Break in the inter-generational cycle of social dysfunction

September 13, 2014

Lindsay Mitchell blogs on one of National’s significant achievements - breaking the inter-generation cycle of social dysfunction:

. . . I asked MSD how many sole parents were on any benefit in 2008, 2011 and 2014 (June quarter).
Knowing they would provide working age numbers (18-64) I also asked for sole parents aged 16-17.

The results are graphed below. 18-64 year-olds follow an expected pattern – up during the recession. Though it should be noted that today the numbers are lower than after the economic boom period up to 2008.

Most interestingly though, the 16-17 year-old numbers have just plummeted. Across all ethnicities! Exactly what National wanted to achieve. And it’s not a the result of more 16-17 young parents being denied assistance. The teenage birth rate is also tracking down quite significantly.

This development cannot be overstated in importance. It means fewer children at risk of ill-health, under achievement, neglect or abuse, disaffection and drop-out, ending up in state care, and ultimately convictions and imprisonment – all most common among children with very young parents.

It represents a break in the inter-generational cycle of social dysfunction. Truly good news. . .

It is indeed truly good news for the people who are not trapped on welfare with all the negative consequences that is more likely to lead to.

It is also good news for the rest of us – more people in work and fewer on welfare saves us the long term social and financial costs of benefit dependency.

If people are looking for just one reason to vote for National this is one of the better ones because it is determined to carry on addressing the causes of problems like this rather than just throwing money at the symptoms.

A strong economy means more jobs, higher wages, and fewer people on welfare. #Working4NZ


Must not hesitate to condemn, utterly, the evil

September 12, 2014

Brendan Boyle, Chief Executive, Ministry of Social Development spoke wise and compassionate words at the Ashburton Civic Service to remember Leigh Cleveland and Peggy Noble yesterday:

 

. . . Whenever people die at work, different communities of family, friends and colleagues are drawn together. We see different sides of people. Death illuminates the whole person.

The thoughts I have to share are about the work of Public Servants, such as Leigh Cleveland and Peggy Noble, and our injured colleague Lindy Curtis, whom I am pleased to say is making progress to the relief of her family, friends and colleagues.

New Zealand is a democracy, something for which many have given their lives.

Public servants rightly commit to implementing the policies of the elected government, under the law.

For all of us it is a job. For many – perhaps most of us – that job includes elements of a calling, a vocation, a commitment to others.

And so it was for Leigh Cleveland and Peggy Noble and Lindy Curtis at work last week.

In the Ministry of Social Development we say: “We will always be here to help people in need”.

Leigh and Peggy were at work, being there for people in need, when they lost their lives. Lindy was there for people in need when she was shot.

They were serving people directly by providing them with information, entitlements, and services.

They will not be forgotten. Family and friends will remember and mourn them with an intimate and personal insight.

Those of us who worked with them will remember their service to New Zealand.

Like our other staff, they came to work each day prepared to face the whole range of New Zealanders who seek our services and support.

Like our other staff Leigh and Peggy responded with firmness in implementing policy, with kindness in explanation, and with intelligence in seeking solutions to people’s problems.

You can’t work on our front desks without empathy, sympathy and commitment to people.

In marking this tragedy, let’s also mark the professionalism they showed on all the other, uneventful, days of their working lives.

All of us who are committed to public service can take pride that Leigh and Peggy were a part of us, and realise, in their loss, the importance of our own work and the public service itself.

It is an honour to be here with both families and to share your grief.

Our respect for Leigh and Peggy has been shown by government workers throughout New Zealand marking two minutes silence a week after the event and in many other ways.

It is shown in the expressions of concern for Lindy and for those affected emotionally by the experience.

Most of all, our respect is shown by our continued work – often difficult, and always challenging – to help New Zealanders to help themselves to be safe, strong and independent.

Those who do this work also need to be safe.

Their families should not have to fear that they will not return home at the end of the day.

In the days, weeks and years ahead we will continue to think about, and learn what we can from what happened.

I take my responsibility for this seriously.

I will be asking myself, over and over, what more could I have done?

I know others are doing the same thing, and that at times we feel as if we are searching in darkness.

I’ve heard it said that it is better “to light one candle than to curse the darkness”.  We are looking for those points of light, those things we can learn from what has happened.  

Every action we take so that in the future staff will be safer will be a tribute to Leigh, and Peggy, and all victims of this terrible act.

But while we look for lessons, we cannot ignore the darkness.

We must not hesitate to condemn, utterly, the evil that occurred in the Ashburton office that day.

We may in time learn to what extent it was a result of social conditions, or medical issues, or psychological processes, or an act of will, or all of these.

But the victims – those who have died and those who must live with these memories – bear no responsibility for what has happened.

By seeking concrete actions for the future we honour the victims, and we push back against the darkness.

