Saturday, September 24, 2011

Separatism versus secularism

New Zealand is a secular state. The public service is secular in its practices and policies. If you are Pakeha.

Maori spiritualism and cultural beliefs are another matter however.

A fine example of this can be seen in a report just released by MSD.

It canvasses child misconduct and the ways in which the state deals with the problem.

Te Hohounga: Mai I Te Tirohanga Māori – The Process of Reconciliation: Towards a Māori View - The Delivery of Conduct Problem Services to Māori (Te Hohounga). The report was commissioned by the Ministry of Social Development in 2009. The author, Lisa Cherrington, (Ngati Hine, Ngapuhi), is a Senior Clinical Psychologist, School of Psychology, Massey University.

Te Hohounga contributes toward a Māori view of conduct problems and to provide advice on how Māori tamariki, taiohi and whānau experiencing conduct problems receive the most effective and culturally enhancing interventions possible and on improving behavioural services for Māori....

The starting point to Te Hohounga is the importance of indigenous knowledge and identity, and how this is reflected in mythology stories to understand, and respond to, conduct problems:

“Kōrero pūrākau (mythology stories) highlight the impact of separation. After Ranginui and Papatuanuku were separated, their children all had different reactions. Kōrero pūrākau show us how our atua coped, adapted and dealt with change, separation and loss. Aspects of tikanga came about from the actions of the atua who were reacting to the changes. In addition, the pūrākau show the capacity for both positive and negative actions. When considering the behaviour of each of the children, the pūrākau reflect a strong, strengths-based focus. This is relevant to viewing conduct problems within a Te Ao Māori perspective”.

IF a different approach were successful, and IF correcting child misconduct is to continue be the job of the state, then so be it.

BUT research into the effectiveness of the Maori world-view approach conducted by Professor David Fergusson warned:

These findings do pose a challenge to current policies aimed at reducing the over-representation of Māori children in rates of child maltreatment, which emphasise “identity interventions” that are not evidence-based and are largely ideologically driven. Even though such policies are no doubt well intentioned and observe statutory requirements unique to the New Zealand context, following the view expounded by UNICEF (2003, 2007), they must be exposed to ongoing critical scrutiny and empirical evaluation.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Child poverty - what is left unsaid

In the run up to the election, groups wanting the government to solve child poverty have been very active. A mix of academics, political activists, religious lobby groups etc. say that 200,000 New Zealand children are living in poverty thereby significantly increasing their risks of poor health, educational and social outcomes.

But who are these children? The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), authors of the latest report, Left Further Behind, are not specific about the group’s composition. They make observations like, “The[se] poorest children in New Zealand are found disproportionately in sole parent households…” and “Māori children are twice as likely as Pākehā to be living in a poor household … a fact the report identifies as reflecting the relatively high proportion of Maori children living in sole parent beneficiary families and households.” Some of the children also live in two-parent working households apparently.

Other sources, The Child Health Monitor 2011 for instance, provide further clues. It records that in April 2011 children reliant on the DPB numbered 180,845. Also, “During 2009, 75% of all households (including those with and without children) relying on income-tested benefits as their main source of income were living below the poverty line.”

Assuming an unchanged proportion, 75% of the 180,845 DPB-dependent children are living below the poverty line; around 135,600. So two thirds of the child poverty problem relates to DPB reliance.

Recent Ministry of Social Development research into sole parents on benefits found,"The research considered all sole parents in receipt of a main benefit at 31 December 2005 – around 114,000 people. Of this group: just over half had spent at least 80% of the history period supported by main benefits; a third appeared to have become parents in their teens."

Importantly, a third is a minimum estimate due to the method of calculation. The research also found that the ‘early starters’ tended to have larger families, more debt and greater hardship. Putting together the pieces thus far, conservatively 60,000 of the children living in poverty belong in welfare families which sprang from a teenage birth.

Surprisingly CPAG’s report mentions teen births just once and then only as an OECD indicator of child well-being, not as a significant source of child poverty.

The CPAG’s approach is one of government responsibility after the fact. It chides the Welfare Working Group for over-emphasising individual responsibilities rather than human rights. CPAG’s attention is on their cure - a greater shift of wealth into these families – and not prevention.

Given the increasing ability of young people to avoid early births, that is odd. Young people across socio-economic levels are having relationships and sex. But most of the births to teenagers occur in the poorest deciles – 56 percent in the lowest three and 23 percent in the poorest. Poor, uneducated girls have less to lose when choosing or failing to avoid premature parenthood. A benefit will pay equal to or more than working full time at the minimum wage.

Yet the major recommendation advanced by CPAG is to increase benefits. Given the above set of circumstances, it isn’t difficult to anticipate what raising benefits may do. Increase the number of children on benefits.

Does that matter? Yes. When the Ministry of Social Development studied whether the source of income mattered to the living standards of poor children in benefit households versus poor children in working households they found that, "The results demonstrate that there is considerable variation in the living standards of those below the poverty threshold, and suggest that poor children in families with government transfers as the main income source are a particularly vulnerable group...Poor children whose families are primarily reliant on market income are in an intermediate position."

This indicates that poverty, of itself, isn’t necessarily the problem. Yet CPAG, and their counterparts, seem quite reluctant to pin down the 200,000 children by family structure, employment status or ethnicity.

They certainly aren’t interested in a discussion about the long-term impacts of New Zealand’s high teenage birth rate, especially among Maori. If they were, a report into reducing child poverty would be the very place to have it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer

Many are pushing inequality as an election issue.

The gini coefficient measures inequality.

"From 2000 the level of inequality as expressed by this measure has been static or tending to fall."

