Is welfare part of the problem?

21/03/2014

Is poverty driving family break-ups?

Surprise Census figures suggest that poverty may be breaking up the nuclear family. . .

Wellington analyst Paul Callister and Statistics NZ demographer Robert Didham said in Auckland poverty was increasingly concentrated because of housing costs.

“What you are seeing in Auckland is a real sorting effect in the housing market, it’s pushing the sole parents into certain areas,” Dr Callister said.

He said the welfare system meant many couples were better off by separating. Welfare entitlements are based on family income, so if one person loses a job they can’t get a benefit if their partner is working. . .

Lindsay Mitchell points out that this isn’t a chicken or egg scenario:

For a nuclear family to “break-up” it has to exist first. In 2012 the proportion of unmarried births was 48 percent. In the same year, 21 percent of babies born were dependent on welfare – usually the DPB – by Christmas. Around half of these children will spend 7 or more years in the benefit system.

It isn’t poverty driving family disintegration. It’s the availability and heavy use of welfare. This is particularly prevalent amongst Maori because welfare incomes are close to incomes from low paid, unskilled jobs.

As the article notes, “Education is also a powerful factor.” Exactly. In time females with qualifications and aspirations may choose not to embark on a career of poverty-stricken single parenthood. Then again, as long as it’s a seemingly ‘easy’ option the pattern of single mothering and subsequent hardship will continue.

If welfare is regarded as a preferred option for people it is part of the poverty problem, not the solution.

Welfare has a place for those unable to look after themselves, some of those will require long-term, possibly permanent assistance.

But for most recipients it should be a temporary safety net not a long-term hammock.

This is why this government’s policies which are addressing long-term benefit dependency are helping those who can help themselves to do so.


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