Already, our people are reflecting on what has happened and, putting aside their shock and anger, concentrating on what this means for us and our relationship with clients.

We respect those who need our services.

I see indications that we will be stronger in our expectations of mutual respect.

We will not be less tolerant but we will be more willing clearly to say what cannot be tolerated.

In that process we will begin to restore and renew trust.

But today is about this moment and honouring two whose lives have been taken because they worked for others, and recognising all those wounded and harmed by this attack.

Today is about realising, in our shared grief and loss, the strength of that community and society we work to build.

And it is about our responsibility, even at this moment, to not back away from our commitment to serve New Zealanders.

Hat tip: Lindsay Mitchell


Green for slow

August 18, 2014

The Green Party wants to give in-work tax credits to people who aren’t working and fund it with an envy tax.

The motivation to end child poverty is noble.

But in taking away the incentive to work they are going to increase benefit dependency, which as Lindsay Mitchell, says is one of the major determinants of poverty:

Let’s remember is was Labour that introduced the IWTC, the rationale being to attract more parents, mainly single, into employment. Clark and Cullen believed that the best way to get children out of poverty was to get their parents into paid work. From Cullen’s 2006 budget speech:

The Government believes that ultimately work is the best way out of poverty, and provides the best social and economic outcomes for families in the long run. Making work pay through the In-Work Payment component of the Working for Families package improves people’s opportunities to make a better life for themselves and their families.

In Social Developments author Tim Garlick wrote

The decision to strengthen work incentives by not increasing the income of non-working families was strongly criticised by some academics and community groups…

 But they stood by their conviction.

And the courts have upheld the policy’s legitimacy against multiple challenges from the Child Poverty Action Group.

Yet the Greens see no value in paid work. No value in children growing up with working role models.No value in actually earning an income; participating, contributing and producing.

All they see is a quick cash cure (with no gaurantee the money will be spent on the children) which comes with the almighty risk that more children will grow up welfare dependent as the financial rewards of working, as meagre as they are, disappear.

I must have said it hundreds of times. Welfare made families poor. More of it is not the answer.

Contrary to what the Greens believe, neither more welfare nor higher taxes are the answer to reducing poverty:

The Greens/Labour recipe of more and higher taxes would stall New Zealand’s economic recovery just when we are getting back on our feet after the Global Financial Crisis, National’s Associate Finance spokesman Steven Joyce says.

“The Greens have proposed a 40 per cent top tax rate that would affect many hard-working New Zealanders, including school principals, doctors, and many small business owners,” Mr Joyce says.

“We’ve been here before. A 40 per cent tax rate is damaging to the economy because it increases tax avoidance, penalises hard work, and sends some of our best and brightest offshore.

“And it is of course just another in a long list of new taxes Labour and the Greens want to introduce including a capital gains tax, a big carbon tax, taxes on water use, higher personal taxes, and regional fuel taxes.

“Just when the New Zealand economy is heading in the right direction and we are growing the largest number of new jobs in a decade, the Greens want to go back to the old tax and spend approach that clearly didn’t work in the lead up to the GFC.

“Back then, our best and brightest were flooding out the door for better opportunities in Australia. Now migration out to Australia has stopped.

“Back then, welfare rolls were already growing because of our domestic recession. Now 1600 people a week are moving off welfare and into work because of our growing economy.

“Back then, government spending had jumped by 50 per cent in just five years, pushing floating mortgage rates close to 11 per cent and leaving us with forecasts of budget deficits and soaring debt into the future.

Mr Joyce says the economic recipe that’s working includes lower, not higher, taxes and a government that is relentlessly focussed on growing jobs and getting people off welfare support and into meaningful work.

“National’s economic plan is working for New Zealand. We have just become one of the fastest growing economies in the OECD. Keeping with the plan is the best way of helping people the opportunity to get off welfare and into work. We should not go back to the failed recipes of the past,” Mr Joyce says.

And let’s not forget that the Greens are also promising a carbon tax which would impact directly on every individual and business adding costs not just to luxuries but to basic necessities including food and heating.

Anything they “give” to reduce poverty will be more than counteracted by what they take away in direct and indirect cost increases and the brake their policies would impose on the economy.

Green is supposed to be for go, but Green influence in government would be for slow and low when it comes to economic growth and the social progress and environmental protection and enhancement that depend on that.


Motherhood as career option

July 13, 2014

An interesting comment on Lindsay Mitchell’s column on the greatest risk: from Rosy Fenwicke:

. . . One piece missed from the analysis is the cultural movement which embraced the idealisation of ‘motherhood’ as a career option regardless of the financial means to support this ‘career’ choice. Prior to the ‘liberation’ of women in the 1970s or rather the ‘liberation of entitlement’, motherhood was always associated with how it was to be financially supported in the long term- hence marriage and the partnership with men.

