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Counting the Costs of an Invasive Welfare State

Counting the Costs of an Invasive Welfare State
Weekly Column by Dr Muriel Newman MP

After delivering addresses about the damage caused by the welfare state, members of the audience always ask why it is that the public do not have a greater awareness of the issues I raise. It is not an easy question to answer.

The reality is that details of the dire consequences of long term welfare dependency are not pretty – reports of the deaths of toddlers Lillybing and James Whakaruru were extraordinarily disturbing. While the media obviously report these occurrences, they remain mindful of the fact that readers can easily become distressed and upset by such news, and they tend to keep a balance in their newspapers.

Most politicians are too politically correct to raise the issue. Government Members of Parliament in particular shy away from exposing the underbelly of welfare. They seem afraid they may be held responsible. Yet this problem has been growing for decades.

In the early 1970s, the Labour Government changed the incentives that underpinned the welfare system. As a result, welfare ceased to be the hand up to work envisaged by its creator Michael Joseph Savage. Instead, for many families, it became a trap.

By raising the benefit to a level akin to a working wage, the incentive to get a job was weakened. By making the benefit a universal entitlement rather than one which demanded ‘good moral character and sober habits’, the state began funding the indolent and lazy, those with drug and alcohol addictions.

The introduction of the Domestic Purposes Benefit sent a message to women who were separating: “Don’t bother trying to make your relationship work - the state will pay you to split up; the state will replace your husband as breadwinner; the state will become a father to your children.”

That benefit drove a stake through the heart of the traditional nuclear family. We now have massive family breakdown and paternal alienation - more children lose a father through divorce every three months than lost a father during the entire period of the Second World War.

Yet families do matter, two parents committed to their children are better than one, and marriage is still the most successful child rearing institution ever invented.

As a result of the long-term undermining of the family and the values of hard work, self-reliance and personal responsibility, children have suffered. The rates of infant mortality, childhood injury, hospitalisation, and abuse are all higher in single parent families. School performance is often poor and such children are frequently suspended or expelled. They are also more than twice as likely to have been convicted of serious offences than children from intact homes.

In spite of mounting evidence of the serious damage caused by welfare, governments turn a blind eye. Even when confronted, they avoid addressing the collateral damage caused by welfare: under the National Government I called for a Select Committee inquiry into the state of the New Zealand family, trying to emulate an excellent report on the Australian family produced by a Select Committee of the federal government. They turned me down.

Under Labour, I have made numerous calls for an inquiry into the causes of child abuse, but all to no avail.

I have even tried to get the issue of family breakdown in front of a Select Committee through two Private Members Bills. The first bill, to introduce Shared Parenting, was designed to protect the rights of children to retain contact with both their mother and father in the event of family breakdown. The second, to open up the Family Court, sought to introduce open justice into the whole family law area, exposing the effects of the breakdown of the family in the process.

If either of these bills had been supported to a Select Committee, Parliament, probably for the first time ever, would have focussed on the real damage caused by welfare and family breakdown. Sadly, my good intentions were thwarted when the Government, in its wisdom, voted down both bills.

I have another Private Member’s Bill encapsulating the objectives of the previous two ready to go, but we have not had a ballot to select Private Members bills for introduction in almost a year. In the meantime I continue to raise concerns about welfare through speeches and articles, as well as through close parliamentary scrutiny and media reporting…if anyone has other ideas, please let me know!

Last year I read a copy of an article in the Spectator magazine entitled “Going to the Dogs”. Written by Theodore Dalrymple, a doctor who works with dysfunctional and underprivileged British families, the article outlined the damaging effects of poor welfare legislation. He discussed the spiritual, cultural, emotional and moral chaos that he encountered on a daily basis, that “no-one” wanted to know about. He believed the damage inflicted by welfare should be exposed.

Reading his column was like a breath of fresh air – I was not alone!

In fact, on Saturday not only will I have the chance to hear Theodore in person, but to meet him as well. He is a guest speaker at our ACT New Zealand conference at the Centra Hotel in Auckland. If you are interested coming along to hear Theodore, to meet me, and to attend some of our conference, I would love to see you. I have attached a link to details of the conference as well as Theodore’s “Going to the Dogs” speech, for your information. Hope to see you Saturday!

For details of the ACT New Zealand conference click here

Dr Muriel Newman, MP for ACT New Zealand, writes a weekly opinion piece on topical issues for a number of community newspapers. You are welcome to forward this column to anyone you think may be interested.

View the archive of columns at

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