16 Reasons to Get Rid of the Sole Parent Work Test

Bill English announced in yesterday’s Budget that ‘work readiness’ obligations would increase for parents who receive welfare benefits and have young children.

Currently, most parents are obliged to actively seek 15 hours of paid work – and accept any ‘suitable’ job – when their youngest child turns five years old (despite the legal age of school enrolment being six). Failure to do so can mean your benefit can be reduced or stopped. It can be halved even if you have dependent children.

The new policy requires these parents to seek 20 hours of paid work when their youngest child turns three. Bill English says:

Part-time work brings more income into a family, and is a stepping stone to full-time work and to going off a benefit altogether.

I don’t have time right now to do a long, well-referenced post about the value of parents being around for their kids. And besides, surely we’re all clear that in most cases a parent who wants to be at home the best person to raise a child?

So just briefly and rantily, here’s why this new policy is terrible.

  1. Sole parents are already working more than full-time. Raising kids is hard. Raising kids with one adult in the house is tremendously hard.
  2. Parenting is valuable. Parenting is work.
  3. Good quality Early Childhood Education (ECE) is a wonderful thing. But it’s okay for a three-year-old to need to be at home with their parent. There’s plenty of time to grow up and be independent from family.
  4. The strength of the parent-child relationship is the most important thing for building future resilience and thriving. It is unwise to require a willing at-home parent to risk it for paid work, if it won’t be the best thing for the child.
  5. 20 hours can be a long time for a little person to be away from parents. Add on commuting time and settling-in time at daycare, and it could be more like 30 hours in order to fulfil Work and Income requirements of 20 hours of work.
  6. Not all three-year-olds would benefit from being in Early Childhood Education. Plenty love kindy, but some just don’t, and three is still very little to be forced into it with no regard to the personality or situation of the child.
  7. Punishing the valid and valuable choice to stay home with young children by withdrawing financial resources from poor families is appalling bullying by the state.
  8. The best person to raise a thriving young child is a willing and well-supported parent. If a parent wants to stay home with young kids, that’s something to applaud.
  9. If a sole parent has young children ready to thrive in ECE, I’d rather they had an hour or two to themselves, and time to do the washing and grocery shopping before the kids come home again. Kindy may be their only time off-duty in 24 hours and they’ll parent better if they can choose how to spend that time.
  10. The idea that the best thing for a child is to send their primary caregiver into a job that is not necessarily satisfying or well-paid, and outsource their care to strangers, is bizarre. It’s fine if that’s what works best for the family, but not as a blanket policy to be applied to all families regardless of their circumstances and temperaments.
  11. Even three-year-olds who love going to daycare will have plenty of days sick. It’s pretty hard to juggle employment with being the only person who can look after a child or children on days they are sick – as well as the days you are sick.
  12. A family with small children, relying on a benefit is most likely to be under a fair amount of stress as it is. Adding stress with a compulsory work requirement is not a great way to build strong families.
  13. The financial benefit to a family that meets these new obligations can be negligible, especially when you add in travel and childcare costs, and especially if the job is not one that contributes to a long-term career path.
  14. We need to trust parents more, and equip and empower them more, so they are, and are recognised as, the best people to make big decisions for their children. Who is the best judge of when a child should enter ECE? Either it’s the parent, or if it’s not (if a parent has demonstrated they’re not good at making decisions for their children), the focus needs to be on lifting the parenting ability of the parent.
  15. Children are a gift from God to a family and a community. I am horrified that the state would punish people for creating human beings. For some time now, there have been extra work obligations on parents of one-year-olds who are conceived while their parents are receiving benefits. This is not okay.
  16. Experts like the Child Poverty Action Group think this is a bad idea.

I might change my mind if:

  1. The test that Work and Income had to run all decision by was ‘the best interest of the child’ as it is in other legislation affecting kids so much.
  2. All workplaces had modern, flexible attitudes to the family needs of working parents.
  3. The aim was to give people all they need to embark on a meaningful work life, rather than tick boxes and get 20 hours done.
  4. People in this position would be much better off financially (ie, their benefits would not be eroded by doing paid work).

But none of that is true. So I say this policy is short-sighted, harmful and abusive.

