Defending the Domestic Purposes Benefit

This article was contributed to The Spark by Jessica Ward

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.


  1. Why should married people, or those with ‘partners’ be forced to work, or live on only one income, when a person on DPP can just stop work? If one ‘partner’ loses their job, no benefit.
    Why are we still paying solo mums not to work? All other mums do!

    • I hear your resentment that your wife is unable to collect DPB whilst she has your support. Separated partners are legally required to pay maintenance-it’s not a “free ride”. Don’t you believe we should pay taxes so that public services are there to administer needs in the community?- or should they go solely to politicians salaries or to line the pockets of profit making contractors and consultants? DPB is for sole parents who have lost the economic support of their partner. If you were unable to support your wife and children would you want them to starve? or would you prefer your children to be adopted out to strangers. If you think that system was OK check out the work of CLAN Inc (Care leavers Australia). You display a lot of resentment towards women receiving support to bring up their children alone. If you were widowed would you choose to abandon your children so that you wouldn’t be “a burden” on the rest of the community? If you lost your job would you expect to adopt your children out or if expecting require your wife to undertake an abortion? Does your wife work outside the home? If so is it because your wage no longer covers the economic needs of your family. If this is so how much responsibility do you take for the unpaid component in your house hold? – or are you one of these husbands who expects their wife to hold down a career in the paid workforce and shoulder all the responsibility of the unpaid component of child rearing and house hold management?

      • Tut, tut Jayne. Please address the issue. That many women and men work and just manage. One or other loses their job. Disaster. But no cash from a benefit. No benefit.
        If either leaves the partnership, hey presto, money can be paid. So we then get the situation that taxpayer cash is available to single people but not those in a partnership. They can go broke. And they do since the wage rates today are insufficient to raise a family on.
        We need to raise the basic wage which should solve many problems.

  2. Don Franks says:


    That’s a very substantial article, “chunky with facts” as we used to sometimes gratefully say over the old WCL news desk when a good report came in.


    Ray, get it, all mum’s work.

    Being a mum is doing a singular job.

    The basic requirements for the position are expertise in being a cook, cleaner, counsellor, arbitrator, weight lifter, sports coach, psychologist, nutritionist, accountant, spiritual guidance expert, music teacher, social rights advocate, feminist, sociologist, beautician, drama coach, time management expert,licensed and expert motor vehicle driver, entertainer, net worker, stoic, motivational speaker, political activist, gardener, financial advisor, unflappable champion of lost causes, hard case all round life teacher, mediator and saint.

    I might have missed a few, just going off what my mum did for me.

    Just so you feel ok Ray, my mum also “worked” as a pharmacist at the Hutt hospital along the way.

    Fuck you.

    • Tut, tut Don. Apart from offensive language, you have not replied to my main point. Which is that people, men and women, with ‘partners’ cannot collect DPP. Too bad if you lose your job. No cash. Lose your home because you cannot pay the mortgage or rent, too bad.
      But solo mums get the cash.
      The situation has to be rectified.

      • For sure, a lot of couples with kids need more support. However, this idea that solo mums are competing with other beneficiaries, and other workers, needs to be quashed.

        Benefits in real terms have declined, over a period when real wages have declined, and the labour market has been made more ‘competitive.’ Scapegoating solo mums and people on the sickness benefit doesn’t get us any closer to dealing with unemployment, or any source of poverty.

        We don’t get to a society of ‘each according to their need’ by squabbling over the scraps.

      • Thank you Ian for your comments. Agreed. The level of decline in both wages and benefits is quite incredible. Under both Labour and Nats. We are going slowly towards the Greek solution of soup kitchens for the starving. I saw a BBC news report from Greece where the reporter spoke of a friend who worked for the Greek TV who now lives at the soup kitchen.
        We have to concentrate on what it costs to live, and then try to get our wages at say 80% of that as a first target. At present we probably are at 60%.
        We had to give a beneficary $50 the other week. She had no cash. We know her well. What about those who lack someone to tap for a sub?

  3. “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. ”

    I think this strikes at the heart of what’s contentious about the DPB. Having children and having them supported, is seen as a right, that everybody should have, paid for by society.
    I disagree with this. Having children is a privilege!
    Of course you can have children if you want, but it’s your responsibility to pay for them.

    This is just the same as ‘you can have a trip around the world if you want, but you’ve got to pay for it’.