The whole women’s movement, with its middle and upper income roots, did no service to women with little education/income or their children. Likewise the liberation of women, liberated men from their connection with parenting and their responsibilities towards their offspring.

I do think the liberation of women is a good thing but it is only now that the younger generation is getting it right and pairing it with the need to assume the responsibilities which go with it- earning your own living!

My generation may well have been the last to have been brought up with the expectation that we would marry and have children, in that order; that we would probably give up our careers, or at least put them on hold while our children were young; and that our husbands would provide for our families.

That was before the DPB which enabled women to escape abusive relationships, but also enabled them to replace their children’s fathers with the state.

I wouldn’t want to return to the days that women and their children were beholden to their husbands for everything and trapped in dreadful situations because they were financially dependent on bad men.

But I applaud government initiatives which are working with women on the DPB to help them help themselves and escape the poverty trap in which welfare can snare them.


Most deep-seated deprivation occurs in beneficiary families

July 10, 2014

Quote of the day:

Employment for existing sole parents, and deterrence for prospective, particularly young parents, is the most effective approach to reducing child poverty. Lindsay Mitchell

This is a very small part of a post which deserves to be read in full.

It shows that being in a benefit-dependent family is the greatest predictor of child poverty.

That isn’t an argument for more generous benefits.

It’s an argument in favour of current government policies which aim to help people from welfare to work, for their own sake and the sake of their children.

 

Great work by Paula Bennett MP and all the social sector team.

The post is an opinion piece in this week’s Listener which also published two letters:

Your support of Professor Jonathan Boston’s definition of child poverty in New Zealand (Editorial, July 5) simply perpetuates the debate over how much money to throw at the problem. But money is just a glib answer to so many of society’s ills and, in this case, skirts around the elephant that’s filling the room.

A child without access to a flat-screen TV and missing out on birthday parties might constitute deprivation from an academic perspective, but the most pervasive manifestation of poverty, and the most distressing to witness, is that of three- and four-year-olds who have never known or been shown love and affection from their parents; children who are emotional vacuums.

Boston argues that children from poor homes are less likely to succeed educationally. He’s just missed that elephant. Although emotionally deprived children are almost exclusively from low-income households, a household having a low income is not the cause of such child neglect. In fact, if a child from a low-income home is loved and emotionally secure, the scholastic disparity with children from more affluent backgrounds is almost non-existent.

Any early childhood teacher will testify that before a child can start to learn, he or she must be emotionally engaged. Teaching and engaging a child from an emotionally deprived background is almost impossible and certainly beyond the resources of most early-childhood educational centres. And without early intervention, these emotionally deprived children will later help to fill our mental and correctional facilities.

Unfortunately, there are no easy fixes to the problems of bad parents – parents who probably shouldn’t be parents – and social agencies that are poorly resourced and pursue the least challenging options. Nonetheless, a good start would be recognition and debate on New Zealand’s real child poverty issue: the love-starved little ones.

Roger Clarke
(Te Awamutu)

Poverty isn’t just financial it’s emotional too.

The second letter builds on this point

Your editorial appears very “ambulance at the foot of the cliff” stuff.

Everyone would agree it is not in society’s best interests to have malnourished children suffering various degrees of brain damage as a result of poor nutrition. Although there will be exceptions to this generalisation, it is reasonable to assume that a high percentage of parents of such children are just incompetent in a variety of ways – quite possibly as a result of ignorance and deprived upbringings of their own.

The priority needs to be to identify the poor carers and the common causes of their inabilities to cope. Then introduce policies that direct resources at those people while forcing them to address their shortcomings.

The majority of carers on low incomes are managing to bring up children who are adequately loved, fed, clothed and housed. For the deprived children, the issue in a great many cases is more that of carer competency than available cash. More money is not necessarily going to solve anything in such situations if the underlying competency issues are not addressed.

Denis Muir
(RD2, Kaiwaka)

This is why National’s policy is to work with teen parents to educate them and help them help themselves and their children.

Lack of money can be part of the problem but lack of knowledge, skills and love are often contributing factors to child poverty too.

That can happen in families at any income level.


Fewer teen births

July 9, 2014

One of National’s initiatives was to take an actuarial approach to welfare.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett sought, and got, figures for the long-term cost of welfare then worked on policies which would help reduce it.

Among the initiatives she introduced were those aimed at reducing teen-births – and they’re working.

Lindsay Mitchell writes:

. . . For years I have agitated about the long-term DPB population being derived from teenage births. The children of these parents form the most at-risk group.

But from 2008 the number of teenage births started dropping. In 2013 there were 29 percent fewer than in 2009.

But even better, at March 2009 there were 4,425 teenage parents on any main benefit. By March 2014 the number had dropped to 2,560. A 42 percent reduction.

The really important news is it’s happening across all ethnicities.The proportions are reasonably stable.