Many thanks to thoughtful commenters on Twitter and Facebook for sparking more thought and ranting about this. Keep up the anger, people. This has got to change.

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments, please.

You can keep up with Sacraparental via Facebook for daily snippets, Twitter for general ranting and raving and Pinterest for all sorts, including a Gender Politics board.

I have a whole category of rants, and you might also be interested in these posts:

Two Ideas for Post-Election Action

Parenting as Professional Development

Hard Days with Little Kids: 11 Things I’m Trying to Remember

A Person’s A Person, No Matter How Small

Rant: 16 reasons to get rid of the benefit work test on sole parents | Sacraparental.com

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39 comments on “16 Reasons to Get Rid of the Sole Parent Work Test”

  1. Stacey Reply

    It’s like they’ve flipped the point of the DPB on its head. The whole purpose of it was so that parents left to raise kids on their own actually could do so, without having to go to work – it recognised that raising children was a)work, b)valuable, and c)not something that can (necessarily) be outsourced easily or well

    • Sebbie Reply

      Something else that needs to be considered here is that parents with children with disabilities or special needs are not given a break on this either despite the fact that many parents of IHC children have kids who act like 2 or 4 year olds despite being much older, and also special school is not as long a day as mainstream school so how does one find a job where one can be home at 2:00 or 2:30 for these older children.

  2. Andrew Reply

    One of the things that I am concerned about is that there are not the jobs available. This then is likely to flow on to WINZ requiring evidence that solo parents have sought and applied for work, with the threat of a reduced benefit if they do not comply. The pressure rises – which can then result in a horrific negative spiral .

  3. Daina Reply

    It is a shame that there is no-size-fits-all policy that could ever really work. What is best for every family will differ. I understand the encouragement to get parents off benefits and to get littlies into ECE. That may well be best for a large number of families, but certainly not all. Getting back into the workforce after a long break having children is tough, and perhaps making that transition sooner by getting a bit of part-time work once your youngest turns 3 may be a great solution in some cases and lead to better job prospects once they are at school. In others of course it is ridiculous where the parents are stressed out, having their benefits cut by more than the work brings in with the added costs of travel, wardrobe, additional childcare costs etc. Not to mention the difficulties involved with school holidays and the inevitable family illnesses that crop up. It is a shame that there can’t be ‘encouragement’ to get people back to work and off benefits (by letting those parents be better off financially as a result) rather than the giant stick approach that forces every parent to do this or face losing the little benefit income that they have. Yes I’m sure that there are parents ripping off the system which may anger those who are working, feeling like they are making every sacrifice possible and still not making ends meet. However with all the bright minds around surely there is a better solution than this. I don’t know about kindys everywhere, but our local (60km per day!) one has a substantial waiting list and has done for over 3 years I have now had children there. My 3 year old gets 9 hours per week and that is standard, there are no more hours on offer there for 3 year olds. By the time I settled him in and drove to the nearest city (another 60km per day) I would get at best 3 hours work on two days per week. The logistics of being forced to work 20 hours are mind-boggling as I also have two school kids (another 60km per day if I drive them to school and back although mostly they go on the bus which means it is only 18km per day).

    Our school is a little country one and anything the kids want to do has to have parent help. If all parents are working there would be no school camps, no visits to watch plays, no-one to coach the school sports teams, no field trips to study the beach environment, no athletics days etc. It already seems a bit funny to me that the non-working parents are taking the time (and paying the petrol etc) to drive the other kids around while their parents are out working. However I can’t judge them for that. Perhaps they are miserable at their desks wishing that they could be at the sports day at the same time that I am envying adult conversation, uninterrupted toilet breaks, lunch-time and (my favourite) paid annual leave. There are days that I would much rather be at work, I certainly miss the intelligent conversations that assume I am valuable for more than my bottom-wiping skills. There are also days that I am thrilled to be home with my kids, in contrast to my own upbringing with a solo Mother where I came home to an empty house after school most days. But most of all I am grateful that I get to make that decision and not have it imposed on me by the government.

    • Sebbie Reply

      These things about part time work helping people get jobs would make sense if the jobs even existed. But they don’t.

