The Domestic Purposes Benefit (DPB) was fought for by our mothers and grandmothers. Before the introduction of the DPB women raising children were entirely financially dependent on a partner. Women in abusive relationships that wanted to leave their husband would be forced to also leave their children. The DBP was formed through Social Security Amendment Act in 1973 with the first payments starting in May of 1974. The DPB was originally set at a level that enabled solo mums to care for their children as a full time job without having to enter the work-force. Unfortunately now this is not the case. National’s proposed benefit cuts mean mothers on the DBP will be required to start looking for part time work when their child turns 3 and full time work once their child turns 6.
The Ministry of Social Development (MSD) argues that by working 20 hours a week a solo mum could go off the benefit. Now assuming they were going into a job at the current minimum wage, what the MSD is effectively saying is that you can raise a child on $260 a week. The base rate for the DBP isn’t much better at $288.47 per week so for performing the full time job of a mother you will get paid only slightly over what you would get paid for part time work. Of course this does not take into account the rising cost of childcare or the impact of a child being put into childcare at an early age. I struggle to make ends meet on my $200 a week student allowance, I have no idea how I would manage to feed, house cloth and educate a child with only an extra $60 a week.
I find it hard to believe that any woman would choose to be on the DPB if there was an alternative. It’s not an easy lifestyle trying to care for children without support as well as manage tight finances in an economy in which many two income families are still struggling. Sole mothers have cited many disadvantages of living on the DPB, most often the financial pressures of managing on a low income, coupled with the fear of unanticipated expenditures such as visits to the doctor or prescription drugs. Living on the DPB has been referred to as “survival”, “a real struggle” and “totally impossible”. In a recent mail-out survey one woman said:
You feel like a second-class citizen basically and a lot of energy goes into just surviving. You spend more time because of your really tight financial situation running around trying to get assistance to help you keep going all the time… it’s a real catch-22. It’s a really vicious cycle.
Living costs are on the rise and this is exacerbated by the government raising GST to 15%. The cost of raising a child is estimated at around $10-$14 thousand dollars a year according to a recent report. The base rate of a solo parent is $15,000 a year for one child. Is this not discrimination? Do children born to solo parents or parents who become solo parents not cost the same amount and is it not our responsibility as a society to ensure that all children have equal advantages? While most of us are struggling the last year has seen the wealth of New Zealand’s 150 richest people grow by almost 20% to the highest ever total of $45.2 billion.
The Welfare Working Group wants to introduce a single ‘Jobseeker Support Benefit’ set at the current rate of the unemployment benefit with top ups for those currently on other benefits. This would see a majority of beneficiaries in part time work take a pay cut as the Welfare Working Group also advocates a single abatement rate for the Jobseeker Support benefit which would result in a reduction of 55c for every dollar of weekly income earned in excess of $20. I don’t see how this encourages solo parents to work when it will result in less pay and less time spent with their children. Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei has spoken of the government’s cuts in early childhood education making childcare unaffordable for many and says “It makes no sense to force parents into minimum wage jobs, when it means they don’t see their kids and they’re no better off financially after paying for childcare.”
According to the first-time use survey performed in 1998, 70% of the work performed by women in New Zealand is unpaid while only 40% of men’s work is unpaid. That’s a lot of work that is being undermined. Over the course of one year New Zealanders perform 4.2 billion hours of unpaid work. If this is converted into full-time jobs it equates to over 2 million jobs. 2.7 billion hours a year are spent by women doing unpaid and therefore invisible work. The value of unpaid work in New Zealand in 1999 was $40 billion, which is equivalent to 39% of gross domestic product. These are pretty overwhelming numbers. A 2011 Statistics New Zealand Report (latest available) estimated that 65% of women’s work was unpaid.
In a recent book social scientist Anne Else said that under current economic circumstances more unpaid work is being forced upon individuals as the state is taking less responsibility for society and unpaid labour fills the gap. Shorter stays in hospital and longer waiting lists mean an increase in unpaid care: The more delay and anxiety there is over health care, the more free caring work someone, somewhere has to do to take up the slack. Education reforms mean that it is unpaid parents who now provide the school administration which was once the job of paid departmental staff. With a shift in work from paid to unpaid due to National’s job cuts in the public sector, and a continuing recession, where are all these jobs for solo parents and other beneficiaries going to come from? In 2008 80,000 jobs disappeared. In Nationals current term of government the amount of people wanting work has also increased to a total of 271,000.
Numerous studies suggest that the impact of motherhood on employment and income differs from that of fatherhood in industrialised countries. This raises another question; if there were part-time jobs available for solo parents, what’s to say that employers will hire them? Already women’s job opportunities and wages relative to men’s are most likely to decline after they become parents, as they are seen to be more likely to disrupt paid work for family responsibilities. Substantial research also indicates neither state benefits nor employment earnings allow many sole mothers to escape from poverty.
One of the Welfare Working Group recommendations included work testing for people with chronic illnesses and disabilities. This seems like a waste of time. If a person has cancer or clinical depression working testing will likely achieve nothing more than causing someone already in a vulnerable position stress and anxiety. It is well established that unemployed and sickness beneficiaries are at a greater risk of suicide than the general population. With one of the highest rates of suicide in the OECD where every 16 hours a New Zealander kills themselves, surely addressing the relationship between welfare and mental illness is of greater important and social good than trying to force women doing undervalued unpaid work into jobs that don’t exist or work testing people with illnesses and disabilities.
The Welfare Working Group also seems to think it is allowed a say over your sex life and recommends giving long term reversible contraception to beneficiaries. (The phrase ‘nanny state’ , usually used as a derogatory phrase by rightists to describe the welfare state, springs to mind). They also want to cut benefits for people with drug and alcohol problems who refuse to attend treatment and counselling services by up to 50%. Is this government so short sighted that they cannot see how this will impact on the children of beneficiaries? The United Nations has already condemned New Zealand for the fact one in four New Zealanders live in poverty. How much more state enforced child neglect and abuse will we as a society take before we stand up and say enough is enough.
Why is raising children not given more credibility as a job? It is possibly the hardest and most time consuming job there is, and it’s unpaid. A mother’s job does not begin at conception and end with birth; it is a life time commitment taking responsibility for another human being. Children are our most valuable resource; they are the next generation of workers. Being a stay at home mum is often seen as an easier alternative to paid employment, how can this be? A solo mum is not just a parent; she is an accountant, a teacher, a nurse, a care-worker, a counsellor, an administrator, a cook, a cleaner, a taxi driver, a mentor and a provider. That’s a big job description to take on for no appreciation and no money. We should be admiring these women for their contribution to our society, not benefit bashing.