Thursday, May 09, 2019

Children with no identified father much more likely to come to CYF attention

Of children born in 2010-2011 affected by Section 70A reductions, by age six 41% had a care and protection concern reported (P12).

The earlier 2000-01 cohort is depicted below. It's a horrible graph to comprehend hence I provided some context in my opening statistic

('Episide' is a typo - means episode)

(Right-click on image to enlarge)

Proof of the Section 70A rort

That's what Maharey called it back in 2004 when the Labour government increased the penalty rate to try and get more mothers to name the fathers of their children.

Here's proof that for some at least it is a rort.

MSD interviewed 4,000 sole parents who had a Section 70A penalty.

A small proportion (5 percent) said they did not report not applying for child support because they had a private arrangement with the other parent. 
I am surprised that many were honest about it.

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

MSD ignores own research

To justify removing the penalty for not naming fathers of benefit-dependent children MSD now says:

A developing evidence base suggests that outcomes for some of the children affected are likely to be being harmed by loss of family income associated with the reductions. Recent studies from overseas suggest a causal link between family incomes and care and protection service contact. More broadly, a developing body of international research shows that lower family incomes have a negative causal impact on child development.[my emphasis]
Why look for overseas research when their own and University of Auckland's shows the  care and protection link is not to lower family income but benefit income. At their site, Children in poor families: does the source of family income change the picture?

"...receipt of welfare income is negatively associated with children’s outcomes, even when level of income is controlled. This effect derives not so much from welfare receipt per se, but from parental characteristics that make some parents more prone than others to be on welfare (Mayer 2002).
Taken together, the findings suggest that children in families reliant on welfare may be particularly vulnerable to negative outcomes, being not only relatively poor but also more likely than children generally to have other disadvantages. The findings suggest substantially lower vulnerability among children supported by market incomes who are not poor, with an intermediate level of risk found among children supported by market income but who are relatively poor....To summarise, the findings show that poor children reliant on government transfers, when compared with poor children reliant on market incomes, have lower living standards and a number of compounding shortfalls that can be expected to place them at greater risk of negative outcomes. The findings suggest a need for policies that have a wider focus than just income support."
Yet MSD now argue for a policy based purely on the income support aspect.

But simply asserting the "greater risk of negative outcomes" doesn't prove a link to CYF involvement does it?


So, staying at the MSD website, Vulnerable Children:

 "Of all children having a finding of maltreatment by age 5, 83% are seen on a benefit before age two, translating in to a very high "capture" rate."

It isn't low income that puts children at risk of abuse or neglect. It is, to quote the former research, "parental characteristics that make some parents more prone than others to be on welfare."

Increasing abusive parents benefit payments won't make any difference. MSD's justification is hollow.

Monday, May 06, 2019

Labour's 180 degree turn on the responsibility of fathers

On Friday the government announced it will cease applying Section 70 A penalties from April 2020.


"Section 70A of the Social Security Act 1964 requires that the rate of a sole parent’s benefit be reduced for each dependent child for whom the person does not seek Child Support, subject to some exemptions. The benefit is reduced by $22 for each dependent child for whom the client refuses or fails to meet their Child Support obligations. After 13 weeks a further $6 a week reduction may apply. Close to one in five sole parents receiving Job Seeker and Sole Parent Support have these benefit reductions. Reasons include being unaware of the penalties and how to comply and grounds for exemption, and a strong desire to have no contact with the other parent."

From the 1990s the Green Party started to agitate against this penalty. they would argue about women's reproductive rights, the penalising of children etc.

Labour however dug in. Their view was that fathers should provide financially for their children. It should not fall to the taxpayer. The numbers of mothers (and occasionally custodial fathers) who failed to name the father of a child dependent on a their benefit continued to grow. In the early 2000s Labour introduced legislation to increase the penalty. From the parliamentary debates:

Heather Roy: When will he admit that this is just a rort so that fathers can dodge child support, and why should taxpayers always have to pick up the bill?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: It is a rort, and 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.
                                                                    Hansard, August 25, 2004

And later:

“It is not unreasonable to expect that single parents bringing up children on their own identify who in law is the other parent, or to expect that they seek financial support for the child from the other parent. It is not unreasonable to penalise financially those who do not. It is not a new philosophy.” Steve Maharey, Hansard, October 5, 2004

NZ First, represented by Bill Gudgeon also spoke in favour. The penalty was increased.

But 13 years on a new Minister said:

“The most common reason for not naming the parent was often family-violence related and so, keeping that mind, it’s almost like you’re doubly punishing these women and their children. So, we’re not going to allow that to continue.”
                        Carmel Sepuloni, RNZ, November 14, 2017

That is a red herring as the Work and Income Manual states:

“Your benefit payments may be reduced if you don’t legally identify the other parent or apply for Child Support. In some situations you may not need to do this, for example if you or your child would be at risk of violence. Work and Income can tell you more about this.”
Advice to cabinet said:

“Repealing Section 70a could provide an incentive for clients not to apply for Child Support and establish private arrangements with the other parent. This is because clients would retain their full benefit rate and receive the child support paid privately.”
                  MSD report to Carmel Sepuloni, November 10, 2017

And that has always been the problem.

