Beneficiary Families Must Suffer!

The National Party has a bottom line on an individual's status that is not negotiable: being unemployed is is totally unacceptable and anyone in that situation does not deserve support!

Being a beneficiary of the state is barely tolerated by this Government and anyone who decides to become one (most National Party members appear to believe that it is a status of choice) should not expect to acquire a benefit easily or live comfortably. If children are involved it is just their rotten luck that they have parents who can't provide a healthy home or nutritious meals from a weekly food budget of less than $30, even though around 285,000 children find themselves in similar circumstances.

Every time the Government is asked to explain what they are doing to support struggling families the same answer is given, paid work as the only real answer. We have moved on from a couple of generations ago when a stay at home mother was considered an honorable and worthwhile role. In those times the Family Benefit was paid to the mother to ensure that the money was spent on children and the home.

Despite the fact that providing superannuation to our elderly is the largest part of the welfare budget ($9 billion and increasing) the benefits paid to support children and families are much less and yet are considered unsustainable. We lead the OECD on the financial support of our elderly and we have the highest statistics for elderly employment and yet we allow 27% of our children to live in poverty.

Lindsay Mitchell is a blogger who is often quoted by those who support cuts in welfare support. Mitchell claims that the welfare state is "unsustainable economically, socially and morally". In one of her recent posts she actually recognizes the income disparity that exists for dependent families but refuses to acknowledge that the level of financial support should increase. Lindsay is adamant that if beneficiaries are paid a living allowance that it will just encourage them to remain dependent on the state and clever management can allow them to survive on little:

"Employment for existing sole parents, and deterrence for prospective, particularly young parents, is the most effective approach to reducing child poverty. In that respect Jonathan Boston and Simon Chapple's prescription is half right. But a strong and competitive economy capable of producing the necessary jobs won't result from the greater taxation and wealth transfer the authors advocate.

"A prevailing attitude that only government can solve child poverty is actually a large part of the problem. If there is a solution it largely lies in the hands of those who choose the circumstances in which their children will be raised."

Again Mitchell supports the view that struggling parents, especially sole parents, deliberately choose the circumstances that they find themselves in. This is obviously disconnected from reality and doesn't recognize those families suffering from redundancy or sole parents attempting to support children when they have an illness, a disability or have left a violent relationship. Having to look after a disabled child is also a huge commitment and when family members have attempted to take on the main caring role, they have been denied support. No family deliberately chooses to have a family member with a severe disability and yet if they choose to look after them themselves they are effectively choosing a life of restricted means. To force so many families to a life on the edge of existence and reliance on charity is just cruel. 

We are now a low wage economy where even families that are fully employed need state support to pay for the increasing costs of housing and to cover food and electricity bills. Beneficiary families receive little extra support and have even been excluded, against advice, from receiving anything extra on the birth of a baby. When questioned about the unfairness of the approach, Bill English responded that the decision was, "consistent with the Governments belief that paid employment was the best way to lift most vulnerable families." 

Even those who earn income by dubious means or defraud the state through avoiding tax have greater respect under this Government than anyone unfortunate enough to need a benefit. Overpayment errors were once placed in the fraud category for beneficiaries and they generally have to shoulder the responsibility of departmental mistakes. The costs of tax fraud far exceeds benefit fraud and yet the stigma that most beneficiaries are useless bludgers is a continuing theme and 285,000 children are forced to suffer because of it.

At every turn beneficiaries and first time parents are given the hard message that being in employment is more important than caring for their family. The fact that access to high quality childcare may be an issue and that well paid part-time work is almost impossible to find is ignored. There should be recognition for caring for the disabled and our children and there should be dignity in fulfilling this role, not shame.   

Postscript: Some qualitative research from the Auckland City Mission and academics, that involved interviewing 100 low income families over three years, effectively dispels many of the myths spread by the right. Most beneficiaries want to work and properly support their children but find multiple barriers are put up to block them from being successful. 8 key barriers are listed and some solutions suggested. I hope the Government doesn't do what it normally does and ignores this well informed advice. 


Armchair Critic said…
My original assessment of Lindsay Mitchell, when I first came across her and her opinions, was that she is genuinely evil. There are very few people like that.

Nothing she has said or done in the interim has made me reconsider my opinion.
bsprout said…
Yes AC, she uses actual data and twists them to support her point of view and ignores all evidence to the contrary. She is very good at it and obviously has no actual first hand knowledge of the range of people who find themselves on a benefit. I don't consider her as evil but I do think she energetically maintains a cultivated ignorance that supports her neoliberal philosophy.

I would really love her to actually live in a beneficiary's shoes for a month and see how easy it is to support a family on very little over an extended time. We could ensure that the washing machine fails and one of the children needs hospital care on the other side of town. Possibly even have an abusive ex husband breaking a protection order and smash up the house. She could get evicted and have to live with three other families in a two bedroom house while she is 5,205 on the waiting list... the potential scenarios are endless.
Philip Todd said…
Its the easy target isn't it. The simple fact is governments are elected to lead and leadership is not about whipping people to do something, its about encouraging and making people want to do something. Funny why the same people that are so concerned about beneficiaries getting something for nothing always overlook the people getting obscene salary packages running public owned companies. Especially when in the case of Solid Energy when it is shown they have performed miserably.
bsprout said…
Quite right Philip, and those employed as consultants have every expense imaginable covered by the state, even their restaurant and bar bills:
Armchair Critic said…
I wouldn't wish a beneficiary's lifestyle on anyone, even Lindsay Mitchell, even for a month. And I don't resile from my original statement; she's genuinely evil.

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