    I disagree that you are providing a service to society by having children. Yes, children are going to grow up the be the next generation of workers, etc. But raising a child on the DPB does not guarantee that the child is going to be the next great thinker. Infact you could argue that parents who are have children in a responsible context instill a good work ethic and other values in their children. We can always import labour from overseas for our menial jobs.

    • Raising a child on the DPB does not guarantee that a child will not be a great thinker… mind you I wonder about Paula Bennetts child… and Mrs Key had a child on the benefit didnt she, cant for the life of me think of his name… oh itll come back to me… provide some insightful comments will you manstruth not half-baked vitriol… and importing overseas workers for menial jobs????? WTF…

    • Re”I disagree with this. Having children is a privilege!
      Of course you can have children if you want, but it’s your responsibility to pay for them.”- yeah – so is pet ownership, and we all know what the SPCA does to pets whose owners can no longer provide for them. The lucky ones get adopted…what do propose should happen when- not if a families means of economic support collapses temporarily or permanently over the 15 or so years it takes for a child to be considered “independent”?- do you see it as a solution to this that parents be issued with a set of lethal injections to give their kids the minute they are unable o support them?

    • I feel I need to respond to your comment manstruth. I came to NZ from UK with an 8 month old, I sold MY UK house to buy my husband and I a home here. He decided to walk out with no warning for another women and demanded half my home’s equity as he likes to “spend spend spend” and ran out of credit! He left me and our son now aged 5, I have no NZ recognised qualifications despite the fact I have over 20 years worth of work experience and qualifications in the UK. And been left with a 250k mortgage. I cant sell the house in this recession even though Ive dropped the price by over 150k just to get rid of it.

      So Ive put myself through tertiary education so I can get at least one NZ qualification, and have been applying for jobs every week for months. Ive not even been offered an interview, Im raising a 5 year old in a foreign country through no fault of my own, as my ex was the GOLD digger not me….. and when I had to start claiming benefits to meet the mortgage payments (when the 2 year long property settlement battle began) all the DPB payments would cover were the mortgage, insurances and power. I had no money for food I ended up in hospital after losing over 15kg in 3 months, I collapsed though starvation, even though I was selling my belonings so I could buy baby food nappies etc.

      The man WHO sired the offspring that Im now raising on my own, on benefit gets away with paying any decetnt amount of child support as NZ laws state that if the deserting parent shacks up with a women how has kids, even if she is getting child maintenance for the kids Real father, the deserting parent only has to pay the mother of his flesh and blood child less than 50% of what she could get based on his salary, because these other kids are a financial priority……

      So rather than blame single mothers for Having kids so support them yourself rather then make the government pay, how about, make the men who sire these children pay for their own flesh and blood, then if they want to find a women who has kids let those kids parents pay. Its all backwards here, in UK the absconding parent pays for his own children, usired kids are considered second…. making the goverment less financially responsible.

      If I could leave NZ and go back to UK I would but the Hague convention prevents that, so its OK my ex has a 80k a year job, and can afford 800 a month to graze horses, while he renigs on paying his child support….. but Im FORCED due to the economic job climate the housing market etc., for support me and my young child on benefit, that not my fault, maybe the contraceptive thing IS a good idea, maybe reserve it for men who dont pay child support, i .e. if you dont pay you get the snip!!!

    • Re”I disagree with this. Having children is a privilege!
      Of course you can have children if you want, but it’s your responsibility to pay for them. ” So- if you have children to support and your income from being employed disappeared with very limited or no prospects of any paid employment to go to, through any one of a number of events often out of your control as happens to many people, -eg, as a consequence of corporate restructuring, employer bankruptcy, corporate fraud, accident, illness etc- How would YOU deal unaided with the responsibilities you accrued when times were good, regarding your children(?)- many men with your attitude when facing these circumstances run away-even emigrate to avoid taking responsibility – I’d really love to see your response to this question. – Hint during the depression many women and children were abandoned to starve and this is what you seem to have no problem with,(unless you are only pretending to be an intelligent person) consider what the alternatives would be to our current system of SS entitlements:- (A) accept social security (SS), (B) abandon your family so they have to accept SS, (C) Divorce your wife and deliver your children to the adoption agency and walk away, (D) remain single all your life…(E) You are comfortable with the sharp end of practicing euthanasia on otherwise healthy people, after all according to your belief system they have no right to life- Hey I’ve heard about people like you- give you a clue- they supported the German government during the 1930s!

