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Real Issues No. 324 - Hope, Family, Fathers

23 October 2008

Real Issues No. 324 - Hope, Family, Fathers

Maxim Institute - real issues - No. 324 23 October 2008 www.maxim.org.nz

Ticket to a better future? The Value of Family Quality father-child time rare

IN THE NEWS How conditional should welfare be? A good leader, a good prize Last chance to get along to an NZ Votes Political Debate An invitation to 'Breakthrough New Zealand'

TICKET TO A BETTER FUTURE?

New Zealand Lotteries has told some cheerful stories this week about five people beating the odds and finding themselves the recipients of a share of the $30 million jackpot. They are the sort of stories that appeal, with all the surprise and happy endings that come with the best of dramas. The tale of a Kiwi battler who lives 'payday to payday' hitting the jackpot, sparks a little extra optimism. While every person who buys a ticket knows that it is a gamble, and their likelihood of winning is extraordinarily small, New Zealand Lotteries remains a prominent industry, suggesting that the idea of a quick ticket to freedom has its grip on the hopes of many.

In the three weeks leading up to the jackpot New Zealanders spent $77 million collectively in order for a few people to get a part of a $30 million prize. But the numbers do not add up. Lotto, like all gambling, only works because most of the time people lose the bet. The game is stacked against the ticket buyer. The chances of winning are extraordinarily slim. It is a game that plays on the hope, however tiny, that the numbers could fall in a way that provides a ticket to a better future.

The promise of Lotto is the promise of a future based entirely on luck. Whilst it is easy to pontificate about the ills of gambling, when we feel trapped, the illusion of a quick solution is an appealing one. It provides hope that there could be a way out of the pressures we face and that money really could buy happiness. The longing for a better future is something that has led to great innovations and valuable discoveries throughout history. But when that longing gets turned into the cheap hope of short-cutting life and achieving instant financial bliss, it can become an addiction that will never be satisfied. According to the Ministry of Health's statistics from 2002, lotteries are a miniscule source of problem gambling with the vast majority of problem gambling stemming instead from non-casino gaming machines. Yet the fact that $77 million was spent in the hope of winning the Powerball jackpot, is significant in what it says about what we invest our energy and hope in. In the face of such flimsy hopes, the courage to get our hands dirty and build a future becomes an important corrective, rather than waiting for solutions to arrive in the form of a giant cheque.

THE VALUE OF FAMILY

The fiscal costs of family breakdown have been estimated at an overwhelming $1 billion per year to the taxpayer, in a new report by the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research for Family First. As well as highlighting this figure, The Value of Family: Fiscal Benefits of Marriage and Reducing Family Breakdown in New Zealand also points out the 'marriage penalties' and 'poverty traps' that are a side-effect of the attempt to help families and deal with the problem of family breakdown.

The statistics in the report paint a dismal portrayal of marriage relationships in New Zealand. The marriage rate has been generally declining since 1971: in 2007 only 13.7 out of every 1,000 people aged over 16 married, compared with 45.5 people per 1,000 in 1971. In 2006 15 percent of divorces were from marriages of only 5 years or less duration, and 56 percent were from those of 15 years or less. The cost of this breakdown is huge, both in social and fiscal terms. As the report points out, 'For children living in sole parent families the rate of poverty is five times as high as that for children in couple households.' Yet, with low rates of marriage and high incidences of divorce, we see far more families facing this situation.

The welfare system in New Zealand attempts to help these broken families and single parents -- through schemes such as the Domestic Purposes Benefit, Childcare Assistance and the Child Tax Credit. In our attempt to help pick up the pieces, however, we are unintentionally dis-incentivising marriage or long-term committed relationships, and at times penalising those who work hard to keep their family together. 'Marriage penalties' are created when benefits and the tax system mean a couple would have a higher total income if separated than if together. Of course, they would also have higher costs, such as the need to pay two lots of rent, but receiving this financial assistance can make it easier for some families to separate. The report shows that families with children face the highest penalties. Welfare assistance to families also creates 'poverty traps' -- as income rises, welfare assistance decreases, meaning that families who attempt to get ahead through extra work get less reward for their extra efforts.

In some cases family breakdown is unavoidable, but a culture that placed a higher value on commitment in relationships and provided tools like relationship counselling to struggling families could help to reduce family breakdown and its costs. As this report shows, breakdown creates a substantial financial cost to society, as well as to the families themselves (who are more likely to face poverty). Attempts through the welfare system to help people in these situations can create problems and penalties of their own. It is important though not to lose sight of the fact that the fiscal costs do not compare to the enormous social cost that comes when a family is torn apart.

