Monday, October 28, 2013

Reforms not enough - Minister responds

From time to time Muriel Newman and I collaborate on a theme for her organisation NZCPR. And from time to time the resulting articles make it into the MSM. The NBR has picked up for instance. Last week the Northland Age ran Muriel's piece in which I am also quoted extensively. Together we maintained that the welfare reforms to date still leave a benefit system that incentivises young women to have children and these children are at greater risk of abuse than others.


“In New Zealand children are casually produced because someone else is made to take responsibility for financially providing for them. Their arrival guarantees an ongoing source of cash. It is hardly surprising that those without the financial wherewithal to raise a child also struggle with the emotional requisites.
“What then is being done to reduce the incentives that encourage ill-equipped entry into parenthood? Not enough. A young female (aged 19 plus) can still have a baby and expect government assistance and a home for five uninterrupted years. When the child goes to school she’ll have to look for a part-time job and take one if it materialises. But if she is in a rural area the chances of that occurring are slim. Just as slim are the chances of a full-time job cropping up when her child turns 14. The DPB replacement is still a promise of unearned, long-term income and housing for young females. And males, some who will pose a known risk to non-biological children, will continue to piggyback on it.”

The Minister for Social Development, Paula Bennett responded with a letter:

 Last week’s Northland Age’s column, ‘Incentives need to change,’ by Dr Muriel Newman, provided an interesting perspective on child abuse. But important points were missed about welfare changes which the column dismissed as incentivising abuse.

I have replied with the following:

 The Minister for Social Development, Paula Bennett (For the children, October 24) describes welfare reforms that "are helping parents get into work and provide a better life for their children." The Minister deserves accolades for what she has achieved to date. My position remains however that the reforms have not gone far enough.

At 23 percent, benefit dependency in the Far North District is double the national average. At June 2012 the Far North Territorial Local Authority had 7,800 working-age beneficiaries out of  a 18-64 year-old population of 33,370 (latest Statistics NZ estimate.)  While it is well known the district also features the highest unemployment rate in the country, only 18 percent of those on benefits were on the unemployment benefit. 38 percent - the largest group - were on the DPB.

Even with the new work-test regime,  Sole Parent Support (the DPB replacement) guarantees an ongoing income from the state for those with dependent children. The reality is people can continue to live and raise families in areas where jobs are non-existent. Unless the government compels parents to move where the jobs are (which Labour did with unemployment beneficiaries under Jobs Jolt in the mid-2000s) the long-term and inter-generational welfare dependence will continue. These are the conditions that increase the risk of child maltreatment.

Given the extra discretion case managers now have, there may be an informal policy to do this. But such an approach has not been legislated for.

Readers of this blog will know I have praised National repeatedly for the changes they have made to the welfare system. And I understand that a government can only move incrementally if they are to retain the support which is critical to staying in government. But that doesn't prevent me from taking a critical position about the shortcomings of the reforms.

Wth ACT dead in the water there is no vehicle for and very little publicised opinion about National's shortcomings ACCEPT from the left. The Minister generally ignores that and so she should.

Interestingly her letter is basically an advertisement for the reforms. I could use it myself to explain to people who think welfare is an important issue why they should vote National back in.

But when they get their third term let's hope they give it a bigger and better shake.


Brendan said...

Hi Lindsay

The Minister should thank you for keeping this issue before the pubic in a responsible, measured and informed way.

The idea that the State should provide financial incentives for children to be born into an environment of economic disadvatage accompanied by a radically increased likelyood of neglect, physical, mental and sexual abuse is so bizare as to defy belief.

That it should be done in the name of 'compassion' is the stuff of science fiction.

And yet, that is what's happening in New Zealand, and has been the norm for decades. Children's Commissioners pathiticaly bleat and wring their hands over the abuse, politicans pontificate, anti abuse laws are passed, and still the numbers of abused children rise year on year.

The solution, at least in part, is so glaringly obvious that the Minsters failure to act through fear of a political backlash is the stain upon our nation that we should truly be ashamed of.

We are not responsible for the abuse, but we are responsible for failing to support and enourage politicains to take the tough political deicsions required to reduce it.

Brendan said...


Because of the topic, I'd like to mention Peter Hitchen's blog post today, because it's so relevent to the issue of child abuse and (lack of) parenting.

Those of us over 50 will remember Cilla Black's hit song, 'Liverpool lullaby' It is hugely evocative. The opening lines – ‘Oh, you are a mucky kid, dirty as a dustbin lid’

In a recent TV appearance, she replaced the mother’s repeated warning to the boy that he’ll ‘gerra belt from your dad’ with the feeble ‘you’ll get told off by your dad’.

Peter goes on to say: "If Cilla Black really wants to update the Lullaby, she should go much, much further. There’s no room here for a long debate about smacking. But we do so many worse things now that we’re enlightened."

But saddest of all, the Lullaby’s boozy, wastrel Dad has vanished from view in hundreds of thousands of homes. He won’t be coming home because he was never there in the first place.

The man who might turn up instead is much more worrying, the current boyfriend who loathes any child that isn’t his own. You’ll get much worse than a belt from him.

And then, not long afterwards, there’ll be the social worker who can’t see anything wrong. Sing a song about that, would you, Cilla?

Anonymous said...

Good on you Lindsay!

I had forgotten about that "Jobs Jolt" package by Labour. Heck, that gives the government a *HUGE* amount of room to move, policy-wise, on this.
Labour can NOT oppose such policy without being slapped with the "hypocrites" label.

Paula Bennett has *got* to move on this area. The *essence* of politics is that when the Opposition gives you a massive opening like this, you TAKE it - no questions asked.