  4. Fi Reply

    Good quality education in ECE is wonderful…..if it is actually good quality. But it’s not always, and research suggests it’s more harmful to be in low quality than to stay home. Also, to the 20 hours is a long time comment. It’s a jolly long time, especially as you suggested that it will often be longer once you include commute times. I see lots of little people who are completely exhausted and just ‘want their mummy’ and that’s a bit heartbreaking. My own experience with someone close to me is that they are in an extremely unsatisfying job earning minimum wage, and sending their one year old more than 20 hours. By the time they have paid childcare, and petrol and lost money from their benefit, they are going backwards. Then, in the school holidays, they have to find care for their other 5 children, and once you’ve paid school holiday programme fees, or to a babysitter (even with a subsidy) there is nothing left! The most frustrating thing, is that prior to being made to start work, they were really focusing on upskilling in parenting, budgeting and starting to make contributions within our school and wider community. Now they they have to work however, they are too exhausted, too stressed and busy, and so many of these things have been put on the back burner. Surely raising well rounded citizens and building a strong family is more important than earning crap money to do a job you hate, just so you can tick the right government box?

    • thaliakr Reply

      Thanks for this, Fi.

      If Work and Income could just ask ‘what’s best for this person and family, long-term?’ things could be so different!

  5. HG Reply

    I hired a single parent (two children, 10yrs and 6yrs). Within two months both children got chicken pox and one was hospitalised with asthma and then the older child broke her arm. The woman worked less half the days she was hired for and resigned. I think I’m a family friendly boss but it is very hard to plan for this amount of time off.
    I wonder what kind of jobs Bill English thinks single parents are going to get and how they are going to manage when their children are sick.

    • thaliakr Reply

      Yes I think this is a huge problem. It’s hard enough when there are two parents available to take time off work, but if you’re the only one, surely it’s all but impossible.

      • Sebbie Reply

        Never-mind when both your kids have disabilities and your spouse died. National and Winz still say you should fine work.

  6. Lindsay Reply

    There are thousands of working Mums who have compromised on their freedom of choice to pay for yours.

    The bottom line is, you are responsible for your children. If you want to be a stay- at- home mother, make provision for that before you start your family. Social security is a last resort safety net. Not an alternative income to furnish your desired life style. Thank goodness most NZers now see it this way.

    • thaliakr Reply

      Hi Lindsay,

      It sounds like you’re aiming your comment at me personally. If so, I find this comment pretty uncivil since you don’t know me or my personal situation.

      I normally don’t publish comments that are uncivil (see the ‘Welcome to Sacraparental’ page for the way we debate things here), but I’ll leave this one up as demonstration of what crosses the line.

      I think there are other problems with your argument too.

      1. There are many people receiving benefits who did not start their families anticipating needing to receive them.
      2. Most of my 16 points are about what’s best for children, as young as 1, who have nothing to do with the decisions of their parents. A policy like the one you’re supporting is bad for them – and therefore bad for the rest of us, who have to live with them next door for the rest of our lives.
      3. You can believe social security is a last resort and still think that the best result for everyone is to pay a parent to raise a child rather than a stranger. If the safety net exists at all, it should exist until a child is ready to be independent from its parent – at least for some of the day.
      4. I don’t think living on a benefit is a ‘desired life style’ for many people at all. It involves living below the poverty line in many cases, going without a lot of things other people see as essentials (such as dental care, fresh fruit and vegetables, trips to see family, private transport) and dealing with government staff who are often rude or unkind.

      Surely a rich country like New Zealand can do better – either out of compassion, or out of self-interest, since these kids are going to grow up into tomorrow’s adults.

      • Lindsay Mitchell Reply

        “It sounds like you’re aiming your comment at me personally. If so, I find this comment pretty uncivil since you don’t know me or my personal situation. ”

        No I don’t. You blog anonymously. Some of us blog under our real names.

        The comment was directed at people who think like you. ‘Uncivil’? Like the people protesting this policy at SkyCity yesterday. Hardly. It was to the point.

        “1. There are many people receiving benefits who did not start their families anticipating needing to receive them.”

        Almost one in five babies is benefit dependent by the end of their birth year. Many are born directly on to a benefit (which you have no problem with). It can hardly have come as a surprise to most of the 11,149 caregivers that their baby would be reliant on welfare if not immediately, shorthly thereafter.

