It’s always frustrating to come across opinionated comment unsupported by evidence or reasoning.
A case in point is this February 25 New Zealand Herald editorial on last week’s Welfare Working Group report.
The editorial states:
… the group errs in spreading its net too widely. John Key’s queasiness related to women who had more children when they were already on the benefit being required to look for part-time work when their baby was just 14 weeks old. The intention is to stop mothers having additional children simply as a means of remaining a beneficiary. Every so often, an example of this gains publicity. It is probable, however, that the problem is overstated. Either way, the Prime Minister is right to rule out the proposal.
This is just fact-free ex cathedra opinion. It is “probable” that the problem is overstated? There is no need to surmise. Did the leader writer not read the WWG report which states (p76), “In New Zealand, an estimated one is seven sole parents who enter the benefit system will have an additional child while on a benefit (and ultimately one in four of current sole parent beneficiaries)”? That hardly looks like a small issue to me.
And what is the Herald’s alternative position? Does it condone the behaviour of the appalling, foul-mouthed Joan Nathan of MeGehan Close, a long-term beneficiary with six children, one of whom, befriended by John Key, is now in CYF’s hands because she is “better off” there and “it’s a life I can’t give her”? Does it think taxpayers should support such DPB recipients on an open-ended basis when most responsible, working families plan the number of children they have on the basis of how many they can afford to provide a good life for? What is its view on the responsibilities of the fathers in question? Does it support the other WWG recommendations on this issue, eg free contraception? Does it favour the minority recommendation that work obligations should commence after 12 months rather than 14 weeks? And why? We are not told.
The editorial goes on to say:
In the same way, the working group goes over the top in recommending that mothers should be forced to look for work once their first child turns 3. Many couples on two incomes may well be willing to return to work soon after a baby’s birth. But that does not mean other people’s priorities are wrong. In parenting terms, there is much to be said for mothers who stay at home with their pre-school children. Whatever the benefits of work, for the individual and the economy, insisting that sole mothers take paid work before their children attend school is a step too far.
It describes this recommendation as “radical” and “extreme”. By what standards? Welfare researcher Lindsay Mitchell has pointed out that the United States and Canada have a range of ages according to the state or province, with the United States having a maximum of 1 year.
Social democratic Norway, France, Germany and Switzerland have been work testing at 3 for some years.
Why does the Herald think that New Zealand can afford a welfare system with rules that are more lenient than those of these much richer countries, with all the consequences for child poverty and social breakdown that they generate?
The WWG reports (p66) that three-quarters of recipients of paid parental leave returned to work within 12 months, and two-thirds of those returned to work after taking six months or less.
The expectation that, with exceptions, parents be required to look for part-time work of at least 20 hours per week once their child reaches three years of age, and thus relieve the burden on taxpayers and society, looks neither radical nor unreasonable to me.
The leading newspaper in New Zealand’s leading city could do better.