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Replace DPB With Dole


"The DPB should be replaced with the dole," Lindsay Mitchell told the Social Services Select Committee today. "The message to parents should be your children are your responsibility - you need a job to support them. "

She was responding to questioning from the committee about what should happen to the DPB, given it's "avalanche" effect on the growth of single parent families, now representing nearly a third of all families. "The number of people on the DPB has jumped by 1,286 in the year to June 2003 and we shouldn't forget that along with these new beneficiaries come 2,000 or more children," she added.

Mrs Mitchell appeared before the Social Services Select Committee to oppose the Families Commission Bill 2003. She said that over New Zealand's recent past, government intervention had not improved the state of New Zealand families. "Ironically it is government intervention which has brought us to a point where a special Families Commission is now deemed necessary."

Mitchell told the committee that social policy would not alleviate the problems faced by single parents and their children and the real challenge for New Zealand was to arrest the growth of these families.

(The full text of Mrs Mitchell's oral submission appears below.)

Lindsay Mitchell petitioner for a parliamentary review of the DPB (petition forms available from www.liberalvalues.org.nz) e-mail dandl.mitchell@clear.net.nz

Oral submission on the Families Commission Bill 2003

Lindsay Mitchell, Petitioner for a parliamentary review of the DPB, Research Fellow for the Institute for Liberal values (www.liberalvalues.org.nz) ph/fx 04 562 7944

I do not support the establishment of a Families Commission because looking over our recent past, government intervention has not improved the state of New Zealand families. Ironically, it is government intervention, which has brought us to a point where a special Families Commission is now deemed necessary.

However, I believe the Bill will be passed and so want to take a few minutes to make some points about families today. In my written submission, I urged the proposed Families Commission to consider family structures that are independent and work. In the main, they are not single parent families.

The overwhelming majority of single parents with dependent children rely on a benefit. At the time of the last Census, the percentage was eighty-three.

These children form most of the group that are regularly described as "children living in poverty." Doubtless, you will have heard from numerous submitters about what government, and by inference the Families Commission, should be doing to reduce child poverty. The newly appointed Commissioner for Children has reiterated the reduction of child poverty as a major goal. She is an admirer of Scandinavia because, she told Janet Wilson during a recent Radio Pacific interview, Scandinavia doesn't tolerate child poverty. This is right but does alleviating poverty amongst single parents actually improve their children's outcomes?

A massive Swedish study tracked one million children for a decade and found that the children with single parents were twice as likely to develop a psychiatric illness such as severe depression or schizophrenia, to kill themselves or attempt suicide, and to develop an alcohol related disease.

Girls were three times more likely to become drug addicts if they lived with a sole parent, and boys four times more likely.

Although the researchers concluded that financial hardship, which they defined as renting rather than owning a home and being on welfare, made a difference, other experts questioned the financial influence because Swedish single mothers are not poor when compared with those in other countries.

The conclusions section of the study, which was published in the Lancet, January 25, this year, found (quote);

"Growing up in a single parent family has disadvantages to the health of the child. Lack of household resources plays a major part in increased risks. However, even when a wide range of demographic and socioeconomic circumstances are included in multivariate models, children of single parents still have increased risks of mortality, severe morbidity, and injury" (unquote).

And from the discussion (quote);

"From an international perspective, the socioeconomic situation of a single parent in Sweden is quite favourable, mainly because of opportunities for state-subsidised day-care and financial support. In a comparison of self-perceived health between single mothers and mothers with partners in Britain and Sweden, the increased relative risk was the same in both countries, despite the more favourable social policy in Sweden (unquote)."

Sweden's social policies have not prevented the increased risks to children or improved the health of their parents so why hold them up as a model to emulate?

Indeed, it would seem that, in general, the problems of single parents and their families cannot be alleviated by social policy. The problems are most probably associated with the difficulty of parenting alone, the stresses of being the main caregiver and breadwinner, and the single parent characteristics and behaviour which might be associated with the very reasons they are separated or divorced. Dr Stephen Scott, a child health and behaviour researcher at the Institute of Psychiatry in London says, "More irritable people are more likely to become separated but they are also more likely to have, separated or not, more irritable children".

So, the most important challenge is to discourage people from becoming single parents in the first place, especially if they are highly unsuited to parenthood or parenting alone. Yet international research and policy papers consistently discuss how to improve the lot of single parent families - never how to arrest their growth.

The only way this is going to happen is for government to do less - not more. Whatever government pays for they will get more of. Whatever they incentivise, whatever they put a price tag on, you can be sure demand for it will grow.

Government created an avalanche with the introduction of the DPB. Now it has a responsibility to wean people off welfare and stop new ones coming on.

Finally there is no disputing that chronic welfarism is strongly associated with dysfunctional families. I want to finish by reminding you about a welfare child whose caregiver was ripping off two single parent benefits - Lillybing. My little girl started school on Monday. She had the big kindy send-off, the family get together, and a Fairyland party for her own little friends. It was her very special time. Lillybing would have turned 5 this month if she had lived.


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