Jan Logie

Welfare Reform goes nanny goat gruff – Part 1 of many

by Jan Logie

The Green Party believes in an inclusive society, active job creation and basic human rights for every New Zealander. We believe in times of fiscal restraint it is all the more important to value people and foster our points of commonality rather than differences. This may sound all very ‘herbal’ as one friend of mine says, but in actual fact it’s pretty important for helping to lift productivity and minimise government expenditure in the long term as well as creating nicer communities to live in. It’s only a woolly idea if you don’t have concrete evidence based means to achieve your goals, and we do.

Sadly, John Key’s Government is again proving itself to be mired in the traditional thinking that has resulted in increased inequality, a growing group of disenfranchised people who represent a massive pool of lost potential, and increasing costs to the State through the health sector in particular.

The Government is trying to present its welfare reforms as new and innovative; an actuarial approach to welfare, but when you look at the language and the shape of reforms it becomes clear there is not very much new in this approach. For anyone who lived through the nineties is seems all too familiar.

Requiring sole parents who have another child while on a benefit to be available for work after one year, in line with parental leave:

The Greens were worried that we might see a bizarre initiative to ‘encourage’ women on the DPB to get long-term reversible contraception to off-set the harshness of punishing them for getting pregnant while receiving a benefit. We know this was being considered. Thankfully this option has not surfaced as the implications of the State getting more involved in what happens in the bedrooms of beneficiaries are most disturbing.

I imagine this measure was being considered because the Minister realised it was a bad look to punish women for having children while on the DPB without making it any easier for them to prevent that possibility. (Please note the inferred absence of men in this scenario – I will let you draw your own conclusions on that.)

However much I disagree with the Government’s thinking, I absolutely agree that punishing women for having children is a bad look.

Anyone who has reflected on their own behaviour, let alone worked in family planning or youth health, will acknowledge that fertility and sexual relationships are very complex. We have to acknowledge all the possible reasons people have sex, and there are hundreds, and the things that can go wrong and result in an unplanned pregnancy are also many fold. The ideal of safely negotiated sexual relations that use barrier protection and a back- up contraception must be recognised as the ideal rather than the norm.

This may sound like an argument for the provision of contraception, but bodily integrity and sexual agency are two things we must value above budget lines. Incentivising women on the DPB to use invasive contraceptive methods raises human rights issues as well as obviously feeding the stigmatisation of women on the DPB as self-interested baby factories exploiting the generosity of the state to live the highlife.

I’ve worked alongside hundreds of women over the years that have been on the DPB. I can think of maybe two who thought the DPB would be a good financial choice. They were both as desperate to be loved unconditionally as they were to be financially independent. All the other women had different stories; many of them were/are really inspiring women who care about giving their children a safe future. Some weren’t that inspiring as parents but were doing the best they could with limited support and minimal cultural capital. The stereotype to me is completely untrue and offensive. The DPB is not a lifestyle choice.

Why should those on the DPB be subject to punishment when other low income families may be receiving just as much support from the state? I guess you can’t make someone who is already working go back to work earlier but a consistent logic might suggest they have their state support cut to stop them breeding. I think most people would find this idea morally repugnant.

The Green Party wants to support sole parents to parent actively. This would require lifting the base benefit rates and paying them the full rate of Working for Families so parents can pay rent, heat their houses and consistently feed and clothe their children and allow them to participate fully in their schooling. We have a significant and growing body of research that is telling us that educational achievement and life opportunities are severely hampered by childhood poverty. As our population ages, we become increasingly reliant on this next generation; we cannot afford not to invest in them.

Being pushed into poorly paid work that doesn’t support flexible working conditions will not enhance positive parenting or reduce child poverty.  It will just crowd the job market so employers can further drive down conditions. Maybe that’s what this Government’s reforms are really about.

Published in Economy, Work, & Welfare by Jan Logie on Tue, February 28th, 2012   

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