        “2. Most of my 16 points are about what’s best for children, as young as 1, who have nothing to do with the decisions of their parents. A policy like the one you’re supporting is bad for them – and therefore bad for the rest of us, who have to live with them next door for the rest of our lives.”

        If being raised on welfare is what is best for children how do you explain the considerably worse outcomes many experience? It’s well-documented.

        “3. You can believe social security is a last resort and still think that the best result for everyone is to pay a parent to raise a child rather than a stranger. If the safety net exists at all, it should exist until a child is ready to be independent from its parent – at least for some of the day.”

        Some studies have shown that institutional early childhood care is actually better for children who come out of dysfunctional homes. But you are free to believe what you want about who is the best caregiver. I am simply asking that you pay for that choice. Don’t demand someone else does it for you.

        “4. I don’t think living on a benefit is a ‘desired life style’ for many people at all.”

        But you do. You want beneficiaries to have the choice to stay at home with their children until it suits. That is a lifestyle choice.

        • thaliakr Reply

          Lindsay, your tone is snarky and combative rather than aiming for a helpful conversation. What’s required at this website is friendly civil debate, as if we’re all having coffee together in my lounge (again, see ‘Welcome to Sacraparental’ for a fuller explanation).

          Your repeated use of ‘you’ and ‘your’ does make it sound like you assume I’m arguing for my own financial benefit, or that all of us who argue against this policy are doing so. ‘Don’t demand someone else does it for you’, you say. Well, I’m not. I’m arguing not as a recipient of a benefit, but as a New Zealander who wants a more compassionate and socially just and sustainable country.

          Perhaps that’s what you want too, and we differ in how to go about it. That’s a discussion worth having, but I will not be publishing any further comments from you if you continue in this tone.

          If you do want to continue debating, I’d be keen to hear if you think that the savings to the taxpayer of moving sole parents into work as soon as possible are worth it if they compromise the wellbeing of some children – those not ready for daycare/kindy, for instance.

          Yes, I’m aware of research that says children from deprived homes can do better if they have access to high quality ECE. I think it would be great to offer high quality ECE to all children – but not to force them to attend it if is not in their interest for any of the various reasons I and others have articulated here.

          The idea that kids from welfare-dependent homes don’t do as well, as a cohort, is surely a matter of confounding factors – and the solution might be to make welfare better rather than abolish it – isn’t that worth considering?

          Also, for the record, the ‘Welcome to Sacraparental’ page explains that I’m not really anonymous, either.

    • Sebbie Reply

      I’m glad you think my husband’s sudden out of the blue death was a “life style choice” of mine.

  7. Kara Lynn Reply

    The other thing forgotten is prem babies, twins etc. My prem baby is nearly 3 there is no way in hell I could leave her at daycare for this level of time it has taken me this long to get her to stay from 9-3 at local parent relief for 1 day every second week. Yet my two boys no problems at daycare so it entirely depends on the child and the situation. Somehow given the gestapo like rules WINZ operate with and the way they administer them I can’t see them being flexible or taking this into account to the detriment of children and their families.

  8. Frank Reply

    A problem I’ve had with many conversations I’ve seen on this topic (not here thankfully) is the assumption that because the parents are on welfare, the children are better off out of their care. For some, sure. For many? I’m not so sure.

  9. Pingback: The Budget and the Benefit | Ellipsister

  10. Anna Reply

    One more point: Many of these children will have had to go through stressful family break-ups in their first years of life. In which case, they may be more unsettled than other kids and need the stability of a parent at home, rather than being forced into childcare.

    This issue is close to my heart, as I was a beneficiary while I was pregnant with my second child last year. It was a situation I did not expect to find myself in, but I felt the relationship with my husband at that point was untenable. A condition of accepting the benefit was to agree to be actively looking for work by the time my youngest was one – which is very soon. Fortunately, my husband and I reconciled shortly after my child’s birth, but I feel very deeply for those who have been rendered powerless by this latest decision from the Government.

