The social welfare (2)

Any interference in the natural order of things will lead to some unintended consequences. The gradual introduction of universal social welfare in the West after WW2 has fixed some of the issues it was meant to address but also created new problems. Some of the negative by-products of social welfare were mentioned in the previous posts on da-boss:

One stark example illustrating how the availability of state welfare can upset a social equilibrium is the financial support for solo parents in New Zealand. First introduced in an embryonic form in 1911 as Widows Pension it was gradually extended over the following decades to cover more and more recipients. I understand that in 1950s the number of solo parents (mostly women) who required state support was under a thousand. Their legal situation was dependent on whether they were widowed, divorced, never married, in separation, abandoned by their spouse etc. They were often financially assisted by the local city councils and the money came from the discretionary budget of the mayors. This piece-meal system was tidied up in 1973 when, following the report of the Royal Commission on Social Security, a Domestic Purposes Benefit (DPB) was introduced. DBP was a universal benefit to which all solo parents were entitled, regardless of how they ended up in this situation. Actually, this was when the term “solo mum” was coined to eradicate the judgmental distinction between the widowed, divorced and never-married mothers.

Let us have a look at the number of recipients of the solo parent benefits in New Zealand post-WW2. From under a thousand in 1950s it grew to almost 20 000 in 1975, 40 000 in 1980 and currently stands at around 110 000:


The above trend shows that DPB, as well as addressing a pre-existing social problem, also changed the rules of the game.  A hundred thousand solo parents cannot have come out of hiding after 1973, when state support was made available to them. It is painfully clear that the existence of a universal and unconditional benefit influenced the choices New Zealanders have been making in the last 40 years. To put it bluntly: many Kiwis end up as solo parents because they know they can. Some go on DBP as they regroup after a relationship break-up to start a new, independent life. Some stay of DBP for a few years and, when their personal circumstances change, get off it. Some draw DBP for decades and produce more children while on it. What shocked me in this linked story:

was not so much that one lady in Waikato has been on DPB for 29 years while popping six children. What is much worse is that 1647 people in Waikato have been receiving benefits for 15 years or more. This is in one, mainly rural region in New Zealand!

In the first post of the welfare series I noted that social welfare is viewed by some as part and parcel of a social contract we are all bound by by the virtue of living in civilised and caring Western countries. Now an honest question: is the above scenario included in this contract? If not, how come no laws were broken in the process?

The social welfare (3)


6 Responses to “The social welfare (2)”

  1. Nick Says:

    I would say, yes, this scenario is included. First, it is bloody hard to raise 6 kids, especially when you are alone and no money can fix it. Second, she gave this state 6 new citizens which is not bad. What is the difference if it was one mother-of-six or six mothers-of-one? But in the latter case nobody would seethe about too much benefit.

  2. da-boss Says:

    I have multiple objections to both the 1×6 and 6×1 scenarios but if this is the deal then the state should be upfront about it. People on DPB should be able to put “breeder” in the occupation boxes in various forms and drop any pretenses of looking for jobs. Also, the wage earners with children should be getting tax rebates (at present there are none in NZ). Of course the remaining few tax payers would then want to become breeders and the system would implode. Unfortunately someone has to work so others can choose not to…

  3. Nick Says:

    I fully support the idea of treating stay-at-home mothers (no matter single or not) as full-time workers and paying them the same salary as teachers get. If it is a stay-at-home dad — the same. And this is not a new idea — I heard such proposals for homeschooling parents. This is a very good social contract. But the state, as a customer, must control the quality of the product it pays for (new citizens in this case). If such parent accepts this offer of employment from the state, they have to obey the rules and their children should meet some standards: educational, psychological, health, etc. It means that there should not be such situations when the parent gets the money and goes to SkyCity casino while her hungry children are waiting in a van in the carpark. If they want to gamble — it’s their right. But their children should be replete with food, smart, healthy and safe.
    Tax rebates is a good idea too, but the salary (with all wage attributes such as Kiwisaver) is better. And I am sure there is money for such scheme, the only problem is an inefficient distribution and control system. In addition there could be something else. For example, there was a special “childless tax” in Soviet Union paid by childless men without medical conditions (they called it “the balls tax”) — not a bad idea, by the way.

  4. da-boss Says:

    There is plenty of evidence that children do best when they live with both biological parents so I do not support promoting other family models as equal to a nuclear family. In terms of the outcomes for the kids they are not – check out the landmark study “Fatherless boys grow up into dangerous men” or any other serious piece of research on the subject. The home-schooling crowd have a vested interest in getting the state to pay stay-at-home parents so their stance is predictable. It is a bit like asking the greenies whether we should subsidise wind farms. Of course life does not follow script and there will always be some solo parenting but the more we pay solo parents, the more people will drift into this situation. The idea of checking the quality of parenting sounds good but it would mean employing an army of social workers to spy on DPB recipients. This would be even more state intrusion, to try fix a problem which we have partly created through social welfare (more on that in post No.3). Now a question for you. The scenario which is becoming more and more common in the West is that of women (many of them lesbians) going through artificial insemination courtesy of anonymous sperm donors. There is nothing stopping them going on DPB for you and I to maintain them for the next 18 years. The children they bring up will never have a father figure in their life (quite literary, starting from the moment of conception). I presume you are ok with this? If not, how would you stop it with universal DPB available?

  5. Nick Says:

    Yes, I am OK with just because we can’t do anything about it. I don’t think that this is a normal family, but there is no ‘normal’ in this World anymore. What is better for a child: a happy wealthy healthy gay family or a poor alcoholic criminal heterosexual one? The latter is still considered more ‘normal’ nowadays. But this is not our subject here. And I am a strong believer that happily separated parents are much more useful for children and society than an unhappy (and often dangerous) “nuclear family”.
    For some reason I don’t think about benefits like “you and I will maintain them”. There are taxes we pay anyway and I doubt they’ll become less if we cancel all benefit programs. This, for example, includes taxes for maintaining teachers teaching the strangers’ children in the schools our children will never attend, and we are OK with that. Some people don’t even have children but they still pay taxes “to maintain” the education system, and they are OK with that. I can’t feel any difference here.
    As a state, as a community, we should think about the future. The future is in children.
    At the same time I share you concerns about bad sides of benefits and the only solution I can see – to make such beneficiaries not just get the money for the pretty eyes of their kids, but earn it being a state-workers with certain responsibilities.

  6. da-boss Says:

    I will change the subject (I can – I am da-boss!). Shoplifting. I am OK with it because we cannot do anything about it. It is not “normal” but, then again, nothing is these days. Also, what is better for the children: a dysfunctional family which does not shoplift or a happy, wealthy one that does? It is wrong to think that, while shopping, we are only paying for the stuff we put in our trolley. We are also expected to pay for the goods others put in their pockets. Some people are OK with this deal so we should not complain either. It is not that the goods would become cheaper if we stamped out shoplifting – things cost what they cost regardless. Ultimately what matters is that everyone has access to whatever they need – this is good for the future of the society. The solution is to employ more social workers to go around the houses of known shoplifters to check if the stuff they steal is well used. If they feed it to their kids and not sell it to get money to go to the Skycity then I am OK with that.

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