  4. A link to what is happening in America to solo mums. Read the first lot of info and then ignore once it gets boring. NY Times.

  5. Don Franks says:

    “I disagree that you are providing a service to society by having children. Yes, children are going to grow up the be the next generation of workers, etc.

    But raising a child on the DPB does not guarantee that the child is going to be the next great thinker.”

    Infact you could argue that parents who are have children in a responsible context instill a good work ethic and other values in their children. We can always import labour from overseas for our menial jobs.”

    “Manstruth ” is Bosses talk.

    Never mind where the literate numerate healthy future workers come from, they will come from somewhere.

    The assumption that there is “work” and there is “thinking”, and never the twain shall interact.

    Crowned with the racist assumption that third world labour is a tap that can be turned on and off for the benefit of “we”, “our” and “us”.

    The nuisance is that despite it’s detachment from reality, this nauseating archaic shite still somehow retains some dregs of political weight, thus helping hold back worker’s struggles for liberty and justice.

  6. Re-“The nuisance is that despite it’s detachment from reality, this nauseating archaic shite still somehow retains some dregs of political weight, thus helping hold back worker’s struggles for liberty and justice.” Thanks for that!

  7. Rachael Ella says:

    I’m a 33 year old solo-mother to a wonderful 3 year old son.

    I was a stay-at-home mum, and when I tried returning to the workforce my ex-partner made it really hard, saying he wasnt going to look after our son while I was working, and he would start fighting with me before I was due to go in so I would be that much of a mess that I would be sent back home, the father of my son was the one that decided that a relationship was too much hard work, he refused to go counselling, he refused to compromise, and after the 4 years of verbal and emotional abuse he put me and our son through, “threw” us out stating it was just too much hard work, leaving us both broken, broke and very unstable, with no-where to go.

    I love being with my son, and chose to be a full-time stay at home mum, which was also the decision accepted and approved by my ex-partner.

    We went from being completely dependant on my ex-partner who was earning $1300 p.w. to $400p.w. on the DPB and am living week-to-week, I have the phone on so my son can talk to his father every other night, which is $30 a week, then there is the $50 pw on firewood, because there is only an open fire, I have been using an oil heater to take the chill off the rooms in the morning, and nights mainly for my son, inside the house the other day at (11am was 6degrees celsius),which ran the power bill up to $240 this month, which I will not be able to afford but will pay off at $40 pw …I am left with about $100 pw for food and nappies after paying all these bills and the rent, no money left over to go out somewhere nice for dinner once a week, no extra money to buy a special toy for my son, struggling to get enough winter clothes for us both…it just doesn’t seem fair to me, since my ex was the one that chose/decided for me that the relationship was finished…and now, it feels like i’m being punished, I totally have all rights to go halves of my ex-partners house, as I cooked, cleaned, washed, looked after finances and raised our son for 3 years in it, it was our family home, (which he is now living in) while we are left to rent an uninsulated,no heating 1890 built cottage that is infested with rats and mice in the walls but he is saying if I pursue this course he will stop all contact with our son and it will be on me, my 3 year old boy has been getting cold-upon cold, and because of the stress of everything bites his lip continually till it bleeds, and absolutely scared to go to kindy, when we first got here he never smiled, but is slowly feeling more and more stable and secure and is blooming into a gorgeous young boy…there have been days when he was quite bad, ie saying that he hates me, that he wants to kill me with a hammer, why is dad angry, why dont we have money to go to the shop etc etc and also when other people try to talk to me he shouts at them, “leave my mum alone”, which is a protective trait he used when me and his dad were fighting.

    I don’t like being on the DPB, but I did work my ass off for 15 years, including 2 years on a fishing trawler which was 6 hours on 6 hours off for 12 week stretches..I paid my taxes too, and if it wasn’t for my ex-partners decision to run, (although I really thank him for this, because we are both much better away from him) I wouldn’t have to depend on the Peoples money, and the Government to finance me. I don’t intend to still be on the DPB in 2 years from now, and cant stand the way some people view things…I didnt choose to be on the Welfare, but at the moment I have no other option, Some of us solo-parents are genuine, and really struggling to raise our children healthily…but you can be assured that my boy will be taught great work-ethics, to be non-judgemental and have empathy for others. And, yes, there are plenty of people wanking the system…but what of the genuine ones!? The ones who are really struggling? Will you smite them too?