  11. Susan St John Reply

    Great post and you are so right about the stupid rigid 20 hours rule. It gets worse, if she finally finds a job (and we should pity the employer who has to cope with children getting sick) she is now able to go off the benefit. But on low wages she will need a top up from the IRD. She gets out of the clutches of WINZ into the clutches of IRD who understand families even less. She has to get the MFTC and the IWTC– in total she may get more from the state than she got from a part benefit and working. But hey, she is off the benefit. Here’s the rub if she loses hours of work ( very likely when kids get sick too often) both the MFTC and the IWTC will be cut immediately– now she has no source of income. What is next?

    • thaliakr Reply

      Thanks, Susan. It’s pretty hard to get that stepping-out-into-work equation right, isn’t it. Do you have thoughts on how a better system would work for the benefit-to-work transition?

  12. Tumara Reply

    Thanks for writing this!!! It’s so scary to think how many children will be forced intp ECE against their will….. Some people are horrible to single mothers. Thanks being an advocate!

  13. Charles Reply

    Parents do not have the right to stay at home
    you get that choice if you married wisely or made wise choices when you were young….

    those that don’t make those choices, face the consequences…

    • Sebbie Reply

      Sometimes people die! In our case dad died! So marrying wisely did not help. Things are not always a “choice” to pretend they are is very self-righteous and heaven help you that something might go wrong in your perfect life one day. What you are saying is that children should not be with their mothers which also goes against a lot of evidence.

  14. thaliakr Reply

    Hi Charles,

    It’s a common argument that people who choose to have children without a supportive partner shouldn’t be financially supported to raise those children.

    What do you suggest as an alternative policy?

    It seems counter-productive to me to punish children for the decisions of their parents. We know a lot about the value of parent-child bonding in helping create strong, resilient children who grow into well-adjusted adults.

    So I think there are two big problems with your position:

    1) many people receiving the sole parent benefit *did not choose* to be sole parents and
    2) if we as a society take a punitive, serves-you-right attitude, we risk ending up surrounded by fellow citizens who have not had the best start in life, and might not be great neighbours – so it just seems like cutting your nose off to spite your face.

    What do you think?

    • Sebbie Reply

      Some of us had a supportive partner actually legal spouse not partner who died.

    • Sebbie Reply

      Sudden out of the blue deaths that there is no preparing children for. But National chose to trash the widows benefit too. Some of us have disabled children on top of that.

  15. thaliakr Reply

    Sorry, let me just make this clearer: my 16 reasons above are almost all about the RIGHTS OF THE CHILDREN, not the parents.

    As it happens, I have a lot of compassion for the parents too, for various reasons. But if you don’t, fair enough, let’s talk about the impact on kids of policies that take away their parents. I think as a society, if we can make those kids’ lives better, we should.

  16. Mrs Boogooloo Watts Reply

    Let me in on a little secret!! Even as a working two parent family it is tough going – especially with illnesses and commuting. My friends who have chosen to stay at home with their preschoolers are MY life line too!! They are there when I need to get to appointments, offers of care for a few hours and every manner of support. You can’t put a price on that and I am happy for them to receive access to the benefits that their family contributes to as well because we need SAHMs in society! They support more than their own nuclear family – they’re the ones providing parent support at events, tuck shop duty, bake sales etc. Why should they be forced into taking low paying, demoralising employment that keeps them away from caring for their kids. Given the statistics on abuse in care, unless there is a radical change in the quality and quantity of care available that is commensurate with the amount of care that will be required many parents will be left feeling like this already scarce service will be further under pressure. So sorry again, who does this policy benefit?

  17. Sebbie Reply

    Great article but a MAJOR point is missing- How are women with a part time minimum wage job supposed to have enough money to pay for childcare. Free kindy is only for about three or four hours. It makes no sense at all! There is an expectation that everyone has additional family to dump their kids on. They DONT. The women will not make enough money to even pay for childcare. It makes no sense at all!

  18. Sebbie Reply

    And Winz now treats any person who goes on the solo parent benefit as having been in a relationship break up. The National Party trashed the widows benefits so now recent widows experiencing profound grieving are told to dump their grieving confused kids on SOMEONE (who?) and find work immediately and sent nasty letters about applying to their dead husbands for child support or their benefit will be cut off because the system hasn’t caught up and does not acknowledge that sometimes parents DIE.

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