A couple of weeks ago the Government announced their plans to improve the benefits system and our Prime Minister John Key said the reforms would be a kick up the pants for those who needed it.
It’s not a surprise that solo parents on the domestic purposes benefit are a target. They seem to be an easy target for this government, especially since they can say the Minister understands their situation. Solo parents’, whose youngest child is over six, will be work tested, and may have to work between 15 and 29 hours each week. If they don’t comply, their DPB will be cut in half.
PreWorld War 2 NZ made a commitment as a country to offer its citizens a better life and a secure future. There was a belief that everyone had the right to a job and that it was the Government’s job to make sure that was possible. For nearly 40 years full employment was achieved. The State achieved this though the public service, industrial investment, and subsidizing industry through hard economic times. At the same time a welfare state was created and NZ led the world in the provision of social welfare. The concept of state care from the ‘cradle to the grave’ became an established part of New Zealand life.
The provision of state support transferred money from the wealthy who typically had large savings to the poorer who used their extra income to shop – significantly helping to grow the economy.
The DPB was introduced in 1974 and critics complained that this benefit would lead to an explosion in the numbers of sole parents. Others argued that the DPB was an important right for women. It gave them and their children some protection from failed relationships that were potentially harmful.
The 50s, 60s and 70s is the period in New Zealand history commonly referred to as our decent period and NZ was known as the Land of Plenty, the land of milk and honey.
Then the 80s came and the Labour government radically restructured and the ideal of full employment was sacrificed for the ideal of low inflation. Unemployment keeps wages down and this has been the main mechanism used to keep inflation stable. Since that time we have had fluctuating unemployment between 5 and 12%. At the end of last year 7.3% of population were unemployed.
In the 90s the National Government cut benefit rates. They set the benefits at 20% below the poverty line. They justified this by saying it would create an incentive for people to get off benefits. And so we really started to blame the unemployed for being unemployed forgetting that unemployment was created to keep inflation down. And when we talk about these solo mothers having children so they ‘can live the life ‘ we definitely forget about the poverty and there seems to be no consideration of why they may need financial support.
The history is pretty clear that unemployment benefits business – it keeps wages down and increases spending in the economy. But there are other reasons, apart from a lack of jobs, that mothers need the DPB. According to the economist Anne Else, “Seventeen years ago a solidly researched study of sole mothers found that the worst-off group with the worst prospects were older mothers with few marketable skills who had experienced domestic violence (and were often still experiencing it in some form). Little or nothing was being done to help women in this then, and even less is being done now. “
In 2008, police recorded 44,628 family violence offences. And they estimate that they are only called to about 18% of Domestic Violence incidents. In 2008 almost 2000 women needed to use the refuge safe house.
I volunteer with refuge in Wellington and I have seen, many times, women loose their jobs because their partner or ex-partner turns up and causes a scene. I have also advised women, scared for their lives, to give up their jobs for their own safety.
Imagine for a second you’re in a violent relationship everyday living on egg shells trying to make it ok, Worried for yourself and your children. Then you finally manage to get the opportunity and the courage to escape. You know your partner is going to be hunting for you so you go into hiding. It does not make any sense for you to continue working. Your partner would find your and you would be putting yourself and your children in danger. Even if you were protected at work, imagine how scared and bewildered your children would feel alone in a strange place, assuming they’re old enough to be left alone.
Now remember too, benefits were set below the poverty line. According to MSD more than 1 in 5 children in this country were experiencing serious hardship or unacceptably severe restrictions on their living standards. This is not a choice any person should be made to make. And to now threaten to cut the DPB by half if the mother doesn’t work -it’s as cruel as the physical kicks of the abuser. I only wish we could take out protection orders against the State.