Red Alert

Archive for the ‘Welfare Working Group’ Category

The Children’s Commissioners Report in stark contrast to Welfare Working Group recommendations

Posted by on March 22nd, 2011

Annette King has been competently working away on Labour’s “Children First” policy behind the scenes and it will certainly form a key plank of our election campaign.  It is not difficult to recognise that much of the content in  Children’s Commissioners Report, aligns nicely with what Labour has proposed.  What must be of concern to New Zealanders is the extent to which the Welfare Working Group recommendations, stand in stark contrast to both Labour’s ‘Children’s First’ policy and the Children’s Commissioners staunch focus on prioritising children’s development.

In this post – I want to discuss the WWG’s recommendations and the contradictions that exist along with the harm that they could cause.

It’s estimated that 222,000 children live in benefit-dependant households. Compared to OECD countries New Zealand has unacceptably high levels of child poverty.  Children are one of the most important stakeholder groups to consider when measuring the impact of any welfare reform, yet are often voiceless.  We need to be do everything we can to safeguard children from the impacts of poverty – a situation outside their control but which can have a huge impact on their future lives.  The Welfare Working Group has stated an attempt to give prominence to the issue of child well-being in its recent report on welfare reform and yet the recommendations are largely short sighted, punitive and may have the unintended consequence of worsening the care and safety of children.

Considering children as a central part of welfare reform requires much more than consideration of the impact on children tagged on after the fact. A child centred policy requires that any likely impacts on children are considered well in advance of implementation and are subject to open debate and thorough scrutiny by all stakeholder groups. It is therefore disturbing to read in the report that assessment of the impact on children will occur post-implementation.  Our children (particularly children who are already disadvantaged by poverty) deserve much better than that.

The recommendations need to be seen in context of the current economic climate and political priorities of the National government.  Two years ago we saw the axe fall on the training incentive allowance – immediately dashing the hopes of higher wages and professional career prospects for many sole parents. It is not only the ability for parents to provide adequately for their children that was jeopardised with this ill-considered move, but also the positive flow on effects to the children’s educational achievement (educated mothers have more highly educated children).

Some of the WWG’s stated priorities sit in stark contrast to the National Government’s cuts.  The WWG says access to approved ECE should be a priority. But the National government has already undermined the possibility of this occurring by slashing ECE spending earlier in the year. The hardest hit by ECE rises will be the families in poverty in most need of quality and affordable education and care for their children.

When this reality is combined with the WWG’s recommendation that sole parents actively seek work when their youngest child turns three or even younger, real concerns arise.  I believe that anyone who wants to work and is in a position to work should be supported into work but each case needs to be dealt with on an individual basis.  Will the push to force sole parents out in to the workforce be premature for some?  Yes, it will.  And that is even before we consider that the jobs just aren’t there.

Not all sole parents will have access to quality and affordable ECE options.  There will be some parents who will be forced to look for alternative care arrangements with family members or even older children which may not ordinarily be considered. That is not ideal and would be a missed opportunity to give our children the best possible start in life. As a sole parent myself, extended family have always played a part in caring for my child but as an educator I know that quality early childhood education by qualified teachers in licensed centres is key to maximising our children’s potential in life.

This year we saw an abysmal rise in the minimum wage, while the cost of living seems to sky rocket — propelled by a hike in GST, rising oil and milk prices and the cost of visiting a doctor. We also seen a government that is failing to create meaningful and flexible employment that might support young families. The recommendations of the WWG to push parents into work do not solve in any constructive way any of the real problems we are facing.  Beneficiaries are not to blame for high levels of unemployment and the rising cost of living.   The Government’s trajectory foretells a certain pathway to poverty for many– underemployed, unemployed or underpaid parents with insufficient support to up-skill or train opportunities, and facing increasingly high costs of living. This is far from the ‘brighter future’ New Zealand was promised by National.

The current political climate with National government’s spending cuts in crucial areas of funding such as education and training for sole parents and ECE makes it difficult to see how any welfare reforms under a National government can really be child-centred, despite what is claimed. Families need to know that they are going to be well supported when raising their young and that society puts a high value on the raising of children.  National must recognise that any welfare reforms that they implement must put children first.  We will be watching.

Welfare Reforms need to consider effects on victims

Posted by on March 10th, 2011

The issue of domestic violence has again reared its ugly head in the past week.  As the country comes to grips with their grief over the Christchurch tragedy, we are reminded by articles in the Press and other print media that with the stress associated with such a tragedy we see increased levels of domestic violence. On the same day that New Zealand was hit with this natural disaster, we were also hit with the release of the welfare working groups report.  The WWG’s report took a back seat to the events that unfolded in Christchurch, and rightly so, but now it is time to considered some of the implications.  One of the implications is increased levels of domestic violence.

New Zealand has unacceptable levels of domestic violence and if the Government continues with the trajectory of the Welfare Working Group recommendations they risk worsening the situation for an already marginalized group in our society.

Eleanor Butterworth, Education Coordinator for Wellington Women’s Refuge reminds us that “New Zealand has horrific domestic violence rates and our child homicide rates are some of the worst in the developed world”. The Women’s refuge estimates that domestic violence accounts for 38% of all homicides, 42% of all kidnappings and abductions, 44% of all grievous assaults 64% of all serious assaults and 34% of all minor assaults. The Government needs to consider these harsh realities when potentially reforming welfare in a way that makes it even more difficult for victims of domestic violence, in particular women and children, to leave violent relationships.

The WWG was established to promote better work outcomes for sole parents and other groups ‘at risk of long term benefit dependency’. Ironically, the recommendations of the WWG may have a hugely stigmatising effect on those it was intended to benefit, in particular women, who are made to be seen as too lazy to work if they receive a main benefit.