Over the same period two countries that had greater annual change (+) were Sweden and Finland. Greece had the greatest negative annual change (-). That is, their gini coefficient dropped. Their equality increased. Yahoo.

Source of graph.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

DPB dependency records

A journalist from the Waikato Times has been investigating long-term benefit dependence in her region:

A single Waikato mother of six children has been receiving benefits for almost 30 years.

She is one of an army of long term Waikato beneficiaries revealed in information released to the Waikato Times under the Official Information Act.

Social Development Ministry statistics show 1647 people in the region have been receiving some form of benefit for 15 years or more.

A further 1500 have been on it for between 10 and 15 years, 3655 between five to 10 years, 6309 between two to five years and 12,904 for less than two years.

Bear in mind these periods describe continuous dependency. If people leave welfare and return, the clock starts afresh.

According to the ministry's information, Waikato's longest claiming beneficiary first started receiving the Domestic Purposes Benefit in 1982 and is still on it. The ministry would not say where the woman lived or give details of how much she received.

If she was to receive the present DPB rate for the Domestic Purposes Benefit of $288.47 for the next 30 years it would cost taxpayers $449,280.

That's a strange observation. If the woman had begun on the DPB at the youngest possible age - 16 - she would now be 47. She can't spend "the next 30 years" on the DPB but she will probably spend the next 18.

The journalist goes on to say that she "has received $450,000 in tax payer's money during that time." The writer has probably used the current rate and multiplied it by 31. Which ignores all of the additional assistance for her children and accommodation costs. And, of course she cannot factor in the change in the value of money over time. It is highly, highly unlikely MSD tallied up the women's tab for the 31 years dependent on you.

Anyway she isn't on her own or holding the record. Here's one that has been on the DPB for 36 years. I seem to remember that Muriel Newman uncovered cases that had been on it since it was created.

Update; A discussion about this matter is going on at Kiwiblog. I have just posted the WWG recommendation to deal with people who add children to their benefit, something this parent must have done.

Addressing unintended consequences from incentives for parents to have additional children

We have heard a concern among some people that setting a work expectation for parents when their youngest child reaches three years or six years may create an incentive for a small minority of parents to have additional children to avoid this work expectation. Should this eventuate, this would likely contribute to worse outcomes for the parents, their existing children and the family as a whole, and make it even harder for parents to regain their independence from the welfare system. The Working Group considers that one component of addressing this incentive is to provide support for people on welfare to manage their fertility, including through contraception and information about expectations.
The Welfare Working Group also proposes a change in the conditions of eligibility to address this issue. The majority of the Working Group recommends that a work test in the case of parents having an additional child while on welfare should be aligned with paid parental leave provisions (when the youngest child reaches 14 weeks). A minority of members felt that the work-test in the case of parents having an additional child while on welfare should be aligned with parental leave employment protection provisions (at 12 months). The Working Group is of the view that if the changes to the work test do not address the incentives to have additional children while reliant on welfare payments, then it may be necessary to consider additional financial disincentives in the future. There was agreement that should such provisions be introduced emergency and exemption provisions would be critical.

Monday, September 19, 2011

A bit of irony Sue Bradford has overlooked

Sue Bradford is celebrating the implementation of her bill to allow imprisoned mothers to have their babies in prison for "up to two years, instead of the six to nine months that currently applies."

‘I feel it is absolutely fitting that news that the new law is finally being actioned inside womens’ prisons has come through on Women’s Suffrage Day.’

Ironically, at the same time, the right to vote when in prison for less than three years has also been removed.

In respect to these changes, who did the better job as an MP?

Paul Quinn or Sue Bradford?

I vote Bradford. But with deep reservations.

Sex ed squirms

Just a quick post re parents getting uncomfortable about today's sex education.

My just-turned 13 year-old will relate some part of that curriculum to me and we almost simultaneously both go "oooooooh" as in "yicky" (or as my husband would say, "more information than I wanted".) The lessons are jointly to boys and girls and it seems there is quite a bit of "oooooh" on both sides.

They are taught that some 'practices' are 'normal'. Which is better, in my book, than teaching they are 'abnormal'.

I figure as she is comfortable enough to relate the episodes to me, and we can have a little laugh about it all (something I would never have done with my mother) then probably no harm done. Pulling her out of lessons to save hers and my sensibilities wouldn't be a better option.

But really, aren't some aspects of our sexuality just private?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Socialised health and longevity - the nagging never ends

I care about what happens to people. Especially those personally involved with me. But also, those who I don't know, in a broader sense.

But I can't care more about them than they do themselves.

If they want to eat their way to an early grave then quite frankly, that's their prerogative. Don't give me all the burden- on- the- public- health- system pleading. Firstly, because over their lifetimes unhealthy people will ultimately consume fewer public funds and secondly, if you are serious about that argument, why have public health? Why not privatise and improve the incentives to be healthy?

No. Thought so. Can't do that. So let's stick with the current context.

There is no sense behind the onslaught of nannying that has suffocated targets for many decades now. Actually, didn't it begin with the welfare state? 'Now we have nationalised your body, we have the right to nationalise your behaviour'.

Matt McCarten - get over yourself . The rest of the world doen't need you to watch over them, stop them eating your idea of unhealthy food, or force them into sport and activity, or make them read food labels.

You have your beloved socialised health and security. Stop rubbing salt into to the wounds of those forced to fund a system they are fundamentally opposed to.

When it comes to people who foreshorten their lives through over-eating, over-drinking, smoking etc., what the taxpayer loses on the swings, they will regain on the roundabouts. The best that can be said for health and longevity as subsidised and supervised by the state.