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Family Commission Should Call For Privatisation

Family Commission Should Call For Privatisation

By Lindsay Mitchell

Lindsay Mitchell is a Research Fellow for the Institute for Liberal Values ( http://www.liberalvalues.org.nz) and specialises in issues relating to welfare policy.

The role of the Commission for the Family is unclear. What is it Commissions do? Sometimes they are formed to advise on the merits or otherwise of privatisation. This is the only function the Family Commission might undertake that would be useful.

If they accepted this task, should they plump for nationalisation, privatization, or perhaps the "third way" - a public-private partnership?

Thirty percent of New Zealand families with dependent children rely on the state for their main source of income. Some of these families have been on benefits for years and for two or more generations. Regular, reliable payments from government have undermined their abilities and their ambition. They are effectively state-controlled. They are nationalised.

Unsurprisingly many consequently behave like government departments. There is little accountability; if they stuff up they just ask for more, their size is uncontrollable but getting bigger means getting more money and they are economically unproductive. Most of these families are headed by single parents.

Labour, a party in the grip of a feminist stronghold, aren't keen on privatisation (reliance on market income) of these mainly matriarchal units. However, voters increasingly uneasy about the low employment rate in single parent homes (17% full-time) require some reassurance. So perhaps the semi-socialist, public-private partnership model would keep the taxpayer happy.

Under new domestic purpose benefit rules, single parents are able to keep more of what they might earn part-time, without it affecting their benefit. On the face of it, this sounds like a reasonable idea but there is a distinct danger that these arrangements are likely to become permanent. Having basic needs met by government through a benefit, accommodation allowance, childcare subsidy, family support AND being able to earn more for non-necessities is an easier existence than many working families experience.

This kind of welfare 'reform' risks fixing people on a comfortable mix of public and private income. The public costs don't come down because the beneficiary isn't losing any income while earning more. Single parents with dependent children are already costing around $2.6 billion and somebody has to pay for it.

Lots of partnered women are giving up time with their youngsters. They go to work fulltime to earn what's needed to give their children a secure future. They are amongst those footing the bill for the stay-at-home-by- choice beneficiary parents.

A woman has recently given birth to her first child. Her husband is paying heavy child support to the IRD because his ex-wife chose the DPB. The only way this couple can manage their mortgage is for the new mum to go to work. She is paying for the ex-wife, whose children are school age, to draw the DPB and top it up with a part-time job (which incidentally has no bearing on her ex-husband's assessed child support.)

This is wrong. The privatised family pays for the nationalised and the private-public family. Privatised families work in both senses of the word. They don't need the government (or the Family Commission). The government needs them, desperately.

When did we accept this compulsion to respond to a need, however contrived it may be? That one woman's need necessarily becomes another woman's obligation? We accepted it when we let government qualify 'need' and use our tax to try to fulfil it. But no matter how hard they try and how much they spend, it's never enough, and the only answer they have is to spend more.

We've followed this pattern for nigh on forty years. Unbelievably, most still think that in year forty-one things will magically start to come right. That if we throw enough money at families they will suddenly start to value commitment and stability.

Only privatised families understand that they rely on each other, that they have a responsibility to each other and that government's do no more than stand in their way.

So if the $28 million we are about to gift to yet another state quango actually resulted in more family privatisation it would be money well spent. The chances are significantly higher, far, far higher in fact, that when the Commission fails to achieve anything they'll join the long line of bureaucrats claiming more money is the answer.

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