The crucial importance of the family in theEconomy
By Gordon Copeland
United Future New Zealand MP
There is a regrettable tendency for critics of United Future to refer dismissively to the party’s advocacy of a Commission for the Family as some sort of wishy-washy feel-good policy.
I would like to point out briefly the economic effects on this country of the continuing breakdown of the New Zealand family. The New Zealand Living Standards 2000 report from the Ministry of Social Development’s Centre for Social Research and Evaluation, released last week, tells us that while the majority of New Zealanders enjoy a comfortable living standard, a significant minority also have low living standards.
A key finding is that people on benefits, sole parents, Maori and Pacific peoples are much more likely to have lower living standards and experience severe hardship. Overall, 39 percent of Maori were found to be in hardship and half of Maori families had only one parent. Of those families, 80 percent rely on a benefit as their main source of income.
However the position is even worse for Pacific Island people who, on average, have the lowest living standards of all New Zealanders with 43 percent in hardship and one in every three in severe hardship. We all know what the outcome of these statistics are in terms of health, education and involvement in the criminal justice system.
We can barely begin to put a figure on the cost of family breakdown to our nation. Domestic purposes benefit payments cost us more than $1.5 billion a year, and net child support payments a further $700 million.
Then too there is the cost of Child Youth and Family Services at $416 million. By the time we add to that the extra costs arising in health education, criminal justice, prisons etc etc, the Maxim Institute estimates that at least a massive $5 billion worth of costs included in this year’s Budget flow directly from the breakdown of the family. To put that into perspective $5 billion is equal to the total tax revenue collected from companies.
Together these realities act like a huge weight which the New Zealand waka is trying to drag behind it whilst paddling upstream. And it’s made worse when some of the best paddlers jump waka and head overseas!
Obviously our country would be much more successful if those costs could be eliminated or significantly reduced. It seems to me that across the political spectrum there are three possible approaches to these growing problems.
The first is that adopted by the Government. That is to ensure that all New Zealanders are at least given the financial ability to survive on a day-by-day basis through a range of benefits and like payments. However it needs to be admitted that this is an “ambulance at the bottom of the cliff” approach and that what we have been doing over the last 25 years or so is bringing more and more ambulances to the bottom of the cliff.
The other approach, favoured by parties on the extreme right, is to simply take the ambulances away – by cutting back on domestic purposes and child support payments and the like – in the hope – and I think the forlorn hope – that if enough people who fall off the cliff for long enough then eventually they will get the message and stay well back from the edge.
Of these two approaches United Future is with the Government in placing ambulances at the bottom of the cliff. We must do this if for no other reason than that we are talking about the lives of children, our next generation, and our future. However let’s also be realistic enough to recognise that the State cannot at the end of the day become a surrogate parent.
United Future’s policy positioning is that whilst supporting the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff approach we also want to begin building a fence at the top of the cliff by bringing together strategies and plans to reverse the distressing trend in family life of which I have spoken.
This is tackling the problem, in our view, at the right end. Surely all of us want to see marriages and families flourishing for the good of all but particularly for our beautiful children. It might take a generation from now for these strategies to be successful, but we must begin and we must begin now.
The first step in United Future’s strategy will therefore be the formation of a Commission for the Family. That Commission’s role will be to explore, advise, and initiate programmes and policies aimed at strengthening marriage, relationships and parenting for the benefit of all New Zealand families.
It does not intend to do that on its own or through an extension of bureaucratic structures. Rather it will become a catalyst for all groups, be they schools, churches, mosques, temples, ethnic communities, iwi, hapü, voluntary welfare agencies - all the organisations that make up the social fabric of our society - to roll up their sleeves and turn their urgent attention to the transformation of family life in New Zealand.
And let it be said that United Future is not alone in these strategies. Australia, Singapore and especially the United States under George Bush have all adopted similar policies with promising early results.
It is our hope and dream that the people of this country will respond to that challenge so that many more New Zealand children, can go on to reach their full potential as human beings in the safety and security of loving families.
We can then begin to reduce the number of ambulances at the bottom of the cliff. We can see a transformation occurring in our society. The drain on the State purse can be reduced, taxes lowered, economic growth and prosperity fostered, so that once again New Zealand can be a happy, prosperous land and the best place in the world in which to begin and raise a family. The best place in the world to come home to.