Dr Michael Bassett

Dr Michael Bassett

Newspaper Columns

Lindsay Mitchell on welfare reform

Lindsay Mitchell has established herself as one of the most thoughtful commentators on welfare in this country. Here she gets to the source of so much of the mayhem amongst New Zealand's underclass: the payment of people to breed children who are wanted only because of the money they bring to the parent. A disproportionate number of the children are Maori whose parents have no intention of giving them the care they need, and which the parents are paid to provide. Too many of these children get little education, join gangs, leave school with no qualifications, kill themselves (and others) on the roads, have children of their own they don't want (except for the money they bring), abuse their kids, drink excessively, are are over-represented in bad health statistics, and over-populate the gaols. The cycle keeps turning, and will until some politician has the guts to change the financial incentives given to parents in need. Proper leadership will be required. Less of the "gimmee mentality", and a greater capacity to hold offenders to account are also needed. Parents who are paid to look after kids must be held to account. We need less wailing at tangi, and more intervention by whanau before the young deaths occur. A revolution is required within Maori society as they develop new ways to look after their own. Is the Maori Party capable of showing leadership on this issue? It would make their claims for an ever greater share of the nation's resources more credible if they tried!

Michael Bassett

Lindsay Mitchell: Meal-ticket children are hostages to lifestyles of parents0
By Lindsay Mitchell
5:30 AM Monday Dec 27, 2010

Welfare commentator Lindsay Mitchell is a former Act candidate. Photo / Supplied
Responding to the most recent high profile child abuse case, the Minister for Social Development and Employment, Paula Bennett says she will "... do anything in her power to protect children." We must take her at her word. I do not doubt her sincerity.

Why does child abuse and neglect occur? Because the child is 'wanted' at one level, but not at another.

Sometimes they are wanted for the benefits that dependent children bring; priority for housing, extra income, and parental amnesty from being self-supporting.

They are not wanted in the usual sense; loved more than can be expressed or explained. The way children should be loved by their parents and grandparents.

Sometimes the parent's own mental or physical health problems get in the way of unqualified care, but that is another issue.

One that, from a government point of view, needs addressing through the Ministry of Health. But the issue identified here - children as meal-tickets - is a matter for the Minister who assures us she will do anything in her power to prevent the sort of abuse that makes grown-ups cry, if they allow the grim reality to break through their own defence mechanisms.

Meal-ticket children are hostages to their parent's or caregiver's lifestyles.

Politicians on the left will remonstrate that funding cannot be withdrawn from these parents because the child will suffer.

As if the child isn't suffering anyway. Living in environments characterised by gang associations that bring a culture of threats and counter-threats; alcohol and drug abuse; sexual and incestuous abuse.

These children exist in their hundreds, if not in their thousands.

Children have been a source of income in New Zealand for 80 years or more. Unlike the Old Age Pension, Maori were easily able to access the Family Benefit which, with their typically large families, accrued a tidy sum by the 1940s. Enough in some rural communities for the menfolk to knock off work and spend their days drinking and gambling. Which in turn set up the right conditions for domestic disharmony and childhood misery.

Child abuse was 'discovered' in the 1950s and 60s but certainly pre-existed that era.

While by no stretch of the imagination wholly explaining the incidence of abuse, the more that 'poor' families are paid to look after their children, the more abuse has occurred or, at least, has been notified and substantiated. More money certainly isn't curing the problem. So perhaps it is time to ask if more money is exacerbating it?

Grandparents raising grandchildren will tell of bitter custody battles with their own offspring (frequently drug or alcohol addicted) intent on keeping children in their care merely to advance their chosen lifestyle - receiving a state income with no obligation to do anything for it.

Between a third and a half of people receiving the DPB became a parent in their teens when a benefit income guarantees more than an unskilled job. This group has been shown to have the longest duration of stay on welfare often adding more children, and more income, to their benefit. The incidence of abuse amongst non-working families is around four times higher than among working families.

While there is good cause for the state to temporarily assist parents experiencing a crisis or losing the support of a partner it should rarely bestow an open-ended income.

Paula Bennett needs to consider this ugly aspect of social security, acknowledge it and work to change it.

By Lindsay Mitchell