Viewport width =
August 14, 2008 | by  | in Online Only | [ssba]

National’s Welfare Policy: Rewarding the poor for breeding

Work for the Dole
The National Party likes people to work. On Monday, John Key announced National’s new look welfare policy, scrapping the costly and ineffective government-run ‘work for the dole’ schemes that had been the cornerstone of their welfare platform since they were last in government. Work for the dole was much like community service, and involved the state coming up with often pointless tasks for beneficiaries to do, just so they could tell the public that folk weren’t getting taxpayer-funded money for nothing. This often meant getting volunteer organizations to take on workers who were not actually motivated to help out.

National’s new policy scraps this inefficient moralizing, but retains the sensible idea that work is good. Under Labour, the number of people on the unemployment benefit has gone down from over 150,000 to 17,710, but Key believes that the third of these people who have been out of work for over a year should be obliged to reapply for their benefit, and demonstrate that they were genuinely looking for work. Setting aside for the fact that everyone on the unemployment (as opposed to sickness, domestic purposes or widow’s) benefit already has to look for work, making this scheme little different from the status quo, there is also the matter of whether there is enough work available. A friend of mine is currently working for a temping agency in Dunedin. While she has been fortunate enough to be placed into clerical work, the large number of factory closures in recent months means there are over 2000 labourers desperately searching for work through this service, and it simply isn’t available. That said, National is only requiring people to look for work, and I can’t argue with that, so long as their economic policies encourage the kind of growth that will create jobs (i,e, reforming the RMA and other bureaucratic blocks to help entrepreneurs start up businesses with ease… more on this in the next issue of Salient).

The second major change to welfare announced by Key is raising the threshold amount that beneficiaries can earn before their benefit is affected from $80 to $100. This is excellent, as it encourages people to work by removing the penalties on earning. However, since their new DPB policy (see below) requires parents to work for 15 hours or more, and since 15 hours work on the minimum wage = a wage of more than $100 per week, simply raising the threshold isn’t enough. National needs to adjust the extent to which earning affects the benefit, so that people on the DPB earning more than $100 a week aren’t overly penalized.

Making Babies
The third and most fascinating change to National’s welfare policy is a softening of it’s domestic purposes benefit (DPB) policy. Two years ago, then-leader Don Brash announced a Malthusian plan to take the DPB away from mothers who gave birth to more children while already on the DPB. While he may have intended this to reduce the number of unwanted and unloved children, it came across as a nasty attack on struggling parents, and led to the resignation of then-welfare spokesperson Katherine Rich.

National’s new policy is to require parents on the DPB to start looking for 15 hours work per week once their youngest child turns six. This continues National’s belief that work is best, while not overly penalizing parents on the benefit. But while their previous policy was intended to discourage parents from giving birth to children in poverty, this new scheme actually seems to encourage it!

Imagine you are a parent on the DPB, and your youngest will soon turn six. Your welfare officer informs you that this means you will have to look for work. You now have two options: either go out and work for 15 hours, or get knocked up so that you can wait another six years before having to work. Now, if everyone in this situation thought rationally, they would choose the 15 hours work over the new baby, due to the simple fact that the DPB does not actually provide enough money to raise a child, let alone to make a profit. But humans are not rational.

Of course, while National’s new policy may have the side effect of encouraging some parents to have children they neither want nor love, the fact is such occurrences will likely be rare. On balance, their new welfare policy is sensible, rather similar to Labour’s, and still has a number of holes to be filled in. But we certainly cannot accuse National any longer of having no policies: the substance is there, whether we agree with it or not.


About the Author ()

Tristan Egarr edited in 2008. He threw a chair once.

Comments (1)

Trackback URL / Comments RSS Feed

  1. Jackson Wood says:

    Ok, so I’ve read this post three times now trying to think of something to comment. I just can’t. Sorry Tristan, I failed.

Recent posts

  1. VUW Halls Hiking Fees By 50–80% Next Year
  2. The Stats on Gender Disparities at VUW
  3. Issue 25 – Legacy
  4. Canta Wins Bid for Editorial Independence
  5. RA Speaks Out About Victoria University Hall Death
  6. VUW Hall Death: What We Know So Far
  8. New Normal
  9. Come In, The Door’s Open.
  10. Love in the Time of Face Tattoos

Editor's Pick

Uncomfortable places: skin.

:   Where are you from?  My list was always ready: England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, puppy dogs’ tails, a little Spanish, maybe German, and—almost as an afterthought—half Samoan. An unwanted fraction.   But you don’t seem like a Samoan. I thought you were [inser

Do you know how to read? Sign up to our Newsletter!

* indicates required