Read The Value of Family: Fiscal Benefits of Marriage and Reducing Family Breakdown in New Zealand http://www.familyfirst.org.nz/files/NZ%20REPORT%20The%20Value%20of%20Family.pdf

Read Maxim Institute's Research Note on 'The effects of divorce on children' http://www.maxim.org.nz/index.cfm/policy___research/article?id=748

Read Maxim Institute's Research Note on 'The physical health benefits of marriage' http://www.maxim.org.nz/index.cfm/policy___research/article?id=1146

QUALITY FATHER-CHILD TIME RARE

New research shows that, on average, Australian fathers are spending about an hour with their children during the working week, with only about six minutes of this time spent per day one-on-one with their children. These results remind us of the need for fathers to be proactive about making time to spend with their children. The findings of the research, explored in the paper, Father Care, Father Share in International Perspective may reflect the pressures on people to work increasingly long hours.

The research found that not only is the amount of time fathers on average spend with their children different to mothers, but also the type of time, with fathers more likely to spend time playing with their children than mothers, who tend to do most of the childcare. According to the report's author, childcare seems to be treated by Australians as 'a women's job and a man's hobby.' If this is true in Australia and even in New Zealand, it is a cultural idea that needs to shift -- allowing men to take a more active role in sharing the care aspects of parenting and women to have more time to play with their children.

The paper's results are fairly confronting. It is often hard with the pressures of work to balance life, but children are missing out. Highly involved and supportive fathers contribute uniquely and substantially to children's development and well-being, at times even having a stronger effect on some outcomes than mothers' involvement, as shown by research Maxim Institute published last year. Cultural and labour market shifts that make room for higher levels of supportive father involvement could well lead to substantial benefits for children and by extension society overall.

Read Going Further with Fathers: can fathers make unique contributions to the lives of their children http://www.maxim.org.nz/files/pdf/going_further_with_fathers.pdf

IN THE NEWS

HOW CONDITIONAL SHOULD WELFARE BE?

A new report from Policy Exchange, a UK based independent think tank, looks at the approach five countries around the world (Australia, Sweden, USA, Norway and Germany) have taken in making their welfare 'conditional.' There is much for us to gain from the experience of other countries when it comes to welfare reform. The report shows how 'localisation' can be beneficial, and that the major change needed in some communities is to the 'culture of welfare.' However, as the author of the Australian chapter of the report, Professor Peter Saunders, points out, all reforms need to be measured against their tendency to be 'interventionist and deliberately parental.'

Read When Hassle Means Help http://www.policyexchange.org.uk/images/libimages/441.pdf

A GOOD LEADER, A GOOD PRIZE

Leadership matters -- no matter where in the world you are. And the greater the need of a people, the greater their need for good leaders. This need has been recognised by Mo Ibrahim, a hugely successful African businessman, and in response to this he initiated 'The Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership' which is given to former African heads of state who have followed the rules of law in their country and governed well. The prize is worth over US$5 million and has just been given to former president of Botswana, Festus Mogae.

Mogae helped secure his country's future through developing a strong and sustainable economy that is reliant on a broad range of resources and has helped address the issue of HIV/AIDS through the supply of Anti-Retroviral drugs. The answer to Africa's needs is far from simple, but leaders such as Mogae are a big part of it. Kofi Annan -- one of the members of the prize selection panel -- puts it this way, 'Good governance is the single most important factor in eradicating poverty and promoting development.'

Read more about the Mo Ibrahim Foundation http://www.moibrahimfoundation.org/index.asp

LAST CHANCE TO GET ALONG TO AN NZ VOTES POLITICAL DEBATE

With the election just round the corner, it is the last chance to get along to an NZ Votes Political Debate. The final three are being held in central Auckland on Tuesday, 28 October 2008, Wellington on Tuesday, 28 October 2008 and Tauranga on Wednesday, 29 October 2008. So come along with plenty of questions and hear from the party candidates themselves.

Find out more about NZ Votes http://www.nzvotes.org/

AN INVITATION TO 'BREAKTHROUGH NEW ZEALAND'

On 3 November 2008, Maxim Institute will be hosting 'Breakthrough New Zealand,' a lecture by Dr Samantha Callan, a family policy expert from the UK. The lecture will examine possible lessons to be learned by New Zealand from the extensive UK report Breakthrough Britain, which looks at reducing the costs of social breakdown.

The lecture will be held at The Gus Fisher Gallery, The Kenneth Myers Centre, 74 Shortland Street, Auckland starting at 6.00 pm. Drinks and canapes will be served. Entry is free.

If you would like to attend the event please RSVP to Maxim Institute's Events Co-ordinator, Kerry Alemann by Monday, 27 October 2008.

Download an invitation to 'Breakthrough New Zealand' http://www.maxim.org.nz/index.cfm/Events

TALKING POINT

'Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.'

Vaclav Havel

A registered charitable trust, funded by donations, Maxim Institute values your interest and support.

Click here to find out how you can support Maxim Institute (http://www.maxim.org.nz/index.cfm/About_us/Support_us)

Maxim Institute's regular email publication, Real Issues, provides thought-provoking analysis of developments in policy and culture in New Zealand and around the world.

Maxim Institute. 49 Cape Horn Road, Hillsborough, Auckland, New Zealand.

ENDS

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