Brighter future report: Two child welfare queens should flunk job interviews

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?