Thursday, September 03, 2009

OECD warns against long-duration single-parent benefits

Media Release
Thursday, September 3, 2009

The OECD has just released a comparative report about child well-being across developed countries. New Zealand is described as having high child poverty rates.

Welfare Commentator Lindsay Mitchell said that while some child advocacy groups interpreted that as a signal more should be spent on welfare, that isn't what the report is recommending. Mitchell quoted the report as saying, "Some countries spend considerable amounts on long-duration single-parent benefits. There is little or no evidence that these benefits positively influence child well-being. Durations could be reduced and resources concentrated on improving family income during the early part of the life cycle for those children."

This means adopting a work-based anti-poverty strategy. The report looks at the effect of time-limiting and a number of welfare-to-work US programmes by reviewing the available research and finds;

"Overall, employment promotion pilots linked to making work pay have positive but modest short-term effects on some important dimensions of child well-being, in addition to reducing child poverty. Whether these effects can be sustained into better long-term outcomes for children from permanent polices remains unclear."

So those countries that have focussed their efforts on getting single parents into work have not seen a detrimental effect on children.

The report specifically mentions Norway where in 1998 benefits were raised by a fifth BUT a work or education test was imposed on the parent when the youngest child turned 3. Mitchell noted, "In NZ we wait until the youngest child turns 18. This is bad policy. "

As the report points out, "The indirect evidence from United States welfare-to-work experiments suggest that eligibility for such benefits until late in the child life cycle does not have positive effects on child well-being."

Mitchell says that the government should be paying attention to what the OECD advises. "After all, they campaigned on work testing the DPB."

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