Most fundamentally important task

18/05/2014

Photo: We’ve committed an extra $500m in the Budget to support children and families. http://ntnl.org.nz/1sCYDoh

No-one should contradict the first half of this sentence – parenting is the most fundamentally important task in society.

That they need support should be beyond debate too.

However, the nature of that support and who gives it and how much is given is debatable.

Parent with babies and young children used to be able to rely on getting practical and moral support from  extended family, friends and neighbours.

Then the state got involved through family benefit.

A generation ago all mothers received the FB for each child from birth until the end of the year the child turned 18.

It wasn’t a lot, about $5 a week from memory, though to put that in perspective the rent on my first flat, in 1976, was $7 and the next year rent was only $4.75.

The FB was dropped by Ruth Richardson on the grounds that it was ridiculous for someone like her to get the money when she and her family didn’t need it while other families needed more.

Various forms of more targeted help for families have been introduced since then.

One of those is Paid Parental Leave – targeted not on need, but whether or not the mother was in paid work for the required length of time before the baby was born.

That means wealthy families in which the mother has been working get help for jam while poorer families in which the mother wasn’t working might not have enough for bread.

The importance of time together for mothers and babies to bond is beyond debate.

In the past that meant most women stopped working for some time and the family lost income as a result.

It’s now the norm in most western countries to pay some form of PPL to give some financial support to women who stop work to care for their babies.

But it still leaves the question of whether there should be help for families in which the mother wasn’t in paid work, if not universally at least for those on lower incomes.

There is of course another question – whether or not it’s the taxpayers’ role to provide financial support for any new parents and the wealthier ones in particular.

But once a benefit like PPL, it’s politically difficult to cut it.

I’m still left with another question, though – would the practical and moral support parents used to get from extended family, friends and neighbours be at least as valuable for many as the financial help from the state?

Regardless of your financial position, it’s very difficult doing the most fundamentally important task of parenting in isolation.


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