Welfare Reform goes nanny goat gruff – Part 1 of many

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.

15 Comments Posted

  1. The salient facts of the cost of DPB and affording children are.

    In the past, before loans to buy houses, people would save to buy a home before having a family – so people married late and often to younger women or an aging “spinster of their own age”. Then last century, came the bank loan and the state offered mortgage payment tax rebates for the family home and also paid a family benefit payment for each child – this was universal. Thus people could afford to marry younger. Thus the baby boomers, who received free education.

    Now of course we have the tertiary debt and the higher cost of housing – bid up by those looking to invest in renting to those who cannot afford to buy yet because of either student debt, or the low wage consequences of globalisation.

    The cost of housing often requires two wage earners to afford, thus a delay to having children for those with the middle class aspiration to own their own family home (rather than breeding and renting). Thus recent resentment at help to poor families via WFF. But now so many of these middle class aspiration families are dependent on the WFF to afford their mortgages (and National has recognised this and accepted the necessity of it), resentment is becoming targeted to any help to those on the DPB.

    Yet when continue to work this makes them more independent and less likely stay in unhappy marriages. And so single custody parents will go onto the DPB/dole when not working. They usually go off the benefit within a few years – but they are dependent on their job lasting and/or a new partner staying around for this to be permanent.

    This is no different to workers who go on and off unemployment when they lose and find new jobs. Or students who claim a student allowance when studying before they start careers.

    The circumstance of a minority of those on the DPB who see this as a lifestyle option – is related to lack of alternative options, that is a separate issue.

  2. MC, no it was you who struggled to see where the money comes from.

    “Struggling families” receive tax credits, often as much as is paid in income tax off their wage.

    The money comes from tax paid by single workers, double income no kid households (some younger, some older saving for retirement) and those on higher incomes not struggling to afford families (just the cost of the MacMansion).

  3. SPC suggests that “taxpayers who are struggling to support their own families receive tax credits under WFF” but fails to see where that WFF money comes from.

  4. terrasea mistakenly suggest that I am trying to force my values on others, and in doing so shows a staggering lack of comprehension.

    If terrasea or Jan want to give beneficaries more (of their own) money, then they are free to do so. It’s terrasea and Jan wanting to given them more of mine that I object to.

    Further, my use of the term ‘breeder’ is technically sound: they ahve bred and many continue to do while asking for state support to pay for those they have already bred and continue to do so. If terrasea is upset about factually accurate descriptors (because they are not all fluffy and nice?) then terrasea has bigger personal issues than I can address.

  5. I don’t think any system will be fair & supportive to everyone yet preventing small groups from abusing the system (having additional children while on the DPB may be classified as “abuse”).

    While it may “look bad”, saying something like “Ok, you already have two children, and you’re unemployed at the moment. If you have another child we won’t increase your benefit/working for families credits” while making contraception *available* to those this would affect.

    Yes, the government needs to do more for the unemployed, but at the same time the unemployed could do a bit as well. The problem we have at the moment is that National is focused on Cost Cutting rather than raising additional funds via Capital Gains or closing loopholes.

  6. Adamsmith has a rather inappropriate moniker.

    The real Adam Smith reckoned you should pay your workers their fair share.
    (The Wealth of Nations). And tax rentiers and capital resource owners.

  7. @SPC

    You might be right about the reason some people think that way, but it is still so very wrong and unhelpful to all of us. If we are serious about our children’s future, we need to support these parents not call them names and stigmatise them.

  8. Part of the attitude to “breeders” is determiend by a new valuation of the human life, based on “labour” value in the marketplace.

    From this comes the notion that those parents who are without a job or working partner somehow detract from, rather than add economic value to the “economy” – the ex partner somehow productive in isolation from their family.

  9. @Misanthropic Curmudgeon

    “But to force her values on other taxpayers is abhorent.”

    This sounds like the pot calling the kettle black. Especially with the words

    “If Jan wanst to give more money to DPB breeders”

    preceding it. This is a view that is not held by all, and it looks like, by repeating those words of DPB breeders, you’re trying to force your ideas onto us, the other tax payers.

    I think Jans reasoning is sound, and is a hell of a lot more humane than calling them breeders which I find abhorrent.

  10. Jan shows just how out of touch she is, in saying “barrier protection and a back- up contraception must be recognised as the ideal rather than the norm” and then “bodily integrity and sexual agency are two things we must value above budget lines”

    If Jan wanst to give more money to DPB breeders, then she should be free to. But to force her values on other taxpayers is abhorent. For her to later say say that these ideas are “Incentivising women on the DPB to use invasive contraceptive methods” is scaremongering at its best.

    To see just how out of touch Jan is, one only has to read her line that it would be “consistent logic might suggest they have their state support cut to stop them breeding. I think most people would find this idea morally repugnant”. No Jan, its not repugnant. Repugnant is to condone irresponsible and unstaianable behavour, such as what you are doing. If somebody is unable to support their kids (and the taxpayer steps in) then its irresponsible and unsustaiable for that person to continue breeding and expecting the taxpayer to fund their lifestyle choice. Taxpayers who are strugglig to suport their own families, and who you want to ‘hit’ even further, to favour beneficiaries by choice. That is repugnant.

  11. That all said, being available for work is not the same thing as finding a job

    Now that is something I do agree with you on!

    … and all the care costs associated with going to interviews.

    Given the scarcity of jobs I don’t think there will be a lot of interview attending…

    This really is the Government’s blind spot. I know they know what the unemployment stats are, but do they actually understand what they mean? It’s a Fish called Wanda moment.

  12. As for the link to women who work and take a year off on parental leave and then return to work.

    I wonder if the government is prepared to release the details of the women in this position as compared to that of women on the DPB. The availability of on-site child care, the average edcuation level and pay rate, and the support of their partner etc.

    Besides many women who continue to work after a first child, stop doing so after a second – because of child care costs etc. And that is when on higher pay than most women on the DPB would get.

    On the issue of parental leave, why is there not a payment to the parent for the full-year, an initial period on the minimum wage and then continuing on a dole level payment till the end of the parental leave year.

  13. When they say required to look “for work” when the child turns one, being work tested, do they mean for “part-time work during school hours” as when the child turns 5, or required to look for “full-time work” as if their child has turned 14?

    If child care is provided for the one year old during school hours, or child care full-time, for someone on minimum wage, that still leaves open what happens with the other child after school (if they are under 14).

    That all said, being available for work is not the same thing as finding a job – though it involves work testing/job search while caring for a one year old and all the care costs associated with going to interviews. That would require financial assistance. And oh the irony, a new government with policies to create (higher minimum wage) jobs might simply end this policy as well.

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