Tim Watkin: Welfare debate stirs record feedback
Published: 4:44PM Wednesday June 08, 2011 Source: Tim Watkin
There's nothing like a welfare debate to get people going. All it took was an interview with Social Development Minister Paula Bennett on Q A this past Sunday, and feedback flooded in. Over 230 emails, texts and tweets in just an hour, and all on a wintry Sunday morning. That's a record for us.
As the person who gets to read through them all, I was struck again by just how punitive some New Zealanders are when it comes to beneficiaries. I'm not claiming this was a representative sample of the population, but it was clear that the majority of folk who bothered to respond to the interview felt little sympathy for those on welfare.
Given how many people feel a little fragile work-wise after several bleak years in this country, economically speaking, you might expect a little compassion for those who don't have work. But the tenor of the feedback was that viewers didn't blame the economy, or the sale of government departments that once soaked up so many unskilled workers, or the trend of more women working, more technology doing unskilled jobs and more people staying in work longer. Nope, they blamed the beneficiaries themselves, especially the DPB mum.
She is one unpopular woman.
Paula Bennett ruled out sterilisation for women who have additional children while already on a benefit; a few viewers didn't. The Working Welfare Group's recommendation that those women should be forced back to work when the additional child was just a year old won some acclaim. Indeed, more than a few went further.
"There should be no DPB for teens under 18 years old", wrote Peter. "I refuse to accept that a woman could have an extra child on DPB and EXPECT my hard-earned taxes to pay for her'choice'", added Sue. Jen reckoned "They should not have their benefit increased for every child they have". Angie emailed: "Stop paying for additional babies born by DPB mothers!!
And so it went on, with many folk wanting benefits cut altogether. The assumption seems to be that the knowledge that the support will be there for mums with no other form of income only encourages women to have more children, either carelessly or as a lifestyle choice. From that point of view, the simplest way to stop children being born into such a difficult, impoverished life is to stop the benefit, thereby taking away the incentive.
I can see the logic, but I'm curious that so few ask the obvious next question: What happens to the children? You can ask how these women are meant to afford childcare while they go to job interviews, or decent clothes or bus fare or petrol if their benefits are cut. But more to the point, even if these mothers are simply having children as "a career option", what happens to those children if their parents' income is stopped. Where does the milk, cereal and bread come from? Who pays for the shoes? And what about the rent?
The children have done nothing wrong, and yet if the benefit is cut, have no doubt, they will suffer. And research shows that such suffering at a young age is likely to have life-long consequences.
This is the central conundrum of welfare. However unpalatable some might find the payment of benefits to people of whom they disapprove, the alternatives are much, much worse.
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