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The Column: Welfare Destroying Maori

The Column: Welfare Destroying Maori

Weekly Column by Dr Muriel Newman

This week, the Column looks at how welfare dependency is crippling Maori, and urges Maori leaders to make a pro-active stand to improve the lot of the Maori people.

For years now, successive governments have expressed concern about the over-representation of Maori in child abuse, welfare dependency, poor health, substance abuse, education failure, and prison statistics. And, over the years, successive governments have poured billions of dollars into trying to fix the problem – but to little avail.

The reality is that welfare dependency and the damage it does to families is at the heart of the problem. Welfare dependency has become a curse on the Maori people. Unfortunately, for many Maori leaders, their attention has been on issues they consider to be far more important, and so the problem continues, and worsens.

Answers to my written Parliamentary Questions recently revealed that although Maori are a minority ethnic group, more Maori children are being supported by benefits than the children of any other ethnic group: 77,987 Maori children are currently being raised in families dependent on the Domestic Purposes Benefit, and 8,095 are living in households supported by the Unemployment Benefit.

With researchers having clearly identified welfare dependency as being a key risk factor for children, unless something drastic happens to get these children away from the welfare system, many of them are doomed to failure.

Does this seem harsh? Yes. Is it true? Again, yes. But this is the reality of welfare - with the web of political correctness that this Government is so adept at spinning - pushed aside.

Many of these children – Maori children – are on a path to lives of failure and welfare dependency, and no one seems to care.

Children’s Commissioner Dr Cindy Kiro recently told a Parliamentary Select Committee that she was becoming increasingly concerned about a new level of violence creeping into New Zealand society – but could we have brought this violence upon ourselves?

For many men, family life can be a major socialising influence. Many a man has dropped his reckless ways when faced with the prospect of marriage and raising children.

Enter that feminist-inspired doctrine that encourages women to raise their children alone and casts fathers adrift: the Domestic Purposes Benefit. It is clear that many women are abusing the DPB and, without the socialising force of marriage, many men – including Maori – never learn to curb their predisposition to violence.

It has also been said that our welfare system – misguided in its underlying incentives – has largely given us the social problems we now face. Our prison population principally comes from the welfare system – for every 10 arrests made by police, around seven of those offenders will be on welfare.

The solution, it seems, is clear: if those beneficiaries capable of working held down full-time jobs, with all of the responsibilities employment brings, their inclination to commit crime would plummet. Further, our laissez faire attitude toward drugs encourages dependency: providing life-long support to drug users sends a message that addicts don’t need to earn a living, or take responsibility for their actions, because society will support them unconditionally.

Here in New Zealand, the State will provide a home for life. If you can show you are needy enough, you will be able to stay in a State house and pay a minimum rent for the rest of your days. Why on earth would you bother to save for your own home when the State will give you a taxpayer-funded one for free?

If you don’t want to work, the State will pay you to stay at home and do nothing; it pays young girls to have babies, paying them more if they have more babies; it pays families to split up; and it sends out the message that you don’t need to take responsibility for yourself or your family because the Government will do it for you.

One of the major obstacles to unravelling the damage caused by the welfare system is the powerful politically correct social services industry that has grown up around it. Anyone speaking out about the problems of welfare dependency, family breakdown, or the damage caused to children, is accused of benefit bashing, picking on solo mothers, or simply being mean.

But the time has now come for all of those concerned to speak out. The economy is strong and jobs are abundant. The opportunity to change welfare has never been better: it is now time to bring back personal responsibility and dignity into the welfare system.

Benefits should be modernised and time limits introduced – the able-bodied should be free to seek work in their own way and in their own time – for a period of six months. After that, if they haven’t found a job they should be required to take part in full-time work experience, a 40-hour a week programme of work, training, and job search, with support to overcome barriers to employment such as transport, childcare and the like.

But to be successful there is an important first step: community leaders need to take a pro-active, outspoken role in promoting the benefits of work to anyone on welfare who is capable of working. That includes Maori.

It is simply not good enough that when welfare statistics expose the over-representation of Maori on welfare – particularly the DPB – many Maori leaders do nothing but make excuses.

There are no excuses. The time for excuses has run out. It is time for New Zealand to take the steps needed to rebuild a decent society, one that values strong families bringing up their children well. It is time for everyone to accept that earning a living and raising their family is a core responsibility of every good citizen.

Welfare is a scourge on Maori, a plague. Having so many able-bodied Maori on welfare is simply unacceptable. Maori leaders must get off the grass and begin preaching the message to their people that welfare is unacceptable. They must instil that message in the young. They must be relentless in promoting that welfare, like drugs, is seductive, eroding values, destroying confidence, and undermining ambition.

I am calling on Maori leaders today to join with me in promoting welfare reform as the key to transforming the future of our society - a catalyst to make this country a better place … especially for our children.

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