Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Victimising children

In July 2010, National passed welfare "reforms" imposing work-tests on solo parents and sickness beneficiaries, and kicking people off unemployment benefits after a year unless they reapplied. The new regime was enforced by harsh sanctions: a 50% cut in benefits for the first work-test failure, and a complete cut after that.

According to research from the Child Poverty Action Group, children are significant victims of this sanctions regime:

CPAG has received figures from Work and Income NZ under the Official Information Act which give a snapshot of the situation as at the end of August 2012. The figures show at that time 377 people with dependent children had had benefits reduced by 50%. The majority of those (234) were sole-parents receiving the DPB. In 84 cases, the youngest child in the family was younger than five. In 63 cases, the reduction had lasted over four weeks.

They don't provide data on the number of beneficiaries without children sanctioned in this way (which would be useful for context), but regardless: this isn't acceptable. Children are being punished, and their long-term life chances are being reduced, for something which is no fault of their own. To echo John Campbell, no matter whose fault it is, it isn't the kids. Children should not be victimised by a harsh government policy aimed at bullying their parents. And in a nation which took its obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to make the best interest sof children the primary consideration in policymaking concerning them (including specifically welfare decisions), they wouldn't be.

But quite apart from being cruel, vicious, and contrary to our international obligations, its also just dumb. Child poverty costs us in the long term, in health, in reduced educational outcomes, in mental illness, in lower lifetime earnings, and in crime. We'll be paying for National's cruelty and sadism in twenty, thirty, forty years time in all of those ways. But I guess for them its a case of IBGYBG. So they dump costs on the future to buy sadism votes today.

(Incidentally, Danya Levy's Stuff piece on this misinterprets the data. Its a snapshot at August 2012, not a total since the new regime was implemented. Sloppy, but given the table titles in the detailed press release they sent out, I can see how the mistake could be made).