Sunday, February 18, 2024

National needs to go further

In today's State of the Nation speech Christopher Luxon talked repeatedly about getting young people off welfare. It seems that National has devised a traffic light system which will use increasing levels of sanctions - welfare deductions - when beneficiaries fail to meet their obligations. He uses the word 'tough' a lot.

In his speech he made the following observation:

"Kids born this year will be turning 16 in 2040."

Well, because I can tell you something about them,  let's look at the children born in 2022 who will be turning 18 in 2040.

By the end of their birth year 12,639 of them were dependent on a benefit provided to their parent or parents. That's 21.5% of all babies born that year. Over one in five.

Then consider that the link between a child's early entry into the benefit system and later benefit dependence in their own right, is strong.

MSD's own commissioned research showed:

 - Nearly three quarters (74%) of all beneficiaries up to age 25 had a parent on benefit while they were a child, and just over a third (35%) had a parent on benefit throughout their teenage years.

 - The greater the family benefit history the longer the client tended to stay on a benefit, particularly for the Jobseeker benefit.1

It's laudable to talk about getting 18 year-olds off welfare. Better still though to discourage their entry into the welfare system in the first place.

The focus of reforms must be two-fold. Dealing with 40,000 young people on Jobseeker right now is critical. But so is looking to the future and turning off the tap that feeds inter-generational dependence.

Labour's soft-on-sole-parents approach has to go. That means ending the nonsense of not naming fathers and reintroducing work obligations for parents who add children to an existing benefit.

But more broadly, the cash-for-kids scheme has to stop. The assistance provided to unemployed parents who refuse jobs  should be through 'money management' - a system used for youth beneficiaries. The rules are:

    -your rent or board and things like your power bill and any debts will be paid straight from your payment. You won't get this money yourself.

    -you will get paid a weekly allowance of up to $50 into your personal bank account.

    -any money left over will be put onto your personal payment card. This is like a debit card that you can use to buy your food and groceries at approved stores.2

Until cash incentives that equal incomes from work are removed, the inter-generational problem will continue to plague New Zealand. Yes, there will be downsides to money management. But will they be any worse than the devastating social outcomes that come from unconditional welfare?



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