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.
- Sole parents are already working more than full-time. Raising kids is hard. Raising kids with one adult in the house is tremendously hard.
- Parenting is valuable. Parenting is work.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Experts like the Child Poverty Action Group think this is a bad idea.
I might change my mind if:
- 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.
- All workplaces had modern, flexible attitudes to the family needs of working parents.
- 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.
- 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.
I have a whole category of rants, and you might also be interested in these posts: