I see the National government of New Zealand is busy keeping the campaign promises it made. In particular the one it made about getting those lazy freeloading sole parents off the DPB (Domestic Purposes Benefit) and into work.
The Government is going to introduce part-time work obligations for two new groups of beneficiaries. These are DPB recipients whose youngest child is aged six or over, and people on a Sickness Benefit who have been assessed as being able to work part time. These people will need to be available for part-time work of at least 15 hours a week and accept suitable job offers, or undertake work-related training.
Back when National first released their policy, I welcomed it. As any parent knows, in order to be able to work while you have school age children, you need flexible work that falls within school days and school terms. So you need readily available and inexpensive childcare (inexpensive because otherwise the cost of child care eats up any extra income you might earn). You also need employers who can cope and understand if you have to take some time off work to care for a sick child. Understandably, schools don’t want sick children in the classroom, and as it turns out, if you leave a child unattended at home, Social Welfare gets very, very tetchy. National would also need to ensure that there were jobs available, and that at least some of those jobs were part time jobs. They would need to work with employers so that employers were prepared to take on part time workers, and to pay them well enough to ensure that workers had a living wage left in their pockets, after childcare costs.
I thought that in order to implement this work-obligation policy, National would of course ensure that all the necessary supports were there to enable sole parents to work. And that would have a huge benefit for all parents who are in paid employment. Even with two adults in a household, it can be very difficult to manage work and children. Trust me. I know about this, as I’m sure do many of the other parents who read this blog. On the whole, I thought that National’s policy could be a good thing.
Silly me. Those conditions aren’t in place at all. The provision of after-school care is still patchy, and it is still expensive. Unemployment is growing, and there’s no sign of the government engaging in job creation schemes at all. And check Julie’s post at The Hand Mirror to find out a little about the reality of part time working conditions.
So what on earth is the policy about? Of course, it’s not about punishing sole parents. No no no. It’s all about:
for most people, a benefit should only provide temporary support until they can return to work. In fact there is little chance of a better future for beneficiaries and their children unless they do come off a benefit and work for an income. Long-term welfare dependency imprisons people in a life of limited income and limited choices.
Many people on a benefit can’t wait to take the step back into work and we should applaud them for that. Some are fearful of it, however, and others are downright resentful. But the world of work is always going to offer more possibilities than the limitations of welfare.
Of course! That’s all they’re doing. Giving people choices, and setting them free!
Nothing about pandering to their base at all. Ah… no… wait a minute – there’s a bit more in that speech from the great blancmange otherwise known as John Key.
People who receive a benefit are able to do so only because others are going to work every day, earning a wage and paying taxes. In many cases these are people who are themselves far from well off.
So it’s not fair on working New Zealanders to have people receiving benefits but not making every reasonable attempt to pick themselves up, find a job, and stand on their own two feet.
I see a nasty, vicious dogwhistle in this policy. Actually, I take that back. It’s not a dogwhistle at all. It’s beneficiary bashing, pure and simple.
And the government plans to engage in beneficiary bashing itself. What’s it going to do to “encourage” people to get jobs? Cut the benefit if they don’t. But only by half for sole parents.
The Government is going to give case managers more flexibility, and a better range of tools, by introducing an intermediate step of a 50 percent reduction in the person’s benefit, followed by full suspension and then cancellation of the benefit.
Where beneficiaries have children in their care, however, they will face a maximum sanction of half their benefit.
It’s just a bit of a shame about the kids going hungry.
Update: The government’s proposal to work test beneficiaries is inconsistent with the Human Rights Act, and the bill’s Regulatory Impact Statement admits that they have no flippin’ idea whether cutting the benefit will have any impact on people getting jobs. No Right Turn has all the details: Discriminatory, unjustified, sadistic