I’m inclined to see the National party’s plan to work-test sole parents as a good thing. We’ve been told a number of times that National has comprehensive policies prepared, and that it will release them during the election campaign. We know it’s not really a matter of money – after all, the policy will only save the government about $20million each year, so I’m guessing that the point of the policy is one about the value of working and supporting yourself and your dependents. I’m going to assume that given that the policy is about ideas rather than the money, National has some comprehensive policies that will need to be in place to make this particular policy work.
The detail (so far) of the policy – sole parents will be required to look for part-time work (15 hours a week) once their youngest child has turned six, and presumably is at school. The advantage of waiting until then is that this solves some of the childcare issues for sole parents.
So what is going to be required to make this happen? First up, there’s going to have to be a number of employers who are prepared to offer 15 hours work a week, during school hours. There’s no point in requiring sole parents to work 15 hours a week if no such jobs are available, so I’m assuming that National will be putting some sort of incentives in place to encourage the creation of such jobs.
Those jobs will need to be provided by employers who don’t mind too much if a worker works say, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday one week, and different days the next, in order to look after sick children, or to attend events at school (parent teacher interviews, school sports days, all the usual commitments that come with having kids at school). So the work will need to be very flexible.
And the work will have to be just in term time. Kids do need to be supervised in school holidays, or otherwise, as Blogger on the Cast Iron Balcony Helen so fetchingly puts it, they will end up building meth-labs in the back yard. It will probably take a bit of legislation or maybe incentives for employers to make this happen too, so that might be another dead rat that National needs to swallow, given that traditionally, they’re all about “keeping government out of business” and “leaving people free to make their own decisions” and “cutting compliance costs for businesses.”
Alternatively, if employers prepared to offer flexi work can’t be found, then National will need to look at developing some serious out-of-school care services, and paying for them. At present it can be rather hard to find out-of-school care, and state schools are not required to provide it, so parents can be left struggling. Of course, state schools are not resourced to provide out of school care, and many of them don’t have suitable spaces for it. Classrooms aren’t available – they are teachers’ working spaces, and contrary to popular belief, most, if not all, teachers are at school working before 8am each day, and there until 5pm in the evening. School halls often don’t have toilet and kitchen facilities handy, and they are often too big to be heated easily. And even then, out-of-school care programs don’t really work for teenagers, so you’re into the meth-lab problem again.
You see, here’s the critical thing about sole parents. They are, for whatever reason, sole parents. That means that they have no other back-up, they have no one else who can step up and help in an emergency. The other parent is, by definition, not there. And most times, family members aren’t available to help either. They are busy working themselves. That means that if the state is going to require sole parents to work, then the state will need to ensure that conditions are such that sole parents can work.
I’m assuming that in order to make the work for the DPB policy effective, National has some comprehensive policies about the provision of childcare and out-of-school care too. I’m also assuming that they will be paying for them, because there’s little or no point in forcing sole parents to get part time jobs, but then turning around and taking the income off them through high childcare fees.
I see this as a fantastic outcome of National’s “work for the the DPB” plan. If the state gets serious about creating the conditions for flexi-work and providing good access to childcare, then all working parents will benefit. All working parents will be able to access good, low-cost childcare.
So I see the “work for the DPB” plan as a good one. It entails a whole lot of other family friendly policies too, and I’m delighted to think that the National party is prepared to put them in place.
Unless of course, the policy is all about bashing sole parents.