The government is planning to end the requirement for people on a benefit to return to work 12 months after they have a subsequent child:
Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni on Wednesday said the Government planned to change the law to remove the policy in November 2021, as part of a “overhaul” of the welfare system. Labour would have to win the election to bring this policy into effect.
Under the policy, a parent who is on the benefit and has another child is obliged to find part-time work when the child is 12-months old. It was introduced in 2012 by a National Government. . .
It is ironic that this was announced on the same day former National Minister Paula Bennett said this in her valedictory statement:
. . .As we were well into the global financial crises and many people were losing their jobs, we needed an immediate plan. We quickly implemented the ReStart, redundancy support and job support scheme to respond to the recession. These temporary financial packages have been recently put in place in various iterations to help us during the COVID economic crisis. We also introduced the job opportunities and Community Max programmes to specifically assist young people. Even though these were the hardest times that we had seen for a long time, we were able to see many positive results. Nearly 10,000 young people were helped with the Community Max and job support programmes and 73 percent did not go on benefit when they finished. One third of jobseekers were being exited into jobs before entering the benefit system, but more had to be done. These short-term measures were important, but our welfare system was part of the reason we were seeing intergenerational welfare dependence and too many people stuck in a cycle of hardship, reliant only on State assistance and a belief they would be there for decades.
The system seemed to throw people on welfare and then largely ignore them, and not offer them a path out. Sole parents were not expected to look for work until their youngest child was 18 years old. We too quickly wrote those with disabilities off; ignoring the huge potential many had and their desire to work. We designed a plan to make significant changes to the system that would look at what people could do, to believe that they had a contribution to society that would improve their lives, and also mean that we could reduce the huge welfare bill to taxpayers. I have been truly inspired by sole parents in this country. I understand how difficult it is to raise a child on your own and believe you don’t have the experience or skills to enter the workforce.
Those on welfare don’t need sympathy. They need to be backed, encouraged, and supported to plan their future and see a path off welfare dependency. We are currently taking backward steps, and that’s before COVID. Sympathy and kindness do not put food on the table or pay your bills. We need to understand dependency. We need to understand decades of despair and marginalisation that in too many people’s lives turns to violence, welfare dependency, and a pretty crappy life. But equally we have to be careful that that understanding doesn’t turn into an excuse and we lose our belief in people and their ability and their sense of self-responsibility.
We undertook the biggest welfare reforms that the country had seen. The emphasis was on people being available to work and on what they could do instead of what they couldn’t. We invested more on those that were at the highest risk of staying on welfare long term. We spent more on job support and training, and worked directly with employers and subsidised employment so they would give people a go so they could prove themselves. We saw over 30,000 fewer people on sole parent support because of these changes. I met remarkable people who are living bigger and better lives because they were in worthwhile work and had a huge sense of self-worth.
Working with and for teen parents was personal for me. I met some of the most incredible young people raising their children, studying in teen parent units and being supported by amazing people running homes and programmes. We extended support to them. We changed the welfare system so they received more support, but weren’t just handed hundreds of dollars a week and then ignored like they had been previously. Instead, we paid their rent and utilities, insisted that where possible they be in training. We helped look after their babies and supported them to budget and plan a life that wasn’t welfare dependent. It’s some of the work I am most proud of. And to all those parents, thanks for the baby cuddles. Most days that I was out and about, I insisted that a childcare centre or school be in my diary as I needed children to remind me why we do what we do and just to make my day a bit better.
I have always believed the answers to long-term dependency, child abuse, and neglect, and violence are in our communities. There is no programme that a politician or a bureaucrat can design that will solve these complex issues. Our community and Māori organisations, I believe, are best placed with support from the State to assist those that are living hard lives. We have to set targets and accountabilities, bring in Māori, community leaders, beneficiaries, workers, and the business sector, and know it will take some time but we can improve people’s lives. We need to set communities up to succeed.
Money is currently being thrown around but with no accountability. We have to be bold, brave. How can throwing millions and millions of dollars around and hoping some gets to those that need it most, through Government agencies and community organisations, and yet watching more people in despair be OK? Where is the accountability to the taxpayer, but, more importantly, where is the accountability for those people that so desperately deserve more help? Targets, measures, and accountability have gone. I regret, Bill English, that we didn’t get another three years to truly implement social investment into our bureaucracy and into our communities. We had tested and trialled, had seen people’s lives changing, and we were ready to scale it up significantly. . . .
The measures National introduced were working, rescuing people from long term benefit dependency and all the negative health, social and financial consequences of that.
. . .There is a wealth of data analysis showing children added to benefits stay there the longest and have the worst outcomes. But she doesn’t seem to have given the research a second thought.
Last year one in ten babies was added to an existing benefit at birth. For many of them it’s a life sentence to neglect, abuse, transience, involvement with OT and eventually their own criminal offending and custodial sentences.
The proposed policy looks as if it is being kind to beneficiaries it is not.
It is demonstrating the soft bigotry of low expectations that is anything but kind.
Really kind welfare policy gives support where it is needed but also works with all beneficiaries who could work to help them do so for their sakes, that of their children and the rest of us who pay the high costs, in financial and social terms, for long term benefit dependency.