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Letter from Elsewhere: What Is It About The DPB?

Letter from Elsewhere with Anne Else

What Is It About The DPB?

What is it about the DPB which drives politicians to such a frenzy of moral indignation? I think it must be, at bottom, the idea that the state actually pays some women, and even a handful of men, to do what women are supposed to do for love alone (and men are not supposed to do at all). Or maybe it’s because the women who get it don’t have to run after a man as well. They don’t even have to have married.

The misleading slant Don Brash put on some of his “facts” was appalling. He stated, for example, that three-quarters of Maori babies are born to “unmarried mothers”. What he didn’t say was that he was using this quaint phrase to include everyone in a stable de facto partnership – and that using this definition, around half of all New Zealand babies are born to “unmarried mothers”.

Facts don’t seem to make the slightest impression on Don Brash and the other dinosaurs in the National Party, but they don’t always seem to be fully grasped by Labour either.

It was very nice of Helen Clark to send me a summary of her Address to Parliament, but some of it made my blood run cold. The benefit system, it seems, is to be reformed. I know there’s a plan afoot to have just one kind of benefit, with appropriate add-ons as required. This is in line with what Helen Clark says will be the system’s “central focus”: “ case management of clients back into work”.

I think she means “paid work”, but the extra word always gets left out. The meaning is clear: if you’re not working for pay, you’re simply not working, and you’re certainly not earning your living. There will be only one reason for getting any kind of benefit: because you are currently not working for pay. The system will help you overcome this problem.

It will help you with childcare, for example. There’s an admiring reference to the UK’s plans for “dawn to dusk” out of school care, to run from 8 am to 6 pm and be based at schools. The answer to the problem of combining taking care of children with the long hours of paid work needed to support them financially is not, it seems, a shorter working week for everyone, as in France. Instead it’s making children put in the same long days as their parents, in what would more honestly be called out of home care.

But hold on – there’s also a reference to “options for boosting the provision of home-based childcare” – though whose home is not clear. I don’t think this means a full-time, fully trained nanny. The last time I looked, the cheapest form of home-based care (apart from getting your mother to do it for free) was in another mother’s home, and it earned that mother $3 an hour. Is this what the government has in mind?

Helen Clark’s speech prompted a number of responses from women angry that what they do at home seems to be regarded as worthless, compared with paid work – including the paid work of looking after other people’s children. The DPB was deliberately set up so that sole parents would NOT go out to work, but instead do what every good mother was then meant to do: stay at home and look after her children herself. It was a hopelessly rigid one-size-fits-all prescription. But so is the notion that parenting in particular, and unpaid work in general, is merely an inconvenient, temporary obstacle to paid work – and that it is women’s business to work out how to overcome it, alone if necessary, with a modicum of help from the government. No other major changes are required.

This is not going to work either. Women are already voting with their wombs. It’s not that they don’t want to have children – they just keep putting it off, because there never seems to be any right time, or even any time at all. Working out how all parents and children can be enabled to thrive without wearing themselves out or throwing in the towel altogether does not even seem to be on National’s agenda. While it’s high on Labour’s agenda, there needs to be a much sharper focus on making paid work fit parents, including single parents, a lot better than it does now, instead of making parents (and children) fit paid work.

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- Anne Else is a Wellington writer and social commentator. Her occasional column will typically appear on a Monday. You can subscribe to receive Letter From Elsewhere by email when it appears via the Free My Scoop News-By-Email Service

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