In 2009, 52 percent were Maori; in 2013, 55 percent.

For Pacific Island, the proportion rose slightly from 9 to 11 percent.

NZ European dropped from 29 to 25 percent.

The percentage who are aged 16-17 dropped from slightly from 16.5 to 15%.

The percentage who are male is unchanged 4%.

This means thousands fewer children experiencing poor outcomes – ill-health, disconnect from education,  in and out of fostercare, potentially abused and neglected, having the cards stacked against them from the outset.

Thousands of would-be teen mums will keep their own lives and  potential, and hopefully have children when they are ready to.

It’s a fantastic development.

National deserve at least some credit for it with their new young parent mentoring and benefit management regime. . .

The government can’t claim all the credit, but it has played an important part.

Measures to reduce teen benefit dependency haven’t been punitive nor have they been cheap.

They have involved working with young people to help them turn their lives around for their own sakes and those of their children.

That has both social and financial benefits for them and for the rest of us.

 


Incomes up, poverty down, inequality flat

July 9, 2014

The left tried to manufacture a manufacturing crisis and manufacturing improved.

They’ve declared a housing crisis and are particularly critical of the government’s social housing initiatives.

But Lindsay Mitchell reports good news on that front too:

. . . On the positive side,  in March 2008 the HNZC waiting list stood at 9,935. Now the number is 5,840 and includes those waiting for other social housing. A good news story for National. . .

And there’s improvement on two other problems on which the Left has been critical of the government – child poverty and inequality.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett has welcomed the latest Household Incomes Report showing child poverty has fallen three percent.

“Today’s release shows we are making progress.  From a survey conducted between July 2012 and June 2013, findings show that median household incomes rose four percent in real terms in the two years since July 2011,” says Mrs Bennett.

“While the gains since 2011 were shared reasonably evenly across incomes, the global recession in the two years previous impacted slightly more on lower incomes.  The report also shows that trend-line inequality has remained flat.

“This latest research shows New Zealand households have bounced back.  In the past year 84,000 more jobs have been added to the New Zealand economy, 8,600 sole parents have come off benefit in the past year and there are nearly 30,000 fewer children in benefit dependent households compared to two years ago.

Moving from welfare to work is one of the best ways to address poverty for adults and any children who depend on them.

Yet the opposition have opposed and criticised every move National has made to help people get off benefits and on to wages.

“Nevertheless the Government recognises more needs to be done to support our most vulnerable families. 

“Which is why, on top of free breakfasts to all schools that want it, a social worker in all decile 1-3 schools and warming up nearly 300,000 homes, we are in this year’s budget investing nearly $500 million over four years in services and support for families. 

Initiatives include:

  • $171.8 million to boost the paid parental leave scheme. Paid leave will be extended by four weeks – starting with a two-week extension from 1 April 2015, and another two weeks from 1 April 2016. The eligibility of paid parental leave will also be expanded to include caregivers other than parents (for example, permanent guardians), and to extend payments to people in less-regular work or who recently changed jobs.
  • $42.3 million to increase the parental tax credit from $150 a week to $220 a week, and increase the entitlement from eight weeks to 10 weeks, from 1 April 2015.
  • $90 million to enable GPs to offer free doctors’ visits and prescriptions for children under the age of 13, starting on 1 July 2015. Over 400,000 more children will benefit by including six- to 12-year-olds.
  • An additional $155.7 million to help early childhood centres remain affordable, meet demand pressures and increase participation towards the Government’s 98 per cent target.
  • $33.2 million in 2014/15 to help vulnerable children, including eight new children’s teams around the country to identify and work with at-risk children and their families, to screen people who work with children, and to support children in care.

“Recognising that housing costs are a significant issue for low income families, the Government is investing $95.7 million of new money into social housing over the next four years.

“There’s more financial assistance to help people into private rentals to free up social housing for those who need it most, there’s new funding to grow more social housing in partnership with NGOs, and easier social housing assessment processes with the transfer of responsibility to Work and Income

“This Government is determined to improve the lives of children in low income families by targeting resources to services and support that are guaranteed to make a difference for those children,” says Mrs Bennett. 

The Household Incomes Report for the 2012 calendar year can be found at: www.msd.govt.nz

Lindsay Mitchell notes:

Using MSD’s Economic Living Standards Index (ELSI), hardship rates for children rose from 15% in the 2007 HES to 21% in HES 2011, then fell to 17% in HES 2012. The trend finding is robust, though the actual levels at any time depend on a judgement call on the threshold used.

 Poorer people will always be hardest hit by hard times.

But the government borrowed to take the hardest edges off the GFC for the most vulnerable and has put a lot of effort into addressing the causes of poverty – one of the biggest of which is benefit dependence.

There’s still a long way to go but the trend is in the right direction – inequality is stable, benefit dependency has reduced and poverty is declining.


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