Tuesday, June 06, 2023

Taxpayer to stump up another $354 million to lift beneficiary sole parent incomes

A long-standing societal expectation was that fathers should financially support their children.  Past Labour governments reinforced this principle through law. During the Clark/Cullen administration the Minister for Social Development Steve Maharey held, "...I have said time and time again in this Parliament that fathers must front up to their obligations, and we will make sure they do, as much as we can." He was arguing for an increase in the penalty for benefit-dependent sole mothers who refused to name fathers.

Today's Labour though is a far cry from past incarnations. Parental responsibility expectations have reached new lows.

Since the creation of the Domestic Purposes Benefit (now known as Sole Parent Support) the state has required the custodial parent (nine times out of ten, the mother) to apply for child support from the non-custodial parent. When the mother was granted a benefit, the child support extracted from the father was kept by the state to offset the cost. In this way the taxpayer was relieved of some of the cost.

From July 1, 2023 this will no longer be the case. Any child support collected will be passed directly on to the mother and will supplement her benefit. This will affect 41,550 caregivers who will receive on average $47 weekly more (with a median gain of $24) and is projected to cost the taxpayer $354.27 million over the next 4 years - roughly the sum fathers were paying into the Consolidated Fund.

This move allows the government to further boast it is reducing child poverty and tackling the cost of living crisis. This is Labour indulging in expensive virtue signalling and vote-buying. In reality it will simply squeeze more from the taxpayer, and make it less likely that the mother can ever afford to give up the benefit and join the workforce. Prior to the change, child support, which is paid direct to non-beneficiary sole parents, increased a benefit-dependent sole parent’s incentive to move into work. The new law removes that distinctive incentive.

Another major change accompanies the new pass-on rule. Currently, according to Work and Income, "If you get Sole Parent Support, you need to fill in a Child Support application form. This helps Inland Revenue collect child support payments from the other parent of your child." As of July 1, "Sole parents getting a main benefit will no longer have to apply for child support." In 2020 the government dropped the long-established penalty for not naming fathers; this move goes a step further. With regard to a beneficiary mother the state can now only impose a financial responsibility on the father if she voluntarily applies for it.  Intuitively one might expect this to lower the number of fathers paying support. Yet the government argues more fathers will pay child support if they know it is going directly to their children and not to the state. A skeptic might doubt this.

Regardless, the legislation will be signed-off because it has the numbers (hence the prior announcement.)

But you might wonder what opposition MPs had to say. Surely, at the very least, they would have fought for the status quo?

Disappointingly, they did not. The purported aim of the bill is that more fathers will be motivated to pay child support and child poverty will be reduced. No party wants to be seen to thwart that - not even National and ACT.

During the second reading of the legislation there were glimmers of common sense.  National's MP for Invercargill Penny Simmonds said, "We want to see fewer children in poverty, but we are never going to get children out of poverty through taking taxpayer money and putting it towards them. The only way we will see fewer children in poverty is if we support those women [mothers on benefits], particularly, to get into employment." That sounded promising.

National's Simon O'Connor from Tamaki also spoke: "... fundamentally, what's happening here is the choices of parents are being transferred to a whole lot of good, hard working, taxpaying Kiwis." Correct. Taxpayers will be stumping up an extra $354 million for other people's lifestyle choices thereby limiting their own. That is hardly fair or equitable, the constant catch-cry from the left.

But then, in a surprising twist, O'Connor concluded that the debate at hand was essentially one between "principles and pragmatism." The principle being parental self-reliance versus pragmatism - the use of taxpayer's money to lift sole parent incomes. He plumped for pragmatism, subsequently commending the bill to the house. Every other party supported the bill.

The views of people against this law change, those who believe constantly chipping away at parental responsibility will not improve outcomes for children, weren't represented by any parliamentary party.

Friday, May 26, 2023

Article Four Activism

Massey University issued a draft Tiriti O Waitangi Policy in May 2022 to staff, students and stakeholders which expresses its "commitment to uphold Te Tiriti o Waitangi and its associated principles". It was prepared by the Office of the DVC Māori (Deputy Vice Chancellor Māori) to update an existing document and remains under consultation.

In 2012 the policy was a relatively brief, comprehensible statement:

The overall aim is that Massey University should be: 

•      a Māori-relevant university 

•      a place where Māori language and culture can flourish. 

