The road to hell is paved with good intentions
The Child Poverty Action Group has a list of goals it believes will improve outcomes for New Zealand children.
- Substantially improve core benefits;
- Remove harsh sanctions that impact on children;
- Ensure that all benefits and all part of Working for Families (WFF) are indexed annually to prices and wages;
- Remove the hours of paid work criteria from the WFF In-Work Tax Credit and extend it to all low-income families;
- Treat adults in the benefit system as individuals without penalising them for being in a partnership;
- Focus on what will give children better outcomes and less on moving their carers into paid work; and
- Ensure that applicants receive all the assistance to which they are entitled.
SUBSTANTIALLY INCREASE CORE BENEFITS
Sole Parent Support basic weekly rate is $340 net. The rate is the same for a sole parent on Jobseeker support. A couple on Jobseeker support with children receive $195.50 each.
It is impossible to consider basic rates without taking into account accommodation subsidies:
And tax credits for children of beneficiaries:
(The new IRD site does not publicise rates but these were current in 2018.)
There's not a lot of point in tallying possible incomes but you can see that the components above and beyond the core rate are significant.
I do not doubt that life is tough on a benefit but - for the large majority - it is supposed to be a temporary state of affairs. When the margin between working and welfare is reduced, the risk of dependency is increased. No study I am aware of has ever shown children in long-term benefit dependent homes have better outcomes.
REMOVE HARSH SANCTIONS THAT IMPACT ON CHILDREN
Sanctions exist to ensure that beneficiaries meet their obligations. We all have obligations, whether to our partners, employers or employees. That's the real world.
We wouldn't adopt a general attitude that people with children should be exempt from obligations and it shouldn't be applied in the world of welfare.
ENSURE THAT ALL BENEFITS AND ALL PART OF WORKING FOR FAMILIES (WFF) ARE INDEXED ANNUALLY TO PRICES AND WAGES
The first part of this has already been implemented by the current government. If workers collectively get a annual wage increase so do beneficiaries.
REMOVE THE HOURS OF PAID WORK CRITERIA FROM THE WFF IN-WORK TAX CREDIT AND EXTEND IT TO ALL LOW-INCOME FAMILIES
The CPAG has fought for this through repeated court cases and lost. It was the 1999 - 2007 Labour government that created the in-work tax payment with the explicit purpose of getting beneficiaries - especially sole parents - into work. The Clark administration believed that the best way out of poverty is work. But working has other benefits too. It provides purpose, social contacts (not to mention romantic partners), and self-esteem. It also role models expectations to children.
TREAT ADULTS IN THE BENEFIT SYSTEM AS INDIVIDUALS WITHOUT PENALISING THEM FOR BEING IN A PARTNERSHIP
In 2018 economist and social policy advisor Michael Fletcher was commissioned by Superu to investigate individualising entitlements in New Zealand’s benefit system. He modelled changes that “… suggest the cost of individualising all entitlements would be in the order of $1.5 billion to $2 billion.” But he also cites forthcoming work from Anderson and Chapple that estimates individualisation would cost several billion dollars per annum. A Universal Benefit Income would achieve the same end. In 2010, when Treasury modelled a UBI of $300 per week for all individuals aged 16 and over, it identified a $45-57b annual price tag (which would replace the current $27 billion cost.)
What did Churchill say, something about a society trying to tax itself into prosperity is like a man trying to lift himself up by the handle of the bucket he is standing in? He might as well have a child in the bucket with him. The same would still be true.
FOCUS ON WHAT WILL GIVE CHILDREN BETTER OUTCOMES AND LESS ON MOVING THEIR CARERS INTO PAID WORK
So many studies on so many outcomes have shown children have better outcomes with two parents. Having two parents improves outcomes even when income is low. The two-parent family was the prevalent type before we began subsidising single parents.
Notwithstanding, some children are better off with just their mother or father, and a period of being supported by the taxpayer to stabilise a family situation doesn't present a problem. But again it should be temporary. Carers should be looking to work to provide for their children.
ENSURE THAT APPLICANTS RECEIVE ALL THE ASSISTANCE TO WHICH THEY ARE ENTITLED
Which should be the case, as should ensuring parents on a benefit are meeting all their obligations eg trying to find a job. Surely it's a two-way street? But CPAG disagree as per their prior goal calling for the abolition of sanctions.
It isn't at all clear to me what this brave new world of bigger benefits with no strings attached is going to do for children. Money can't buy love. In fact unconditional money finances lifestyles unconducive to happy and safe childhoods.
Lindsay Mitchell is a welfare commentator who blogs HERE.