    • Hi rachael thanks for your story, I empathise, Im in the same boat as you, its sucks doesnt it, I just pray my ex comes back in his next life as a single mother maybe then these men can understand the damage they have done.

      • Found this online-

        Click to access 2002-rukareport.pdf

        This was from 2002 and deals with the matter of receiving a benefit and conjugal status. Personally I believe that this regime places beneficiaries as a target for domestic and public abuse and violence, in the hope that the public will call for the removal of financial rights for sole parents. It’s worked too- just look at some of the abusive posts that appear every time the subject is raised. Under the current family violence regime being on DPB is very likely to qualify most children being taken into care. The move to require parents on DPB to seek employment I believe that there should be a call to do away with the conjugal status sanctions pertaining to welfare recipients altogether. It puts children at risk. Right now a man can manipulate a woman’s feelings and physically hold her to ransom, to gain access to her entitlements. If this is too onerous for the fragile sensibilities of people like some of your respondents, maybe some consequences can be visited upon the abusive male partner in tandem with the need for reparations, after all most of the money ends up in his pocket. Now there are no consequences for his actions, and he can continue to hunt out vulnerable DPB recipients. Rather than requiring women who are victims of the type of extreme violence discussed in this paper to be criminalized as they are now, that with the recent recognition of a financial abuse component in these relationships in which the recipient is stood over and her benefit extorted from her, regarding the relationships discussed in the paper, any normal logic will recommend that in conjugal status issues regarding benefit fraud, there are two parties involved- the abusive man who more than likely was attracted by the prospect of being able to access the mother’s entitlements by forcing an “illegal” relationship on her.This sort of activity should attract criminal charges of extortion with violence or at the least a charge of fraud by financial abuse and attract a bill for the overpayment of the benefit and a huge fine or jail term for the man concerned.Many of these men are now being convicted of murder and manslaughter when they turn on the children,but this does not happen until a child is killed or severely injured.

  8. Rahui Maru says:

    I agree with this article and as a solo mum on welfare all i can say is FINALLY this is brought to light the facts about motherhood and you have to experience it to believe it.I am one ofthose solo mumswho take what i can get and just get on with it as thats life where people get the short end of the stick.I am not saying that im playing the victim and demand special treatment for my life but even strong minded people like me appreciate just a little bit of appreciation or a pat on the back for my efforts as a mum. As a black sheep of the family neglected even when i showed i was bright that lack of support and love from my own family caused me to take a different path though if i had the strength knowledge and courage wisdom also that i have now as an adult then i did as a teen things wouldve been different. After the bad lick trials tribulations of being kicked from relatives back and forth simply cause nobody wanted me they had to put up with me cause at least my siblings cared. Also having 3 unplanned pregnancies cause when your in an abusive relationship you got no say and when your own family turn your back on you you have no choice but to stay with the kids abusive controlling father because he was the only thing closest to help. So i have humbled myself and learnt theough all this i wanted to abort all my kids my first not because i didnt want him but because i knew i would be on my own my second jus cause one was enough plus a winz worker said to me why do you have children when you cant afford them i didnt know only rich people could have children so because of that i wanted to abort my third and i couldnt take a life so i had my 3kids. When it was jus myself and my two kids i survived on 160 to 190 a week due to direct debit for rent goin out and hp for a washing machine and a loan from the same place being paid of not to mention kids neccessities and powr watr bills food i managed for two years and because of that i know how to budget my kids come first i get their neccesities in bulk sustainable quality and clothes shoes when their on sale i also know how to shop.At the end of the day its all about survival ive toughened up and have a clear head i do want to work nut not at min wage my only option is to gain qualifications so since i got pregnant ive been doing correspondences at my own pace and when my last born is a bit older i can tackle something harder and aim for a degree and budget most importantly manage my kids wellbeing upgrade my qualifications budget and balance my life and despite negativity im going to block that out be positive cause i already got nothing constantly judged and ridiculed but i dont care ive been through hell but there is some one out there worse than me so i am grateful for what i have and if i want to move forward i have to clear obstacles to do that and with time perservearance and determination i intend to prove i can. It does not mean i am lazy freeloeding of the govt it just means as a solo mum even i need help financially as my odds are slim at getting work where i can provide properly for my family which is all any parent wants and ive always been responsible for my actions choices and put my kids first and look after myself too.

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