•      a place where Māori students are likely to graduate. 

•      a university where Māori will obtain relevant higher degrees. 

•      a university which has the teaching and research capacity to make a substantial contribution to Māori development. 

•      a university that provides academic leadership for Māori to make a substantial contribution to the growth and development of Aotearoa New Zealand.

•      a university that provides academic leadership for Māori development.

The proposed replacement is six pages as opposed to two. It is long-winded and repetitive in describing how it will give effect to the Treaty and steps well outside of specific University relevance. For instance, it commits the university to “realisation of tino rangatiratanga nationwide” and “working towards achieving equal outcomes for Māori in society” with “ongoing investment in practices and activities known to improve outcomes for Māori.”

But the stand-out feature of the policy is the discovery of a fourth article in the Treaty: 

"The University acknowledges the following Te Tiriti o Waitangi provisions and associated principles - From Article Four: the provision of Te ritenga Māori (Māori customs) and the principle of Honouring Māori cultural-spiritual values and practices."

Definitionally, the policy purports to use "the Te Reo Māori (Māori Language) text of the treaty between hapū and the British Crown first signed at Waitangi in 1840."

But historian and former Waitangi Tribunal member Michael Bassett says, "The Treaty appears in the Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975, both English and Māori versions, and in 1986 Sir Hugh Kawharu re-translated the Māori version which was accepted by the government and became the version used by the 1990 Commission that celebrated 150 years since the Treaty was signed. I know of no further version of the Treaty that has had official recognition. The Kawharu translation and indeed the 1975 version have only three short clauses."

And on page three of the policy the relevant legislation is indeed cited as "Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975." The discrepancy is unexplained.

Where then does the idea of "Article Four" come from?

Dr Alistair Reese, a historian and public theologian, describes the treaty as a "living taonga" and has lodged a claim with the Waitangi Tribunal and petition to parliament arguing a fourth article exists. According to Reese a belated request prior to the signing of the treaty saw missioner Henry Williams (under instruction from Hobson) write the following addition to the Treaty: “The Governor says the several faiths of England, of the Wesleyans, of Rome, and also the Māori custom, shall alike be protected by him.” This statement apparently represents the fourth article.

It seems his argument is not a new one. The concept has previously found its way into public service documents.  In 2003 Hon Bill English, then Leader of the Opposition, asked the Associate Minister of Justice, Margaret Wilson: "Does the Government accept that there is an Article Four to the Treaty of Waitangi; if so, how will it be recognised in the Government’s partnership with Māoridom?" Her reply was "No." In parliamentary discussions at that time it was agreed that religious freedom and belief were protected by Article 3 of the Treaty and the modern Bill of Rights.

Writing in the NZ Herald, journalist Tim Watkin explained that English was concerned about a claim before the Waitangi Tribunal by Archdeacon Harvey Ruru arguing “the Crown had not kept Hobson's promise and it should fund Māori priests to continue their faith traditions.” Hobson’s promise was interchangeable with the fourth article. Michael Bassett, then a member of the tribunal, worried Ruru was attempting to expand the Treaty. As Health Minister in 1985 he had been criticised by Titewhai Harawira who asserted an obligation to improve Māori healthcare under ‘article four.’ The link being made between religious freedom and health care was unclear.

Canvassed more recently on the topic Bassett says: "There have been efforts over the years to talk up the idea of an Article Four with various Māori trying to insert something favouring their current fanaticism, but they won’t ever get off the ground because there were only three articles that the Crown and Māori signed on 6 February 1840, and no law has ever been passed recognising more than what appears in the Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975. Just imagine if internationally treaties between parties could be unilaterally added to by one party over subsequent years and treated as though they had always been part of the original document. Absolute chaos."

He adds: “…no government worth its keep is ever going to agree to a widening of the original document.” Unfortunately, these words might not reassure given the possibility of a radical Labour/Green/Māori party government forming later this year.

Establishing a fourth article clearly brings new grounds for resource demands. Perhaps this is the reason Massey University has included it in their proposed updated treaty policy. Why else when religious freedom is already protected?

Regardless of the answer, Massey University management is practising activism (which was once the realm of students). Its Deputy Vice Chancellor Māori is asserting the existence of a fourth article in the Treaty. Who are impressionable students to believe? Are universities bastions of truth or fantasy?

