Monday, July 27, 2009

When welfare becomes a lifestyle

I used to write to Steve Maharey when he was Minister of Social Development trying to persuade him that welfare was no longer a safety net.

He would reply with assertions like,

"...I do not support the view that the DPB is a lifestyle choice." 19 October 2001

"The domestic purposes benefit is necessary to ensure that children are not thrown into poverty when relationships fail." 13 September 2002

Maharey was among the many people who refuse to accept that the DPB is frequently used by single women having babies. But the following statistic proves it. Over 2,300 females aged 18-24 moved off a sickness benefit for pregnancy-related reasons onto the DPB in 2008.

These are women who (officially) have no financial support - no partner or job - before or after the birth.

These females are a subset of the 6,000 plus that are granted a DPB for the first time each year with one child only aged 12 months or younger and in addition to the 5,000 who add a child under one year old to an existing benefit each year.

So 17-18 percent of children are starting out life on welfare. If there was a 'relationship' between the mother and father it was short-lived.

Around half of the total are Maori so around 1 in 3 Maori children start life on a benefit.

Most of the births will be congregated in low decile areas. The problem with that is the 'normalisation' of the behaviour. That's a lifestyle. That's just the way it is.

But it wasn't the way welfare was intended to operate.

My estimate, by the way, ties in with earlier MSD research;

Analysis of longitudinal benefit administration data for New Zealand has shown that by the time children born in 1993 turned seven, half had been supported by one of New Zealand’s main social assistance benefits at least once. While this was a transitory experience for many, approximately one in five children in the 1993 birth cohort spent at least five of their first seven years of life supported by a main benefit (Ball and Wilson 2002).

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