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Welfare reform options risky for children

Welfare reform options risky for children – Children’s Commissioner

Some options outlined by the Welfare Working Group may put children in sole parent families at risk, Children’s Commissioner John Angus says.

“With 183,000 children in sole parents families receiving the DPB, it’s important we pay attention to how changes to the benefit system will impact on them. The evidence is they are the children most likely to be in poverty in New Zealand.

“While it’s laudable to encourage sole parents to return to paid work and there are many benefits to that for children, I think caution is needed so we don’t make things worse for children. Some of the options presented by the group do pose a real risk.

“I have concerns about the options that would reduce benefit levels or take other punitive measures for women who have another child while on a benefit. I cannot see how this would lead to good outcomes for any children in such a family.

“Options that require a sole parent to seek work before the child turns two-years-old also worry me. The early years of a child’s life are so vital to their development and the demands on parents are high. Sole parents should be supported to carry out this important role, without the pressure of returning to the workforce when their child is so young.

“I am uneasy at suggestions that parents are punished with a reduced benefit if their children do not attend school or meet health standards. This seems to be penalising the children for the sins of the parents.

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“There are aspects of the report that I am pleased to see - like improving access to childcare and better targeting of quality childcare for those on low incomes. There is also reference to the importance of flexibility for life events, like separation, which recognises that sometimes people need to focus on being a parent. That flexibility in benefit arrangements is needed and positive.

“However, the Working Group has not given much emphasis to flexibility in the workplace, to help sole parents juggle the demands of parenting and work. Like access to affordable, quality childcare, parent-friendly workplaces are an important part of arrangements that will have more sole parents enter paid work. Parents need to be able to take time off work to take their children to the doctor, attend school meetings and care for sick children.

“The impact of changes to the benefit system on children should not be underestimated. I urge the working group to carefully consider how these options will affect children’s lives in the immediate and long-term future.”


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