Friday, May 19, 2023

Scrapping $5 fee makes no sense

Yesterday, as part of the Wellbeing Budget 2023, the government announced the scrapping of the $5 prescription charge. This will cost $170 million annually covering around 29 million scripts.

They have done this because an estimated 3 percent of adults apparently do not collect their medicine because they can't afford the $5 fee (which is capped at $100 over a year).

But the vast majority of patients DO collect and pay for their medicines.

Yet again Labour has introduced a universal policy to solve a non-universal problem. Prior examples of this folly include the Winter Energy Payment for all superannuitants and the Best Start payment for all parents of babies aged under 12 months. Throwing money at people who do not need it is hardly testament to good governance.

But it gets worse. In this instance the government has also thrown money at businesses that don't need it.

Around 10-15 percent of the prescription market belongs to relatively new entrants into retail pharmacy. The best known is probably the Chemist Warehouse.

To gain a commercial advantage and market share the Chemist Warehouse did not charge the $5 prescription fee. They paid it themselves. By scrapping the fee Grant Robertson has effectively handed the non-chargers a $17 million subsidy (at minimum).  Far from leveling the playing field for all pharmacies, the 'big boys' now have even more disposable dollars to promote their chain and on-line services which have, by the way, been very successful due to superior product pricing and choice.

But back to the problem of people not accessing medicine due to prescription costs, the problem the Finance Minister is claiming to solve.

According to Work and Income, "If you or a family member can't cover your prescription costs, we may be able to help with a Special Needs Grant." A Special Needs Grant is not repayable.

Another option was for the patient to use one of the non-charging pharmacies if an outlet was convenient.

This move also comes against a backdrop of minimum and living wage hikes, and benefit increases. Yes, there is a cost-of-living crisis but set at $5 the fee was also inflation-proofed.

All things considered it is difficult to understand why the Labour government has chosen now to scrap the fee for low-income individuals - let alone the wealthy.

Then again, it is election year. And simplicity makes for easy soundbites and headlines. Stupidity takes a little longer to uncover and understand.

Friday, May 05, 2023

Celebrating single parents

Earlier this week Ngāti Kahungunu and Project Gender released the Mako Mama Mangopare Single Parents Project.  The research is based on seven focus groups and an on-line survey of 3,545 single parents which asks about their circumstances regarding income, work, health, experience of discrimination and domestic violence. Not unexpectedly the responses paint a picture of struggle and perceived discrimination. 

The MMM Project’s subsequent reaction to the research is twofold: 

1/ To embark on a nationwide campaign to “celebrate” single parents. 

2/ Create an “on-line Navigators portal” for single parents. 

The authors appear to be lining up future employment for themselves, anticipating further funding from the Peter McKenzie Project (commissioners of the report) and the government.

They have also noticed another gap in the market and propose, “Creating single parents’ networks that operate similar to LGBTQI+ networks, within business.” Perhaps the creation of a ‘Single Parent Tick’ akin to the pervasive Rainbow Tick?

Of course, there is no guarantee such a ‘tick’ would attract single parents off benefits. As one survey respondent remarked: “I can’t afford to work – If I work 40 hrs a week, after paying childcare I only earn $100 more than on a benefit, that’s $2.50 per hour.”

It’s worth exploring that comment. If their household budget required $100 more, surely the beneficiary couldn’t afford not to work? What the respondent seems to be saying is the marginal difference is so small they can’t afford to put in 40 hours effort at just $2.50 per hour. Someone else can put in the effort and pay the tax required to furnish their income.

Another respondent says, “We don’t just want a job, we want a career and opportunities to study/work that fit our lives as sole carers for our tamariki."

So, people doing the ‘jobs’ should provide you with ‘careers and study opportunities’?  You do know where the money for your benefit comes from, right?

Maybe not. Another said, “MSD treat me like I’m a desperate Māori trying to milk them – You would think you were asking for money from their personal bank account.”

Well, hello. Your case manager toils to pay taxes. It feels exactly like their personal bank account.

There’s a lot of people out there kidding themselves, and it’s not just beneficiaries.

Despite the continuing elevated poverty and poorer health experienced by lone parents and their children, we are exhorted to “celebrate” this family form by embarking on a “nationwide media, marketing and communications campaign … to change behaviours; mobilise communities; and address social attitudes that stigmatise single parents.”

