aren’t going to be thinking ‘how dreadful it is to be on a benefit long term’. If no one in the house goes out to work because of disability or other obvious reason, I’m sure it wouldn’t cross their minds unless someone pointed it out to them. And if they knew that parent(s) couldn’t find work, they may well also be told ‘thank goodness there’s a benefit or we wouldn’t be able to afford your weetbix.’

  13. lol moderator comments always make my day.

    Sorry oob but social darwinism and sweeping generalisations just ar’nt what Greens consider to be useful policy guides.

    Just think about who is going to be paying all the ‘hard working Kiwis’ superanuation in a couple of years. Your generation has seen income taxes drop a huge amount but super is a pay-as-you-go system so that means the next generation is going to pay for your retirement. In short you need every child in this country to be as productive as possible and making poor kids even more hungry by throwing their parents off the benefit will not make anyones life better.. including yours.

  14. “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.”

    Porportion of all people on a working-age benefit at March 2010;

    Between one and four years 30.4%
    Between four and ten years 19.2%
    10 years or more 19.2%

    And that is continuous reliance. If they leave and return, which thousands do, the clock starts afresh. So we have no idea about the cumulative time people spend on welfare.

    Catherine, Your idea about what constitutes a short time obviously differs from mine. I have a great deal of sympathy for people who really have no other choice but to be on a benefit and I have worked with some. But they are in a minority. At least half of those on the DPB started on welfare as teenagers, usually the dole. What does that tell you?

  15. Love it when you put your webby foot down frog!
    Moderation is too nice a place for goob, he’ll just continue to fester in there.
    Put him out of his misery – exile him to Farrar’s bolt-hole.

    [frog: Good point greenfly. No comment I have ever seen from oob on frogblog has been a genuine contribution to the discussion. Although oob comments infrequently, his/her comments have, in my recollection, all been trolling. So I might just hit the “blacklist” button next time instead.]

  16. NZ has the second highest teenage pregnancy rate in the developed world and one of the highest rate of STD. Anette King is complaining that there is no money to build state houses for them (Morning Report). Wouldn’t contraception be a more cost effective option or would that be treading on “every womans right to bear children”?

  17. I must experience a more complex universe than the Minister.

    Undoubtedly. Your universe, in which the Khmer Rouge were a wonderful force for good in Cambodia, the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan was a liberation and the environmental policies of the former Soviet Union are to be admired and emulated, certainly is much more complex than the real universe which the rest of us inhabit.

    [frog: Blatant trolling. The first half is lies and is irrelevant to the post topic. The second half below is inflamatory rhetoric backed by no factual argument. Be warned, or into moderation you go oob.]

    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.

    Your universe is different here too. In our universe, decent hard working Kiwis are overburdened supporting the lifestyle choices of the parasitic career beneficiaries, sucking the lifeblood from our country.

    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.

    The unashamed agitprop.

  18. I agree with you entirely …Just shows how completely out of touch the minister is…
    Many moons ago I worked for the public service in this area of welfare etc and the outstanding majority of people did not choose to be on welfare…What a ridiculous comment she makes….she has no comprehension what so ever,

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