Nevertheless Labour has been persuaded, along with NZ First (also traditionally of the view  that a father should be financially responsible) by the Greens to drop the penalty at a cost of $113.4 million over 4 years. But that is only estimated on the current number of mothers who aren't naming the father.

In the future, as there is no longer an incentive to name him (or disincentive not to) many more fathers will never pay child support for their children. 

Sunday, May 05, 2019

Another Working Group:Another Waste of Time and Money

The Welfare Expert Advisory Group has delivered what the Green-driven government wanted - a recommendation to wildly increase wealth redistribution - an ideological affirmation. The group advises, "The fiscal cost of improving the adequacy and design of income support is estimated to be around $5.2 billion a year." That's an increase of around 50% on current costs.

The report overflows with conceptual phraseology, much of it drawn from Maori culture; words like equity, fairness, justice abound. It lacks however any concrete suggestion as to where an extra  $5.2 billion is to come from. The only justification for such a massive hike comes in the form of:

"It is important to recognise that the current system has costs of its own – those associated with the broader negative effects of poverty including lower educational attainment,imprisonment and poorer health." Which is exactly the approach National had taken under Bill English's actuarial analysis, but without front-loading savings.

Unsurprisingly then, only two policies were announced in direct response to the report and have been scheduled for introduction in April 2020. 1/Scrapping the penalty for not naming the father of a benefit-dependent child (a 180 degree turn from the last Labour-led government's stance), and 2/ an increase in what beneficiaries can earn before their benefit is affected (which National quickly approved without considering  more people getting trapped in a part work/part benefit regime) .

The Minister for Social Development, Carmel Sepuloni, says, "The Government can’t deliver on every recommendation at once." Indeed. It can only deliver on two of forty two in a year's time,  just months before it stands to lose any ability to do more.

In that respect alone this working group has been another waste of time and money.

Many of its recommendations are pie in the sky. It wants core benefit levels raised by up to 47 percent. On top of higher abatement rates, paid work for the unskilled would become uneconomical. People respond to economic incentives. For sole parents benefit 'packages' already rival income from employment despite the report's claims about grossly inadequate levels of welfare.

Some recommendations are a straight reversal of the last National government's welfare reform measures. Single parents should only have to work part-time when their youngest is 6 - currently it is 3 in line with eligibility for free early childhood education. Removal of the 'subsequent child' policy, introduced to prevent sole mothers from adding children to their benefit to avoid work-testing, is urged. The compulsory 'money management' aspect of youth benefits should be scrapped with a return to  handing out unconditional cash to 16 and 17 year-olds

Especially cheered by the Greens no doubt, the panel calls for removal of obligations and sanctions for "... pre-benefit activities, warrants to arrest sanctions, social obligations, drug-testing sanctions, 52 week reapplication requirements, sanctions for not naming the other parent, the subsequent child work obligation, and the mandatory work ability assessment for people with health conditions or disability."

Under such a scenario New Zealand would have parallel worlds whereby one group of people - the producers and risk-takers - are constantly expected to meet work, tax, health and safety obligations - to name a few - while the other avoids any and gets paid for the privilege.

Increases to Working For Families tax credits and eligibility thresholds are advised. Child support payments to beneficiary parents, currently kept by Treasury to offset benefit payments, should be passed directly to the custodial parent.

With regard to Job Seekers, here's an odd one: "Establish an effective employment service of the Ministry of Social Development so it is better able to assist people to obtain and keep good, sustainable work." Surely the Ministry has an effective employment service already (though on currently increasing Job Seeker numbers, you may wonder). What constitutes "...good, sustainable work"? I am reminded of a previous Labour Minister Steve Maharey who protested against "dead-end jobs" for beneficiaries. Exactly who is going to do the unskilled yet vital work required by this country's economy? And why a downer on those who do the least desirable jobs? I am thankful for them everyday.

There are multiple vague wishy-washy recommendations like, "Improve the health and wellbeing of people with health conditions and disabilities, along with carers of people with health conditions and disabilities who interact with the welfare system by providing financial support that is adequate to live a life with dignity and is equitable across the social sector." Meaningless.

A call to "increase public housing on an industrial scale" conjures visions of future ghettos based on past experience.  And then of course demands for heavier regulation of landlords feature as if that will magically make rental property cheaper when evidence points to the opposite outcome.

One recommendation makes sense: to index benefits to the cost of living, as is Super. That would be fair inasmuch as beneficiary income would keep pace with inflation. That is the solitary saving grace amidst an utterly unworkable, utopian/dystopian manifesto (take your pick).

Instead of this charade the Green's 2017 welfare policy could've easily been printed and circulated saving over $2 million in the process.