What the policy does do is target a small number of people who are already regarded by some in society as little more than vermin. Many people will regard it as morally reprehensible to force mothers of 12 month old children to work, but we have been conditioned by media and talkback opinion to think that DPB mums are just breeding machines with loose morals who will keep having babies if there’s money in it.
The reality is that most parents strive hard for their kids and that raising children is bloody hard work. There may be some people out there having children just so they can stay on the benefit, but I’d be amazed if they were not a very small percentage. They way people talk about DPB mothers you’d think that they spent every day either on the couch or in bed making P babies with gang members.
National’s new policy will force beneficiaries who have a child while on the DPB to go back to work when the child is a year old. Paula Bennett has denied this is a deliberately punitive policy, but what other explanation can there be for the change? Is it right that parents should be forced to put their one-year olds into childcare? Forget about what the parent wants for a moment: is it good for the child? While there are many working parents who put their one-year olds into daycare, there is also a body of evidence that suggests the best place for children of that age may be in the home, with their parents.
Thankfully, while the intent of the policy is punitive, it won’t achieve much. There just aren’t the jobs for people to go into, and part-time jobs that work around a solo parent’s childcare arrangements are likely to be as rare as hens’ teeth.
And that really is what this policy is all about. It is another example of style and spin over substance. Bashing beneficiaries is a favourite hobby of the right, and the good thing from National’s point of view is that the victims very rarely complain publicly. Intellectually lazy commentators will say that finally something is being done about the welfare problem and will praise the policy, even though it is just a rebrand of the same old rubbish with a few ineffectual punitive provisions thrown in to keep the punters happy.
It is more important for National to look as if it is doing something about welfare than it is to take meaningful steps to get people off benefits. Meaningful steps would require a repudiation of National’s “hands-off” style of economic management, something John Key would never countenance. National’s “Brighter Future” plan is to cut spending, cut taxes and then sit back and wait for the economy to magically fix itself. If we cross our fingers we might get some job growth, and if that happens welfare numbers will go down.
But only if we get job growth. If National were to put as much energy into job growth as it does beneficiary bashing we might see a reduction in the number of people on welfare.