"The group's initial "options paper", on which submissions close next Friday, proposes targets to cut child poverty, a food in schools programme, changes to welfare and housing subsidies, a "warrant of fitness" for rental housing, and passing on child support from absent parents to custodial parents instead of siphoning it off to pay for sole-parent benefits.
On the first key poverty driver, jobs, it suggests a carrot-and-stick mix.
"Carrots" include more flexible childcare subsidies and giving parents priority for job subsidies.
The "stick" is to turn the DPB into a "young child-carer benefit", make sole-parents look for part-time work one year after giving birth, and stop the benefit completely when their youngest child turns 6, "when there would be an expectation of full-time work".
Family tax credits would be raised for young children in the short term. In the long term, the group proposes a universal child payment higher than existing tax credits for the first year after giving birth, then stepping down gradually and becoming a targeted top-up like the current tax credits from age 6.
On the second key driver, disintegrating marriages, Wills says the reforms would reduce the current incentive for young parents to separate so that one can get the DPB.
The universal payment would lift couples' incomes in the first year, and beyond that the proposed DPB-replacement would be much harder to get.
He believes that passing on child support, usually from absent dads to custodial mums, will also encourage dads to take ongoing responsibility for their children."
Now I am sure that report did not recommend making sole parents look for part-time work when their child turns one (which I agree with). The Commissioner, Russell Wills is also sounding sensible here saying the DPB replacement should be much harder to get. But I don't recall that in the report either.
The report says:
"In conjunction with the Child Payment, we propose changes to the benefit system to help more sole-parents into employment when their child starts school. The research evidence suggests that between the ages of one to five, part-time work is likely to be beneficial for most children of sole-parents. The benefits are two-fold: high-quality ECE aids child development; and the extra income has positive impacts for the family. We therefore propose that the sole-parent benefit (DPB) be re-named the Young Child Carer Benefit. The Young Child Carer Benefit would end at age six, when there would be an expectation of full-time work, except where the needs and best interests of the child rule out full-time work (for example, if the child had a disability), or if sustainable full-time employment cannot be found."That's it.
And the summary of the report doesn't mention a DPB replacement at all.
It appears the Children's Commissioner is improvising and improving the recommendations made.
This news also prompted me to check the supporting Working Paper, Reforms to the Tax, Benefit and Active Employment System to reduce child poverty.
Here are the recommendations that I believe were played down in the final report:
104. Work testing from when the youngest child turns one year old is consistent with the current approach to job protection in the parental leave system. Job-protection exists up until age one, where the system then provides a strong signal that it is time for a return (often part-time in actuality) of the parent on leave to work.
105. The reason for one year of job protection is that: (1) having someone at home with an infant is good for the child, and (2) longer periods out of the labour market are likely to be increasingly damaging to the human capital and positive work-related behaviours and attitudes of the care-giver, and hence the child.
106. The belief that early parental re-attachment to the labour market for sole parents and high quality ECE of children is an integral part of the Nordic welfare systems, and this approach has achieved the lowest levels of child poverty in the OECD.
107. When the youngest child reaches an age where full-time parental work is child age-appropriate, the YCCB could terminate. If the sole parent cannot obtain full-time employment thereafter, they will make a transition to the jobseeker benefit with a full-time work test. If they have health barriers, a health-related benefit may be appropriate.
This advice should be taken into account during the debate over the next welfare reforms. The government is currently proposing that the new Sole Parent Support will only be part-time work-tested (10-20 hours per week) when the youngest child turns 5; full-time when they turn 14.
I hope the Office of the Children's Commissioner will be submitting these recommendations.