Family First NZ says that a number of the proposals contained in the Welfare Working Group Reducing Long-Term Benefit Dependency report will make significant improvements in targeting at-risk families and reducing the potential for child abuse and family violence.
“While there is concern around some of the recommendations, especially the work requirements for parents of young children, other recommendations could make a significant impact on our unacceptable rates of child abuse and family violence,” says Bob McCoskrie, National Director of Family First NZ.
“Recommendations in the Report include
requiring 16 and 17 year old sole parents to undertake training and education, parenting and budgeting programmes free of charge, and for their welfare payments to be managed
young people under 18 who receive welfare would be required to live with a responsible adult or adult supervised setting
families who are failing to meet the essential needs of their children through neglect or drug or alcohol abuse would receive forms of support including treatment and management of their welfare payments by a third party in order to provide a safe environment for their children
requirements that parents ensure their children are attending school and having regular health checks
at-risk families with complex needs to be provided with wrap-around services by single integrated providers which address the needs as a whole
mandatory reporting of child abuse
where there is a clear need for budgeting support because the child or children’s well-bring is put at risk, this may entail a provision of a ‘payment card’ programmes for use only on essential items, to ensure that children’s needs are properly met
“This is not beneficiary bashing. Allowing dysfunction and dependency to harm children and locking families into poverty is the real ‘beneficiary bashing’.”
“While we acknowledge the importance of welfare as a safety net for extreme circumstances, welfare dependency reduces work effort and motivation, can promote the rate of unmarried teen mothers, exacerbates the problem of poverty-prone single-parent families, and reduces marriage rates,” says Mr McCoskrie. “At least a third of current DPB recipients started on welfare as teenagers.”
“The argument of the alternative welfare working group is that higher payments will reduce poverty and increase wellbeing. This is faulty logic. Higher payments actually encourage more unmarried births which typically result in long periods of welfare dependency, and long term dependency harms children through poorer social, health and educational outcomes. There is no evidence that increasing benefits and widening the net of welfare will improve children’s lives. In fact, the opposite is true.”
However, Family First warns that any proposals to make parents of pre-schoolers work should not be at the expense of the important role of parents – especially sole parents – to meet the daily needs of their children.
“Part time work with flexibility would be a win-win situation but the age of the children is an important factor,” says Mr McCoskrie. “Long periods of childcare is not in the best interests of the child, except in the obvious case of neglected or abused children. We welcome the government’s response of kicking the 14-week youngest child work requirement proposal to touch.”
“The bottom line is that as our marriage rates have declined, our welfare bill has increased. It’s time that we acknowledged that the availability of welfare can play an important role in influencing family structure and breakdown.”
“We also need to realise how demoralising and devastating an absence of work ethic – whether paid or voluntary – is to both adults and the whole family. At the moment, welfare simply isn’t working as it was intended,” says Mr McCoskrie. “Welfare needs to be a vital hand-up, not a hand-out with no expectations.”
“The ‘tough love’ approach on welfare and benefits will actually be in the best interests of children and families.”