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Choices and benefits

Choices and benefits

We have seen the announcement that the Government has made about what people on benefits with children will have to comply with to retain their benefits. “Scary stuff!” says Rebecca Occleston, speaker for Beneficiary Advisory Service. “I believe that parents are generally the best people at judging what is best for their children.”

The Government has stated that beneficiary parents must ensure their children:

• Attend early childhood education 15 hours a week from age 3.

• Attend school from age 5 or 6.

• Enrol with a general practitioner.

• Complete Well Child checks.

Attending Childhood Education

“I can see many problems with this new obligation straight away”, says Rebecca, “and there are no doubt other issues I have not seen yet. Not only should parents have the choice to have their children home with them, but what if parents want to make alternative arrangements like swapping childcare with a friend or getting grandparents to help out?

“What about children in rural areas with little access to these options (I assume there will be a small amount of discretion for cases like this?) What if the parent does not feel comfortable with the options that are available? With so many fears of child abuse, do we want to force parents to leave their children in places they don't trust?”

“I love preschool and kindy and think they are great, but I think it is a parent's right to choose whether to send them somewhere IF they can find somewhere appropriate that they are comfortable with. Remember many children have some special needs which may not be met by the local childcare unit or may be very disruptive. Children with health issues are often not allowed to attend (if they have something that is contagious for example). People living in sub-standard housing are more likely to have recurring health issues of this kind.

“Why should people on benefits be forced to put their children into preschool for 15 hours a week if they think it is better to keep them at home or make alternative arrangements? The 15 hours is a bit inflexible: what if your local playcentre is only open 12 hours/week? What if you prefer to attend “coffee groups” or music & movement classes? Many parents think 15 hours/week is too much for a three-year-old, especially if it starts all in one go.

“We would also note that it is not (and can’t be made) compulsory for all – it is only for those on benefits. I am all for encouraging early childhood education and health checks etc. but this is not the right way. How about making sure it is accessible, cheap (affordable means free for those on benefits and low incomes), high quality etc. for everyone?”

Attending School and Registering with a GP

Most parents would have children in school at the correct age and be registered with a GP. If people do not, we need to look at those reasons rather than trying to force compliance. Whilst many areas have free doctor’s visits for children under 6, not all areas do. “Even $10 for a visit is a lot of money when you are on a benefit”, says Rebecca. “For people who move around a lot, they may not be registered anywhere and just take their child in when it becomes necessary. Once we know what the reasons are, we can then start to look at how to help increase this. Are provisions being made for children who are home-schooled?”

Immunisation / Wellchild checks

“This issue is similar to the last one: if people are not getting children immunised and it is not from research and a moral objection, why are they not? Can we make this easier for families rather than penalising them for it? It is rash and tasteless!

“If wellchild checks are helpful and easily available for all, people are more likely to follow up on these. Again, if they are not doing them, why are they not? Is it having to travel to plunket/the doctor? (Travel can be quite expensive!) Is it feeling put down when you are there (this happens to many of us)? Is it too much going on in life and forgetting? Is it feeling depressed and can’t cope with yet another appointment? We don’t know if we don’t ask.”

Punitive Measures

Paula Bennett has declared she intends to cut parents benefits if they do not comply with these new obligations. “This means if you do not enrol your 3-year-old child in a preschool facility (for 15 hours/week!) your benefit could be halved. I think this is mental,” says Rebecca.

“Another thing that continually bothers me is they assure us that if there are dependent children on a benefit it won’t be cut by more than 50%, like that makes it okay! When a full benefit is not enough to survive on, 50% means not being able to pay the rent and/or feed your children. How is this okay? We are told they “Can apply for hardship grants” but do they know how hard this is? Many clients cannot get appointments when they need them. If they can’t do something after 3 warnings, why will they be able to immediately after benefit being cut? Wouldn’t this make life even harder?

Moral of the Story

We need to look at why aren’t these being done. What can we do to help these families if they need it? Has the Government given up on incentive programmes?

I remember when Work and Income made it much harder to get assistance for counselling. Does the Minister have any idea how hard it is to do anything when suffering from depression? That pressure will only make things worse not better.

Do readers think it is okay if it is only for beneficiary children, but they want to be able to make choices about their own children?

Rebecca Occleston, Speaker: Beneficiary Advisory Service

Beneficiary Advisory Service is a Christchurch based Community Group who help people on benefits and low incomes with their problems with Work and Income. We are specialists in Welfare Law and provide advice, information, support and advocacy to hundreds of people every year. We can be contacted on 03 379 8787 or at bas.cprc@gmail.com


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