Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Nobody's Child

On the face of it I have some sympathy for Mr Singh who claims to have worked hard in prison to turn his life around and has passed drug tests since leaving there in September. But, due to violent neighbours, he has rejected a lodge where Work and Income placed him and is currently living in his car. His case manager has run out of patience and delivered some harsh words to Mr Singh, now seeking new accommodation, in a phone call Mr Singh recorded and gave to RNZ.

As I said, I have some sympathy for this character. But, if I can find it, why can't his immediate family?  If not a brother or father, he must be somebody's son. Why isn't a family member offering Mr Singh a bed? Mr Singh says he has family with whom he is "ready to reconnect". But to all intent's and purposes he is presently Nobody's Child, along with many thousands of other New Zealanders relying on complete strangers to provide them a liveable income and home.

This is the crux of New Zealand's heavy dependence on welfare. This is primarily why almost 12 percent of working age people rely on benefits.

What started from the reasonable idea that the elderly needed an income once unable to provide for themselves, has evolved into catch-all for familial indifference.

What do I mean?

Way back in the day families were ordered by the courts to take responsibility for members unable to take responsibility for themselves. The law was known as the Destitute Person's Act. Some  orders could involve quite distant connections. I doubt today many would be comfortable with being  ordered to take financial responsibility for a wayward nephew or alcoholic aunt. But on the flip side of the coin, why should complete strangers be expected to assume responsibility?

There must be a middle ground. And there was. For decades New Zealander's reliance on welfare benefits created by Micky Savage in 1938 never exceeded 2 percent of the working age population. But that middle ground relies heavily on a shared value of personal responsibility, a requisite we have strayed well away from. Personal responsibility means taking care of oneself and one's family, " sickness and in health." Granted, there are situations where this is simply not possible but they are exceptional.

Today many thousands are on welfare because they had a relationship break up. (Mr Singh's own problems began, he says, with that very occurrence.)

This immediately brings to mind benefit-dependent single mothers, yet many of the liable fathers are also unemployed and willing to stay that way as income from working only gets sucked up by child support. There are armies of young people who could be living in the family home but prefer to live 'independently' on Jobseeker and accommodation support. Even if a parent discourages this, the system does the opposite.

Some might argue that only the rich can afford personal responsibility. But the current obscenely-loose definition of 'need', and consequent array of unchecked benefits only keeps the poor poor. I would argue that any parent can earn enough through work to house and raise their child. In recent decades thousands have done, and continue to do so, proving my point.

If the country does not soon recapture a widespread commitment to personal responsibility, the collective financial burden - along with the many unwanted social consequences - will continue.

In the absence of any reason why a sense of personal responsibility would re-emerge, it will fall to government to make it happen. The only way to achieve this is to begin removing the crutches. No more sole parent benefit; time limits on the unemployment benefit and raising super eligibility to a realistic age would make for good starters.