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LINDSAY MITCHELL: A terrible trend in desperate need of turning

When did you last read a headline in MSM about more children being raised on welfare? Yet latest Ministry of Social Development benefit statistics (1) show at the end of 2023 the number reached a new high of 222,500.

I predicted this would happen when Jacinda Ardern became Prime Minister, making herself Minister for Child Poverty Reduction to boot. In a nutshell, I believed that her plan to increase benefit income would only draw more parents onto them. She began by introducing the Best Start Payment of $60 per week for newborns - her simplistic solution to income inequality being ever more state redistribution of wealth. This was followed by increases to basic benefit rates; removal of financial penalties for failure to name liable fathers; pass-on of child support and increased family tax credits.

In effect she decided to pay parents more not to work by further closing the gap between income from the state and income from employment. In fact, for a sole parent with a couple of children, there is now no gap between income from a benefit (with all the add-ons like accommodation supplement and family tax credits) and an average paying job. By April last year the average benefit income for this family type was $1,057 weekly. (2)

So, even against a backdrop of low unemployment, it is no surprise that the number of children in benefit-dependent homes has risen. Why does it matter? If these children have been technically lifted out of poverty, isn't that a good thing?

For one, homes where no one is employed lack routine and discipline. Who gets the kids up and ready for school?

Look at the stats (3&4) for Northland: lowest regular school attendance at just over a third (34.2%) and highest dependence on a single parent or jobseeker benefit (14.5% of working-age population). Christchurch has the highest regular attendance at almost half (49.4%) and second lowest reliance on the same benefits (6.4%). Mere coincidence?

But the more insidious aspect of benefit-dependent homes is the lack of appreciation for education. Who needs to be literate and numerate when WINZ puts money in your bank every week regardless? In the absence of teachers, this attitude is the main message being sent and received.

Yes, some people fall on hard times and need a period of financial help. But they are not seduced or sedated by benefits long-term. They pick themselves up and get back into the real world taking their children with them. New National MP James Meager (5) talks about watching his own solo Mum on a benefit, "...juggle three kids, part-time work, correspondence school..." She drove home the importance of education. She inspired her children. But the same MP also says, "Too many children in our country will grow up without that opportunity."

He is right. It is a statement of fact. Too many children will never experience living with a parent who works. The expected average future years on a benefit (6) measured from a point in time is now 13.6 - up from 10.7 when Ardern became Prime Minister. Another mere coincidence?

Lindsay Mitchell blogs here

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