Single parenthood is stigmatised by society because of the hardship, loneliness and vulnerability it entails for mother and child. The moral disapproval exists because many (though certainly not all) single parents expect to live at the expense of others. This societal displeasure is only exacerbated by the increasing ease with which to avoid pregnancy or find work to support a family.

Here’s the reality. This latest advocacy project is yet another bad idea from the poverty activism industry which creates lucrative employment/funding opportunities for those with an eye for riding the gravy train. It’s cynical and relies on perpetuating victimhood. We are trapped in a culture of faux kindness and silly celebration. It is sacrilege to suggest to anyone they made a mistake, or a poor choice. They don’t have to own it because we all ‘own it’ – we are all made responsible for the consequences of decisions of others we have no control over. This is the inevitable upshot of compulsory collectivism.

There is another option, but I'd be laughed out of the room for suggesting it. Avoidance and prevention just might be a better approach. 

Which makes more sense?

Numbers (not provided in the report)

Census 2018:  131,787 sole parent families with dependent children

MSD 2021: 99,000 sole parent families on a main benefit

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Are children safer or not?

The Salvation Army’s latest State of the Nation 2023 report draws on data from Oranga Tamariki (formerly CYF) and tells us, “The number of children under 2 years of age entering care is down from 440 in 2018 to 133 in 2022...”

Finally, some good news from a public service agency.

Friday, April 21, 2023

3,000 more children on benefits in just one year

The March benefit data was released yesterday. I track children on benefits. The trend is bad.

In the last year the number of children reliant on a benefit (their caregiver's) has risen by over 3,000.

In the last 6 years the increase is just a smidgen under 40,000.

This is a 24 percent increase against a population aged 0-17 years-old which grew by just 1.7 percent. 

The upward trend was accelerated by covid but began prior and has not reversed since.

I believe the increase is primarily the result of all the extra cash assistance that has gone into families with children who depend on a benefit. 

For instance, since early 2018 a sole parent with two or more children has experienced a 58 percent increase in after-housing-costs-income. 

Trends in average total income by family type (after housing costs) over time

Source: Total incomes of MSD main benefit clients as at April 2022

In addition to monetary policies a number of other changes sent new messages to parents or potential parents. Abolishing the requirement to name the father of a child(ren) included in a sole parent benefit; the removal of work obligations intended to discourage the addition of a child to an existing benefit; the non-enforcement of sanctions for beneficiaries with child-caring responsibilities; and the pass-on of child support to beneficiary parents (instead of state retention to offset the sole parent support bill) all convey a lessened emphasis on individual responsibility. 

Staying on benefits for longer

Despite a very favourable employment environment, beneficiaries are staying dependent for longer as evidenced by the ageing of their children. Usually single parents move into work as their children get older but there are significant increases in the number of older children dependent:

Source: OIA January 2023

This development is reinforced by MSD's own 'expected future years on a benefit' calculations which show:

More children being born onto a benefit

At December 2018 10,863 children aged 0 years (meaning they must have been born in the same year) were dependent on a benefit. This increased to 11,361 children at December 2022. At some point during their first year of life they were included in their caregiver’s benefit which may have been new or existing. (Cabinet papers released by a National government showed in 2010 4,800 babies were added to an existing single parent benefit but there has been no update on this statistic.)

These numbers represent 18.7 percent of all children born in 2018, rising to 19.3 percent of all children born in 2022. Almost one in five.

Children born onto a benefit stay longest. According to MSD research:

“…the age of the child at first entry into the benefit system, is an important factor associated with having long-term contact with the benefit system.”  

The longer children stay on benefits the worse their outcomes are.

For instance, the incidence of maltreatment finding was 11.3 percent in a 2010 birth cohort who had spent more than 80 percent of the previous five years on welfare. For those children who had spent no time dependent on a benefit the incidence dropped to just 0.3 percent. 

In 2016 one of Treasury’s four indicators for high risk of experiencing poor outcomes later in life was “Being mostly supported by benefits since birth.” Poor outcomes included being, “more likely to leave school with no qualifications, spend time on a benefit, and to receive a prison or community sentence.” 

Are these children to be regarded as merely collateral damage in Jacinda Ardern's ill-conceived plan for reducing child poverty which I predicted would only draw more children into welfare dependency which is intergenerational with poor outcomes?

Childrens' potential is being stolen.

Don't expect to hear about this unfortunate trend from Carmel Sepuloni or the media though.


