Few New Zealanders begrudge some of their taxes being spent on welfare for people who, through no fault of their own, have fallen on hard times and need a hand to get back on the rails.Most draw the line, however, at helping people who assume a right to be maintained by their fellow citizens in the lifestyle of their choice. I’m not talking here about the usual sad suspects, such as the women who leave school at 15 and have a succession of children, often by multiple feckless fathers, and rely on the state to pay for their upbringing.
No, I’m talking about people like the Auckland couple interviewed recently by the New Zealand Herald on what the Labour Party’s $60-a-week baby bonus would mean for them.The female partner lectured in art history until a couple of years ago, when she took time off to study for a doctorate (since attained).
She and her partner were on the unemployment benefit when they had a son 16 months ago, though she went back to work for two days a week when the boy was five months old and now works a three-day week.The couple also received an accommodation supplement and family tax credits for the baby and the male partner’s 13-year-old son from a previous relationship, though we were not told what their total taxpayer support came to.
The male partner, meanwhile, was described as an actor and musician with an “unstable” income. He had a low-paid sales job but gave it up for a six-week acting engagement. He’s now studying full-time.What’s striking about this couple is that they appear to have choices. They are educated. Unlike some beneficiaries, they have some control over their lives.
But they chose to have a baby, despite being on an unemployment benefit.She chose to toss in a full-time job to study for a doctorate. Assuming her qualification is in art history, it’s not exactly a field rich in career opportunities – but then, who are we to question her life goals?
He had a full-time job but chose to drop it in favour of a short-term acting gig. Perhaps he felt a sales job was not worthy of his talents.The article didn’t say whether he gets a benefit while he studies (another choice), but it’s reasonable to infer that he does. They could hardly exist on her income from three days’ work.
If these people have experienced hardship, as they claim, then it was self-inflicted.They are not no-hopers, powerless to determine their future. They have options. But underlying their decisions is the implicit assumption that the taxpayer will fund their chosen lifestyle.
This is a perverse outcome of a welfare system that has expanded far beyond what its original architects envisaged.We can only be thankful that the couple’s sense of entitlement isn’t more widely shared – because if everyone felt free to do what they wanted, comfortable in the assurance that the state would support them, society would have collapsed long ago.
Karl du Fresne blogs at http://karldufresne.blogspot.co.nz. This article was first published in the Dominion Post.