Social Development Minister Paula Bennett has realised that if you’re going to work-test sole parents and force them into low-paid jobs when their children are six (or younger), someone’s going to have to look after the kids.
So she’s announced an extra $2.8 million for out of school care programmes, while lowering the standards for those programmes so they can fit more kids in without having to worry about “ticking boxes.”
Quality out of school care is critically important for many parents balancing full or part-time work with child rearing, and more funding for the sector is certainly welcome. However, I’m pretty concerned at the moves to reduce standards at the same time.
As a parent, it can be incredibly hard to leave your kids with carers – even the most trustworthy and able carers – without feeling stressed, anxious, or guilty. You want to be certain that your kids are safe and well looked after, and it helps if they’re with carers who will get to know them as individuals.
It’s about more than just knowing your child is physically safe – it’s also about knowing that they are being nurtured and extended and enriched socially and culturally, and cared for with attention and affection. Some people are lucky enough to have family members to help with this care. Others have partners who can care for their kids full time. Sole parents who don’t have this level of family support deserve the same peace of mind, and their kids deserve the same level of care.
All parents should be able to choose to care for their kids rather than be guilt tripped or worse, coerced by WINZ, into working late and long hours, losing precious parenting time with their children.
Lowering standards to allow out of school care programmes to cram more kids in so their parents can work longer hours is an anti-child policy. It’s symptomatic of this Government’s whole approach to issues of work, welfare, and children: an inflexible, ideological fixation on paid work at all costs – costs borne by the children in the end.
Moving off a benefit and into paid work that is flexible, appropriate, pays a living wage and can accommodate your children’s needs and fulfill your own aspirations is a great thing. There is much we can do to encourage this, like providing better study support for sole parents and beneficiaries to upskill and retrain for new jobs, and raising the minimum wage to help working parents provide the basics for their kids.
But this Government has it the wrong way around: force people into low-paid, unskilled jobs (if they’re lucky enough to find one) and lower child care standards to accommodate their kids while they work the long hours required to make ends meet.
It’s a poor policy that will result in poor outcomes for parents and kids.