Children on benefits in March years. (Due to seasonal variation trends can only be established by comparing data year-on-year - not quarter to quarter):

2018 168,276

2019 172,587

2020 182,787

2021 205,872

2022 205,182

2023 208,242

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Prison policy fiasco

 Today a NZ Herald headline reads:

"Frontline police told to ‘consider necessity’ of bail arrests as NZ’s largest prison nears capacity"

There are two immediate problems with the headline.

How can any New Zealand prison be near capacity when the prison population has been actively reduced by well over twenty percent since Labour became government?

(Click on image to enlarge)

The possibility arises that one singular prison might still be "nearing capacity" but on reading that the prison in question is Rimutaka, that is also suspect.

In December 2017 the population at Rimutaka was 1,097.

At December 2022 it was 751. More than 300 fewer prisoners (and it is extremely unlikely that in the three months since it has radically changed.)

The second problem with the headline is that Rimutaka is not New Zealand's largest prison. The two Auckland facilities each have consistently larger populations.

The article mentions none of this. There is no discussion about WHY Rimutaka is "nearing capacity." Is it an issue of resourcing? Not enough staff? In recent years Rimutaka reopened some of its older buildings to house overflow from Arohata so it seems unlikely to be a physical capacity problem.

There are some fundamental questions that arise out of a directive to police to make other provision for detainees because Rimutaka is "nearing capacity" that haven't been asked.

Or if they were, they haven't been answered.

Despite Correction's high-profile recruitment campaign, I suspect the directive is based on the safety of corrections officers if staff/prisoner ratios get too high. And that is a valid concern. 

But to have come to this dangerous impasse is more evidence of a government failing and flailing with its lack of consistent, coherent policy and planning.

Wednesday, April 05, 2023

Deadly excuses

Today Health NZ, Te Whatu Ora, released its latest report on childhood immunisation which includes longstanding vaccinations against the likes of diphtheria, polio, tetanus, whooping cough, chickenpox, measles, mumps and rubella.

Compared to other ethnicities, Maori children have had consistently lower immunisation rates which the report says, "...leave tamariki Māori disproportionately vulnerable and exposes Aotearoa to significant risk of vaccination-preventable disease outbreak through inadequate herd immunity."

A concerted effort was embarked upon in 2009 to lift immunisation rates. It formed one of National's Better Public Service targets (later dropped by the incoming Labour government). The result was positive:

Maori and Pacific rates climbed markedly as did, unsurprisingly, the rate in the poorest deciles (Dep 9-10)

The next graph, from today's report, shows immunisation by age 2, a slightly different but relevant parameter:

Apart from Asian children the gains made have been lost. Some of this is due to the vaccinator workforce being diverted into covid work. However the decline  - particularly for Maori - began around 2017.

The current rates are now described as a "crisis". What has happened?

The "barriers" to vaccination are claimed to be poverty, racism, lack of trust and safety concerns.

Despite the vaccines being free, poverty affects rates in every group except Asians, who even in the highest deprivation deciles mostly manage to get their child immunised:

According to the report: "Despite childhood immunisations being free, costs are associated with getting to vaccinations, such as transport, time off employment and family members owing
money to practices. Clinic times often clash with work, school pickups, availability of child-minding for children not requiring vaccination at the same time, or other whānau responsibilities."

Yet there is a group who show none of this matters. Perhaps instead of excuse-making, policy-makers could focus on the Asian communities and why poverty doesn't affect their vaccination decisions and actions.

The next 'barrier' is racism characterized by "mono-cultural institutions which simply ignore and freeze out the cultures of those who do not belong to the majority" . Asians aren't frozen out though.

In another twist of logic, because Pacific vaccination rates are better than Maori, yet Pacific families live with "worse deprivation", this "persistent gap can only be explained by systemic racism."

So the racism is only directed towards Maori.

What are we to believe then. That racism against Maori declined up until the period 2014-17 when 2 year immunisation coverage for Maori children was 92-93 percent but it has reappeared since?

Racism is a red herring.

As such it will be far more than a mere irritant if - or when - a childhood epidemic breaks out and Maori children die.

To avoid that tragic eventuality health promoters should quit with bogus excuses and take a hard look at why one group of parents, in spite of all of the so-called "barriers" overwhelmingly safeguard their young against diseases that may be deadly.