Thursday, April 18, 2024

Lindsay Mitchell: Babies and benefits - no good news

Ten years ago, I wrote the following in a Listener column:

Every year around one in five new-born babies will be reliant on their caregivers benefit by Christmas. This pattern has persisted from at least 1993. For Maori the number jumps to over one in three. Add to this Treasury's advice to the Ministerial Committee on Child Poverty,

"...around 1 in 5 children will spend more than half of their first 14 years in household supported by main benefit. This group is at the highest risk of material hardship and poor outcomes across a range of dimensions”.

I am reflecting on this as I receive the latest update in an OIA response from MSD.

Of all the babies born in 2023, 20.2 percent were on a benefit by the end of December. For Maori babies the percentage rises to 34.3%.

My news is not really news. It is confirmation of the ‘same-old, same-old.’ Progress had been made when, by 2017, the portion had fallen to 17.1 percent of all children, but we all know what happened next. The Minister for Child Poverty Reduction – Jacinda Ardern – made it her task to lift welfare incomes for beneficiaries with children.

She said in her 2008 maiden speech:

The majority of children living in poverty now are dependants in families where the main means of support is a Government benefit. But if we believe that our welfare State is a necessary safety net and a support for those unable to support themselves—as I do—then the children living in these circumstances should not be living in poverty. These children are not part of an underclass, as I have heard them called; they are part of our community, and we have a responsibility to continue the momentum of the previous Labour Government and to finally rid ourselves of poverty in Aotearoa New Zealand. This is our collective challenge.

She would have responded to Treasury’s evidence (that these children face material hardship and poor outcomes) by arguing, ‘Of course, that’s because they don’t have enough money.’

She had no sympathy for the counter arguments that growing up fatherless (72% of last year’s welfare babies had caregivers on the Sole Parent Support benefit) and in jobless households, is also harmful for children. Ardern was happy to risk more of both in order to claim a poverty reduction.

In 2016 when I wrote a paper demonstrating the strong link between failing family structure and growing child poverty, Ardern responded flippantly in a Sunday Star Times column:

This week I opened the paper to find some astonishing "news" - a lack of marriage is to blame for child poverty.

I've spent the better part of six years reading and researching the issue of child poverty, and what we need to do to resolve this complex problem in New Zealand

And yet here it was, the silver bullet we have all been looking for. Marriage. Getting hitched. Tying the knot. It turns out that we didn't need an Expert Advisory Group on child poverty, or any OECD analysis for that matter - apparently all we really need is a pastor and a party.

No matter that the strongest correlate for child poverty is the sole parent rate. The collapse of the stable two-parent family – particularly for Maori whereby last year 82.5 percent of babies were born to unmarried parents – has had a dramatic effect here and around the western world. Yes, many more parents live together without “tying the knot” but the stability of de facto relationships does not match the stability of marriages, especially with the advent of children. Ardern herself must have eventually felt some regard for the institution or wouldn’t have entered into herself.

But the genie that is unpartnered parenting is not going back in the bottle. The too-frequent accompanying feature - being born and raised on welfare - is now firmly part of the NZ social landscape.

Are there any glimmers of hope for future change?

I had anticipated that the significant reduction in teenage births post 2008 would put a clamp on one of the main feeder mechanisms to long-term dependency. Initially, Sole Parent Support recipients aged 18-24 reduced but for the last six years, the numbers have stuck despite further drops in the relevant birth rates.

National has not included sole parent benefits in its two welfare reform targets. New MSD Minister Louise Upston has been a single mother and called it “the hardest time of my life.” Her approach seems to be a softly, softly plan to help single parents into work. She does not have the bit between her teeth in quite the same way her predecessor Paula Bennett did.

On a brighter note, NZ’s culture may yet be positively influenced by our fastest growing minority – Asians. This group is by and large family-oriented, self-reliant and takes care of its young as evident below:

(Note: When their youngest child turns 14 the parent/caregiver moves onto Jobseeker benefit. They remain on Sole Parent Support if younger children are under 14.) - Click to view

What these immigrants (and subsequent generations) think about NZ’s lackadaisical benefit system can only be guessed at. But their attitudes will find political expression in the coming years.

NZ may not be willing or able to continue fully subsidising the cost of raising children long-term at the rate of one in every five. While Jacinda Ardern might consider it our “collective challenge” to do so, I prefer the restoration of committed stable partnerships between parents as a far more worthy goal. But to achieve that, damaging incentives have to go.

Lindsay Mitchell is a welfare commentator who blogs HERE. - where this article was sourced.


orowhana said...

my partner and I have been in a defacto relationship for 45 years. We are now grandparents. We are atheists and business partners.
One couple in our peer group who married at the same time as we began our relationship are still married . All the rest are divorced or deceased.Marriage is no guarantee of anything in life except contact with lawyers.
Marriage is no guarantee of honourable or decent behaviour.
Strong role models ( especially the women in a household) are far better guarantees of stability.Respect for women is the single most important value any man can possess. All the rest flows from that.
One of our offspring is married had has no prenuptial agreement.
The other two live in defacto relationships with pre nuptial agreements and strongly supportive partners.

robert arthur said...

There is the incentive of one of the flash new state units surrounded by like minded souls, effectively iwi.The propect for a low skill plain female alone is bleak. A child or several opens many doors as well as to a state unit. Too bad if the disposition cannot cope much of the time.

Anonymous said...

All present and future workers ( i.e. tax payers) must understand that:

1. this very expensive practice will be a basic and accepted part of the ethno-state which NZ seems to be on track to become

2. this will be funded exclusively by tax payers - not by the booming Maori economy.

Having understood this, they may ask themselves:

Why live and work to build a life in such a country?

robert Arthur said...

A major problem with the for maori by maori approach to maori health and other services is that there is no incentive to encourage responsible family size; in fact the contrar, evey little dilinquent rebel being a potentil Te Pati voter. The problem of irresponsibly brought up children is exacerbated, not reduced.

Barend Vlaardingerbroek said...

"All we really need is a pastor and a party", huh. Typical of the pseudointellectuals such as Ardern whose idea of intelligent discourse involves the liberal use of straw men.
Marriage as we know it in European and British law is not a religious rite but a secular one involving a contract of a special nature - the marriage contract - between two parties. This contract underpins the formation of the nuclear family as the building stone of society through producing and nurturing the next generation.
Where things started going wrong was when no-fault divorce became the norm, thereby nullifying the contractual nature of marriage - there is no point in having a contract if there are no penalties for breaching its conditions.
Marital partners have a duty of care towards one another and towards their offspring and this should be legally enforceable again. I would go so far as to say that marital partners have a duty of care towards society as people entrusted to produce new members thereof.
But 'duty' is a dirty 4-letter word nowadays as it doesn't rhyme with "ME, ME, ME."

Erica said...

Thank you Barend for your helpful explanation.

I tell adult children that marriage is about learning unselfishness.

My own parents had a very difficult marriage but it never broke up because they held onto their Christian marriage vows. They lived as sort of flat mates in an incompatible relationship. When my mother died my father realised he really missed her.

They had had parallel interests and activities but had cared for each others needs as you would as a good neighbour in a civil way.

As long as marriage is presented as moonlight and roses rather than serious long term responsibility, duty and commitment financially and supportively towards others inside the family and outside to the rest of society , we have problems.

An existence dependent on other taxpayers is very selfish and parasitic
unless you are genuinely in dire straits.