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Dunne: Time to Put a Value on Parenting

Dunne: Time to Put a Value on Parenting

Last year the Sunday Star-Times featured a series of stories about the McLauchlans, a Waihi family who wrote to Prime Minister Helen Clark to ask why they were struggling to make ends meet, despite being considered too wealthy to receive government assistance.

Dad earned $55,000 a year as a teacher and Mum looked after their three children, but was considering putting them into childcare and going back to work to get ahead financially.

The McLauchlans’ situation was almost identical to that now faced by another family featured on TV One’s Sunday programme last weekend. The Garside family from Christchurch earn $65,000 from dad Steve’s job as a teacher, they have two children under four, and mum Diane recently returned to work part-time.

Despite the similarities, there is one major difference between the two families. Last year, Social Development Minister Steve Maharey used the McLauchlans to highlight the Working for Families package, which would benefit them to the tune of $150 a week by the time the full package kicks in around April 2007. The Garsides, however, get nothing from Working For Families.

It is exactly this predicament that is facing so many middle income families today - what help is there for those that miss out on Working for Families assistance, yet are still finding it hard to make ends meet?

Many of those families will be waiting for National to announce the details of its much-vaunted tax cuts. But any families holding their breath for National to deliver sizeable tax cuts will be left to emit a rather disappointed sigh instead. To deliver significant cuts to all workers as they have promised would put significant pressure on Government spending in areas such as welfare, education, health, superannuation, and law and order, unless National decided to borrow to pay for them.

In addition, National’s policy to increase the tax rebate for “working parents” who pay for childcare confirms that both of the major parties do not value those who stay at home to raise children, for whom there is no financial recompense. At the beginning of the year we heard the Prime Minister call on mothers to plonk their kids into dawn-till-dusk care so they could re-join the workforce to boost economic productivity. Both the right and the left want to contract out parenting, because it’s not deemed to be an effective use of parents’ time. Both are missing out on a crucial point: that the economy is there to sustain families, and not the reverse.

As a consequence, they also ignore the fact that raising children is work.

It may not be included in our GDP figures, or in our OECD rankings.

Yet come election time, both Clark and Brash will glibly state that the wealth of our nation are our children, without giving any sort of economic recognition to those who nurture that wealth.

What the Garsides' want, along with many other middle-income families, is to have realistic choices about how to configure their lives based on what they think is best for them and their children.

In some cases that decision will be to re-join the workforce after they have children, and the government does, and should continue to, support that choice through assistance with childcare and the like.

But in other cases that decision will be to stay at home and raise their children, and the government should support that choice with the same kind of vigour, by removing some of the obstacles that families face, rather than simply stacking the alternative with incentives.

The Garsides think parenting is their top priority and should be valued, in Diane's words, “no matter what income they’re at”.

United Future is the only party with policies that value the work of parents who decide to stay at home to look after children.

We will treat both parents as equals by allowing them to split their income for tax purposes. By combining their income and dividing it equally, families on a single income or those who combine full-time with part-time work will pay lower rates of tax. In combination with the rest of our income tax package, income splitting will give Steve and Diane Garside an extra $98.37 a week in the hand, giving them much more choice about how they want to raise their family.


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