Sunday, September 21, 2003

It's not just housing that's a problem

The Herald had another article yesterday which detailed some of the consequences of the lack of affordable housing in Auckland - overcrowding, poor health, kids moving schools four times a year and slipping between the cracks... more compelling reasons for the government to invest more in state housing so that people don't have to live like this. But the bit that got me was the lead-in:

The single mother with a BA in psychology and education earns $44,000 as service co-ordinator for the Waipareira Trust's wrap-around programme, while raising her two teenagers and one-year-old, and looking after a whanau member who stays with them.

Her income means she doesn't qualify for an accommodation supplement to help meet private sector housing costs. Nor can she get a childcare subsidy. And with 7000 Aucklanders on the waiting list, she wouldn't get near a state house of her own.

But after paying the rent, childcare costs and student loan repayments, Henare has less to come and go on than even her worst-off clients - $60 a week for food, clothing and bills.

"I look at how much I earn and think I should be well off, but I'm on the poverty line."

The problem here isn't so much housing as childcare, which consumes roughly half her after-tax income. And it's not just a problem limited to solo-mothers - the move to a two-income family model over the past twenty years means that ordinary New Zealand families are affected as well. Being able to have one partner stay home and care for the kids full time has become a luxury rather than the norm...

The obvious way the government can help is by making childcare subsidies more widely available. This has drawbacks - it does nothing to assist those who are taking care of their own children, and it is too obviously funelling money to the pockets of private childcare providers - but it's probably the most achievable option. The Greens' plan of re-introducing a universal family benefit would also help, though the levels suggested are too low. What we really need is an extension of the welfare state to recognise the value of parenting and provide the affordable childcare that people need.