“I’ve always proudly stood up and said I’ve had benefit from the welfare state and I’m incredibly grateful for it. To now have that being used against me, I think is offensive to those people who are on benefits and trying to better their lives.”
So says Paula Bennett, Minister of Social development and one time DPBer, responding to the criticism that having once benefited from the Training Incentive Allowance, (TIA), in order to get her degree, she has now cut the allowance for solo parents following her footsteps. The TIA cuts will save the government about $11m by 2012. The TIA will only be available for sub degree courses now, that is, courses that offer little chance of a job.
There are two issues here. First the insanity of saving money by cutting educational access to the absolute poorest families in New Zealand. Especially when we know that the educational success of the parents contributes positively to the educational success of the children. Even Treasury thinks so:
Studies throughout the world find that better-educated people tend to have children who experience better outcomes: their children are healthier, for example, do better at school and commit fewer crimes. Young people in the Christchurch HDS cohort whose mothers had low levels of education were at greater risk of many poor outcomes in childhood and adolescence. It may be, therefore, that an increased education benefits not only the individual who receives it but also their children.
Ministry of Womens Affairs research showed that early childhood education is much less of a barrier for mothers with degrees or higher qualification than those with no formal education.
In fact some of the studies talk about how parental or maternal education, along with engagement in the child’s education, can break the cycle of poor educational outcomes beyond just that child.
So why be so miserly as to cut funding from the poorest families when the evidence strongly suggests that that investment can potentially save the entire family from lifetimes of poverty?
I must confess that this is how I feel about my own use of the TIA.
I fully remember the opportunity the TIA gave me as a solo parent. Fact is, education saved my life and the future prospects of my daughter. I used it to start my law degree and though I had to finish on the student loan scheme (the TIA was capped and used in part for childcare costs), it meant I finished my degree with less than half the debt I would have had otherwise. The TIA was the one real option for moving into higher level education, for getting a degree that would be almost guaranteed to get me into work. And it did, four years of hard university slog and straight into a job.
But the second level of obscenity is the extent to which Paula rides on her DPB days to give herself credibility with struggling women and their families.
Paula claims she hasn’t forgotten her time on the benefit, but her actions prove her words false. Her words are sweet but her political decisions are offensive and without compassion. Her excuse for denying others what she had is the same tired excuse we heard for the student loan scheme, the same tired excuse the poor have had to listen too from the rich for decades – “Sure, I benefited and now I’m in power, so tough”.
Those who are trying to better their lives have had a kick in the guts from a woman who claims she understands. I remember everyday what help I needed to care for myself and my child. I remember who gave that help and who did not. I remember being broke and stressed with Varsity being the only way out. I remember all the other women I knew then and know now who walk that daily struggle.
Paula has forgotten us. And we won’t forget that.