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Lindsay Mitchell: Carte blanche to keep having kids on a benefit

An evidence brief prepared for Oranga Tamariki and published in April 2021 contains some fascinating data.

Of those individuals born 1993-97, by age 17 two percent had contact with Youth Justice and Care and Protection services (YJ & CP). You can work the rest out from there.

The next set of data from those born 1997-2002 ( slightly later than the first cohort) shows the association with benefits at age 17:

Looking at the YJ & CP group, 19% had already received their own benefit: in the past year 23% had a parent who'd received Jobseeker; 20% a parent on sole parent support and 8% with a parent receiving suported living payment.

That totals to 70 percent. (It's feasible one parent received both types of benefit in the same year leading to an overcount but the paper doesn't spell out any overlap).

Nevertheless, comparing apples with apples, for those 17 year-olds who had never been involved with Care and Protection or Youth Justice the equivalent number was just 13 percent.

The link between long-term benefit dependence and appearing in the Care and Protection and/or Youth Justice systems is very strong.

On Thursday last week the government effectively sent a message that it's fine to be on a benefit and keep having kids. They passed a law to undo prior attempts to discourage this, known as the 'subsequent child policy' - put simply, a rule that stopped people avoiding work obligations by having more babies.

Why has the government done this?

Here's Minister for Social Development Carmel Sepuloni:

The subsequent child policy has a disproportionate effect on Māori women. By removing the policy, we can further our commitment to improving outcomes for Māori and valuing the role of carers, who are predominantly women.

Maori make up 56% of the people adding children to a benefit.

Bearing that in mind here is another graph from the brief (cohort 1993-97). Note the coincidence/correlation in the YJ & CP group.

Babies born onto welfare stay there the longest. According to MSD research:

"Bivariate analysis of factors associated with long benefit durations highlights having first contact with the benefit system at birth; living with a sole caregiver at first contact; and first appearing with a primary beneficiary who was female, Maori or aged under 20."

Yet this Labour government has just given a green light to the very circumstances that set children up to fail.

Lindsay Mitchell is a welfare commentator. Her articles and reports have been widely published. She mentored beneficiary families during the 2000s and more recently worked as a volunteer at Rimutaka prison teaching English as a second language.

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