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The DPB - A Social Catastrophe

Lindsay Mitchell

Why do politicians, welfare agencies and social advocacy groups stubbornly continue to ignore the devastating effects of the Domestic Purposes Benefit? Barnados made a startling claim last week that 284,266 New Zealand children are living in households where the principal income is 'income support'. Their lengthy, open letter to Michael Cullen says, in a nutshell, that the state is not doing enough.

In stark contrast, I contend that the state has done far too much. Social policies, which have intervened in the lives of New Zealanders, have caused this problem. At the heart of my contention is the DPB. Introduced in 1973 by Bill Rowling, the rapid growth in recipients had alarm bells ringing as early as 1977, when the DPB Review Committee was fearful of "social changes, and linked these changes to the provision of the new benefit." Here is the major culprit for the staggering number of children living in poverty.

Ian Calder, Chief Executive of Barnados, asks the question, why, when unemployment is so low, do we have such high levels of poverty? I would have thought it was obvious. Approximately 190,000 children are being brought up by a sole parent, not on the unemployment benefit, but the DPB. This benefit eases parents out of unhappy relationships or encourages single women to produce children as a meal ticket.

I can hear the cries of outrage now. Why, even Roger McClay, Commissioner for Children recently said that there is no evidence that teenagers get pregnant for the DPB. Wrong Mr McClay. I have many letters from distraught parents who have been unable to dissuade their daughters from the DPB option.

Protagonists of the DPB argue that it is for the children. How so, I ask? What a child wants and needs is two loving parents. A benefit that makes it financially possible for the mother and father to split is not in children's interests. A benefit that encourages two parents to separate not only themselves but their children as well, is worse. This is what happens when one parent goes on the DPB and the other, the Community wage with child, which conveniently has the same rate. This is a tragedy for the children, who are not only denied a parent but their sibling as well.

We have travelled far enough down this road to now have the evidence of what sole parent upbringing does to children. The lack of a father figure, the lack of an example of a working parent, all of the problems associated with socially disadvantaged backgrounds do not bode well for one in four New Zealand children. Research shows that sole parent children display higher incidences of mood disorders, low self-esteem, early sexual activity and police contact, suicidal thought, and gang susceptibility. Many will go on to become the next generation of DPB parents.

The answer does not lie in throwing more money at the problem. Study after study has shown that the higher the benefit rate, the higher the uptake numbers are.

I have suggested a solution, which can be obtained from PO Box 38-290 or by e-mail from dandl.mitchell.clear.net.nz. Furthermore, I am petitioning parliament with an aim to secure a select committee to review the DPB.

Barnados are to be applauded for the work they do with children and I am a supporter, but I say to Ian Calder, if you really want a solution to child poverty, the incentives that create the opposite result must go. I challenge you to sign this petition.

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