The underlying attitude of these recommendations must not be accepted at the Government level.

They ignore the fact that people are under and unemployed for a wide range of reasons, not the least of which is this National government’s inability to implement viable projects that actually create new jobs – not merely cycle ways.

For victims of domestic violence the domestic purposes benefit provides an interim pathway to safer and more stable living conditions. When relationships become violent, victims need to know that the Government will be supportive and will safeguard children and family, not stigmatize and punish them. Any attempts to reduce safeguards for victims of violence, such as the DPB, will act as a huge restriction on individuals’ ability to leave unsafe relationships.

This type of silent suffering is further compounded for those with the least voice in these circumstances- children. It’s estimated that 75,000 children are seen by police each year in incidents related to domestic violence.  In the midst of a violent relationship finding employment often will not, and should not, take priority over finding safety.

If any welfare reforms are going to work effectively then the generic features of a proposed ‘Jobseeker Support’ payment cannot be replicated in areas where specialised support to work is needed such as childcare and counselling services etc. The need for flexibility in understanding the complex needs of victims of domestic abuse and the role that a benefit often plays in transitioning these individuals and families into safe and secure environments must not be overlooked.


If ever…

Posted by on February 28th, 2011

.. there was a reason to invest in single parents to allow them to:

  • study and gain qualifications
  • improve their prospects of a job with a future
  • improve their sense of self worth
  • reduce the liklihood of intergenerational welfare dependency

this is it.

This interchange took place tonight on Red Alert in the comments section of Annette King’s post from a couple of days ago.

It’s powerful.

ianmac says:
February 28, 2011 at 5:48 pm  (Edit)

Mother. How do regard yourself in the scheme of things as a mother with two preschoolers and collecting the DPB? Are you a bad person? Or a person giving it her best shot?

A Mother says:
February 28, 2011 at 6:50 pm  (Edit)

Interesting question.

I see myself that I am a strong person, who is doing the best for my children (leaving a relationship that had gone bad due to ’someone’ getting a new job, trying to stay awake to do the work due to odd and long hours then eventually taking what his workmates used (you fill in the gaps) so no warning it was going bad, pre kids, but it got pretty nasty. He has got help since

Moving out with two young children (9 weeks and 16 months at the time), into a house by myself in Aug 2008 and in the same week made enquires into Uni as I knew I had to support them some way. I did Data entry before I had children (stoped work 2 days before I had my oldest) but that wouldn’t support us all. Following Feb started doing a uni prep and cross credited them over. I then started Uni degree part time last year (childcare too expensive) from home, didn’t give up and found a way around the canning of the TIA. It will take me 6 years instead of 3 but I will get there. I will qualify at the end of the year my youngest is 6. I think that doing this was pretty courageous really.

I put my children first. I volunteer at the Playcentre, doing office jobs there etc, helping out on sessions and doing the courses there too, as being involved with the education of my children is important to me. My children are happy, they laugh, are polite (please thank you your welcome) they share and have empathy. They ask questions and can’t think of anything worse than time out. That makes me happy. Playcentre has giving me support, friends with other mothers with children (hardly any of them are single, me and one other?)

I pick myself up and carry on and get things done. I am busy and it doesn’t involve sitting at home and drinking beer or wine. It doesn’t involve going out socialising. It does involve making sacrifices and being able to make money and meals stretch (like the other mothers as most are single income families, it involves sacrifices)

A lot hear I am on the DPB with young children, therefore think I am a bad person and must be lazy. They just hear DPB and the stigma of it is pinned on me. Due to having two little people, I do think some assume I fell pregnant while I was on the benefit and that is not the case.

I have a plan, I will get there, I am not just sitting around. I am busy, I am not lazy. I am who I am.

So I suppose I am giving it my best shot at a new chance of life for the three of us. Wish I didn’t have to collect the DPB and at the moment I am trying to think in my mind that it is the same as the student allowance as I am a student and a collecting a benefit like other students do. If it wasn’t the DPB it would be the student allowance. I know it isn’t the same but it helps ME feel better about the situation.

As Annette says: Making solo mums look for work when their child turns three, instead of five, says paid work is more important than the job of caring for and nurturing young children. I don’t get it.

The curious case of the missing recovery

Posted by on August 31st, 2010

Not much good news around about the NZ economy.

Standard & Poor Chief economist David Wyss told Auckland economists yesterday that there is a one in three chance of another crash and while the “recession is over”, it’s a very fragile recovery. NZ businesses say they cut too deep in the recession last year and are struggling to rebuild because many of the skilled workers they laid off have gone elsewhere – and who can blame them?  Tens of thousands got the chop with no redundancy pay and NZ wages and conditions are falling further and further behind Australia’s.  Confidence is faltering and today, our government will fork out around NZ$1.6 billion in taxpayers money to 35,000 depositers in South Canterbury Finance that were covered under the extended guarantee scheme.

The best our government can come up with?  Cut workers’ protection against unfair dismissal, restrict their access to union advice, cut their meals and rest breaks and put their holidays up for grabs.

You don’t have to go far to find some pretty grumpy voters. And they’re set to get a lot grumpier come the 1st October when GST goes up and most find that their tax cut has already been eaten up.

This clip from Jim Stanford (aka Lieutenant Stanfordo), who wrote “Economics for Everyone” has parallels, and also some warnings.  Paula Bennett’s Welfare Working Group has been promoting unemployment insurance, but look what happens to the workers who are laid off in this video.  Compulsory savings is an attractive idea, but without government guarantees, workers can end up getting nothing.  I hope someone makes a NZ version.