How much breeding counts as “breeding for a business?” And what’s in a “work requirement?” The answers may surprise.

National released its new welfare policies yesterday, to a chorus of approval from the Get Tough brigade. The speeches were their style! Hiding in the actual policy, however, are some pretty odd policy choices. Here are two:

Breeding for a business

Consider these two families:

Mary and Bob have been married for 16 years. Bob is the breadwinner, Mary stays at home. Mary becomes pregnant, and at the same time the marriage breaks down. Mary has few skills and has a tough time getting a job in this economic environment. She is initially on the unemployment benefit, but transfers to the DPB when her first child is born.

Jane and Jim have been married for 16 years, and have a 14 year old child. Jim is the breadwinner, Jane stays at home. Jane becomes pregnant again, and at the same time the marriage breaks down. Jane has few skills and has a tough time getting a job in this economic environment. She goes on the DPB, and remains on it when her second child is born.

Here is the question: How long should each of the women be eligible to receive the DPB without a work requirement after the birth of their most recent child?

Take a moment to consider your answer...

Whatever the number you came up with, you probably decided the two mothers should have the same amount of time, right? Because they are in very similar circumstances. And because that would be providing similar support for the two very young kids who are also in very similar circumstances. That is what I thought as well.

But National’s new welfare policy doesn't think so. It treats these two women very differently. Mary remains eligible for the DPB for five years before a work test kicks in, to allow her the time needed to care for her young child. Jane, on the other hand, faces a work test after only one year.

Five years vs one year is a big difference, and will likely have a lifelong impact on the prospects of the kids. Why the difference? Because, according to National, Jane is a welfare queen, someone who irresponsibly has a baby while already on the DPB.

National wants to provide an incentive against the kind of reckless, dependency-driven behavior Jane engaged in, and the form that incentive takes is to force Jane’s one year old into whatever daycare is available while she does whatever low-skill job she can find in her home town during a global economic downturn.

Does that sound like a reasonable policy to you? For my part, I do not think so. It seems to me like a pretty arbitrary way for politicians to look tough while actually punishing some genuinely in-need Mums and their young kids. No thanks.

(I made the mistake of expressing my doubts yesterday in the comments section of Kiwiblog. Within the hour there were people telling me that women who have a baby without a job need to submit to permanent contraception before receiving any assistance for the child, others telling me horizontal equity is a liberal myth, the State is an armed gang, and so on. So not much information there. )

Work requirements

National is careful to say that they won’t punish everybody who doesn't have a job when their second DPB kids turns one. After all, they haven't created many jobs for people to have. What you need is to be is making an honest effort.

Of course, we’ve seen attempts to target hardcore breed-for-the-benefit-bludger-types by making them show willing elsewhere. They aren’t too successful. The results often look something like this clip from Trainspotting (warning: sweary and druggie).

This kind of requirement is much better at making politicians look tough than at actually getting beneficiaries into work. The large majority who want work are already trying, and the requirement just gives them more admininstrative crap to wade through. The small minority who are determined not to work are no dumber than Renton and Spud.

Brighter future?

Comments (11)

by Ian MacKay on November 02, 2011
Ian MacKay

"The results often look something like this clip from Trainspotting (warning: sweary and druggie)."

Aha. As part of the deal each candidate for Government "assistance" could be given a copy of this clip so that they could improve their performance. (But perhaps translated into English.)

Of course the strategy Key/Joyce use is to early release draconian ideas, then later for the election, release much kinder plans to show that Key is a caring fellow intent on really helping unfortunate folk. Tiring though.

by Jess Charlton on November 02, 2011
Jess Charlton

From the National Party website:

"A lot of people who get up in the morning and go off to work are just like people on benefits – they are not well off, they are sole parents, and they have medical conditions of their own.
And actually, it’s these working people who are paying taxes to keep the benefit system going."

As well as being an incitement to war between one solo parent and another, this statement is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Under National, the government's social responsibilities are slung over the shoulders of these working people. But actually under Labour, this load would be lightened dramatically because the CGT would provide an alternative source of revenue to support those in need.

Regarding the "additional child on a benefit clause", correct me if i'm wrong, but I interpreted that to mean if you have one child while on a benefit, then have another child while still on a benefit, (rather than if you already have a child, then have a subsequent child on a benefit.)


by Rob Salmond on November 02, 2011
Rob Salmond

@Jess: I agree that National's wording on the trigger for reduced DPB time isn't srystal clear. I interpret it to mean if you have a dependent child, are on the DPB, and have another child, then the shorter fuse applies. I can see how you get to your interpretation, although I think that one would be much harder for officials to keep track of, and could lead to further oddities.

Contrast a solo Mum with four kids already while living in Aus, who returns home, goes on the DPB here and has another. She would get the long fuse. But another solo Mum  who had one kid on the DPB and promptly got a job for fifteen years until the downturn hit as she was having her second would get the short fuse instead. I can see how National's polic might plausibly come out either way, but I'm not sure one is much better than the other.

by donna on November 02, 2011

Ha-ha. That quote on from the Nats' website reminds me of Nick Clegg's 'alarm clock Britain'. I wonder if it's in the Crosby/Textor Manual of Welfare Slogans?

What is galling is that the government's reforms are being supported by the recommendations from its Welfare Working Group, that un-august body which blatantly misrepresented data and research findings. Among them is the beat up about those breeding for a business. The report offers no evidence that the behaviour of DPBs is any different from the general population, and overseas research suggests it's not. Yesterday the Minister admitted there was no research on the circumstances under which women get pregnant while on a DPB. And I have yet to see an explanantion for how this punitive nonsense will curtail the behaviour of the 12% of DPBs who are men.

And no, kinder plans are not on the way. This is probably the first tranche of a much bigger shake up. If you are on welfare, know someone who is, or think you might ever need welfare, be very afraid.

by Ian MacKay on November 02, 2011
Ian MacKay

Donna " This is probably the first tranche of a much bigger shake up."

They did say that they were going to introduce the "biggest ever shake-up of Welfare." So this is just a beginning.

Anne Tolley has also said that things like National Standards are just a beginning and she has many more plans for change - after the Election.

Beware the Dreaded Mandate.

by Flat Eric on November 02, 2011
Flat Eric

You dont mention in your example cases that there is an identified father that will be liable for support of the children from that marriage; that its entirely possible for custody of the existing child to be shared; and also fail to mention that matrimonial property will be divided between the parties, the presumption after 16 years being equal shares.  In such a case, is state support even necessary?

by Rob Salmond on November 03, 2011
Rob Salmond

@ SPM  It is true that I didnt invent a complete life story for the two families. My point was about **differences** in how the government proposes to treat them, rather than about how much underlying support someone in their broad situation deserves. I don't need a complete life story to make that point - you can assume whatever else you like about the families, just make sure to apply that assumption to both of them.

But in your comment you make all kids of assumptions of your own. You assume the estranged father is going to pay up, that they have lots of assets to split, and so on. The government cannot and should not make assumptions like that in cases of marital breakdown. Part of the point of the DPB is to allow solo Mums some independence from their estranged partners. This is especially crucial in cases of abuse, many of which are undiscoverable to outsiders. So to answer your question, "yes, solo Mums without employment deserve state assistance, no matter how rich their ex-husband is. They are not an appendage of their ex-husband's finances."

by Flat Eric on November 03, 2011
Flat Eric

Then perhaps means testing ought to be the norm.  I cannot see a reason for state assistance in your final situation: a single parent with adequate assistance from an identified and legally responsible former partner.  It matters precisely how rich the ex-husband is.  Why is the taxpayer picking up the bill?

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