Monday, March 29, 2010

There is none so blind...

Tapu Misa has written about National's welfare reforms in her Herald column today;

You'd think then that someone like Lindsay Mitchell, a "welfare commentator" and tireless critic of the DPB, would be celebrating.

Actually, no. The benefit changes, she blogs, "are a waste of time"; they've either been tried before (and failed) or are "a continuation of current practice dressed up as a new approach".

She points out that National introduced the same work test back in 1996, with little change in the number of DPB beneficiaries.

As for making people reapply for the dole after one year, Mitchell says 84 per cent of those on the dole don't even reach one year, and anyway, the unemployment benefit isn't the problem when it comes to inter-generational welfare dependency.

Mitchell's problem is with unwed teenage mothers who keep swelling the ranks of the DPB. She says they're the ones who find the idea of life on the DPB too seductive to pass up.

Who would choose this as a lifestyle option? Not the seventh form girls at the Auckland private school I spoke to recently. They'd never even heard of the DPB.

But that's hardly surprising. The teen birth rate of girls in the poorest decile, girls who don't attend private schools, is almost 10 times that of girls in the wealthiest. Girls attending private schools have families with high expectations of them and opportunities abound. Girls in the poorest decile will have much slimmer career prospects and motherhood rates alongside reasonably well. This doesn't necessarily mean they make an active decision to get pregnant and go on the DPB or EMA (which they can do from 16), but the availability of a benefit most certainly influences their choices.

In his book More Than Just Race (2009), Harvard professor William Julius Wilson disputes the widely-held assumption that underpinned many of the 1996 welfare reforms in the United States: that there is "a direct causal link between the level or generosity of welfare benefits and the likelihood that a young woman would bear a child outside of marriage".

Wilson writes that there is no evidence for the claims that welfare payments provide incentives for childbearing, or discourage marriage.

But there is. Research for the US department of Human and Health Services by Anne Hill and June O'Neill showed that a 50 percent increase in the value of welfare payments and foodstamps led to a 43 percent increase in unmarried births. Numerous other studies, and not just American, have identified a similar association.

Women don't need to be dragged kicking and screaming off the DPB, they need good childcare and secure, well-paying jobs.

If women want "secure, well-paying jobs" they need to plan for them. Nothing has more potential to interrupt an education or absolve the need to get an education better than the certainty of a welfare income that pays more than the minimum wage.

As Auckland University associate professor of economics Susan St John wrote last week: "New Zealand's figures show clearly that when the job conditions are favourable and unemployment is low, benefit numbers fall."

So what did we see with the DPB during the economic boom? A drop from a 1998 high of 113,000 to 97,000 in 2008. The core of long-termers, especially those who start young and stay longest, wasn't touched.

A 2002 analysis by Bob Gregory, an economics professor at the Australian National University, showed that most Australian women were constantly trying to get off welfare, but most ended up back on the benefit within a short time.

My comments on The Standard most probably led Misa to Bob Gregory's research, the most astounding aspect of which is he estimated, in Australia, women stayed on welfare for an average total of at least 12 years. This did not include benefits they might transfer to when they no longer had dependent children in their care. Which supports my assertion that welfare has transformed into far more than a last resort safety net.

I am not sure what Misa is trying to achieve with this column. Work and strong families are an integral part of Pacific culture. A denial that welfare can undermine both is self-defeating. But if she doesn't want to see the evidence then a private girls school is absolutely the best place to go looking for it.


Berry said...

Well said. The more I think about it is that some simply refuse to accept logic if it doesn't fit with their agenda. The current corrupt political climate, where honour has become a commodity to be traded for political gain, has allowed that development.
The system as we have it rewards hollow slogans and career politics with limitless throughing at the expense of the economy and the taxpayer. What we need is a strong constitution, the destruction of the power of unions and other interest groups and an end to politics as a lifestyle option. Strict term limits, transparency, limited government and evidence based policies should replace the quagmire we now find ourselves in.

KG said...

"I am not sure what Misa is trying to achieve with this column."
You're not alone there Lindsay--why this shallow fool is given a column in the Herald is a mystery.
Perhaps she's just the obligatory 'ethnic voice'? If so, they could surely find better.

JCUKNZ's blog said...

The recent story about a woman who returned to the DPB becuase the job, instead of improving her situation, cost her income suggests to me that the 'minimum wage' needs to be more than the benefit. One can use this as an argument to reduce the DPB but that is inhumane abuse. The solution as I see it is to ensure that abatements do not cut in so quickly or severely. So that it is definitely worth the persons getting off the benefit. The problem with this is the petty mindedness of those who think somebody is on a good lurk ... They well may be from some peoples' viewpoint but when one is concerned at the amount of government money going on benefits one should estimate which will cost less, a whole benefit or just part of one subsidising a persons efforts at self improvement.
I have appreciated this situation for decades through both left and right-wing governments and seen no progress.

Anonymous said...

One can use this as an argument to reduce the DPB but that is inhumane abuse.

No - it is simply common sense. Actually yes, to "reduce the DPB" is abuse - of those productive members of society who are taxed to pay for it.

Those who are capable of work deserve no support from taxpayers. `

Those who have not made private provision for their sickness or old age likewise deserve no support from taxpayers.

Berry said...

The real solution to the DPB problem is to reinstate what many believe is an old fashioned concept: family.
(In the old fashioned meaning of that word, not the fuzzy definition we are forced to use today)

Shane Pleasance said...

Ms Misa is to be applauded, even in her ignorance. She brings attention to the subject and to quality commentators such as we see here.

Anonymous said...

Lovely piece by Tapu and not in any way diminished by your lame predictable right wing response.

Cactus Kate said...


If you went to a private school to speak to girls about these issues instantly your critics would be all over you like a wet blanket.

Go figure, Misa wouldn't know her way into a decile 1 school if a guide dog took her there.

SHG said...

Let me get this straight... her survey group regarding attitudes towards the DPB is a group of seventh formers at an Auckland private school?