The social welfare (3)

So, as demonstrated in the previous post, introducing a universal and unconditional financial support for solo parents has led to a massive increase in the number of recipients in New Zealand. What are the other social impacts of DPB?

DPB has undermined the traditional model of a family, understood as two biological parents living together and sharing responsibilities for their children. Marriages can be rocky but as long as the downsides of splitting up outweigh the benefits, the spouses will try to work things out. One of the consequences of splitting up used to be the loss of financial security. In a nuclear family it was usually men who provided most income. With their ex-husbands out of the picture the living standard of women bringing up children typically took a dive. Before 1973 a woman actually had to claim maintenance directly from a father of her children through courts but even with a court order some men would not pay. There were also men who, faced with the additional costs associated with living alone, simply could not make the same contribution as before. So, in a scenario of marital break-up, everyone was worse off.

DBP was introduced precisely to mitigate the uncertainties associated with the marital break ups. The idea sounds charitable and benign – to make sure custodian parents are guaranteed a social minimum to live on and are not at the financial mercy of their estranged, non-custodial ex-spouses. However, in the context of the social fabric of the Western societies, a more disturbing picture presents.

The reality is that, when children are born, it is mostly women who stay at home with them. This means that fathers typically keep working and providing financially for the family. So, if and when a family court judge has to rule on the custody of the children, it will usually be given to a mum. They already spend more time with the children – when dads are at work – so the children are assumed to have a stronger bond with their mothers. Additionally, fathers are typically in full time employment (and often doing overtime!) so giving custody to a dad would mean a complete re-arrangement of the partners’ duties. A mum, currently at home and caring for children, would need to find employment. A dad, currently employed, would have to give up his job to stay at home. This is why around 90% of custody rulings in NZ go in favour of women. Let this figure not mislead you – the cases which even go to court are the ones where fathers, due to unusual circumstances, feel they can have a go. I would guess that 90% of all disputes default to a woman custody, without going to court. This would mean that 99% of all fathers who want custody of the children are not going to get it.

There are two things which ex-partners tend to fight over during marital break-ups – the custody of the children and the matrimonial property. Intended as a non-judgemental and universal benefit DPB has powerfully reinforced the position of women in both respects. Combined with the legal practice on the custody of children, it has put men in a lost position in marital disputes. Firstly, they have next to no chance of getting a custody ruling going their way in a family court. Secondly, as non-custodial parents they will have to financially support their children, now living with their mum.

Curiously, the child maintenance payments are not dependent on the living arrangements of the custodial parent. They can co-habit with someone new, re-marry, go back to work or win Lotto but the non-custodial parent is still obliged to pay the same amount. This is the reality of life in New Zealand and other Western countries. Knowing this, women push things to the limit in marital disputes because if their partners do not back off, they will be at a disadvantage. The divorce stats prove that, more and more often, this strategy leads to a break-up.

So, the claim that DBP has merely addressed a pre-existing problem is rather laughable. It has decisively changed the dynamics of the age old institution of marriage. These days in New Zealand over one third of marriages end up in divorce and this ratio is trending up. The other shocking statistics are that over three quarters of all Maori children are born outside of the wedlock. Now some sobering quotes from a report commissioned by the New Zealand Business Roundtable, supporting the points made above:

There is a strong link between unmarried births and high rates of child abuse. During the 1960s, the Child Welfare Division’s research unit investigated the connection between single motherhood, abuse and neglect. A 1967 survey found established cases of child abuse tended to be ex-nuptial births and to occur in larger families and in homes in which one or both birth parents were absent. The reported rate of abuse for Maori children was six times that for Pakeha.


I know for a fact that in this area where there’s high unemployment, young Maori girls are told to get pregnant when they leave school so that there’s money coming into the home. There is no shame in their culture to be an unmarried mother. I feel so sad to see these young 16/17 year olds up the street pushing pushchairs, that that is their future. A lot of them have been at school with our own children so I know their ages.

PTA member, Far North (Personal correspondence to author, 2001)


At about the same time, a former social worker turned head of Maori strategy for CYFS, Peter Douglas, rattled a few cages in calling for a review of the DPB.

I think we should be thinking about the damage that those benefits do to some communities. Because it takes away the need for ambition, it takes away a sense of responsibility and sets young people on a trail of entitlement


Writing in the New Zealand Listener in 2001, Pamela Stirling said Maori children were five times as likely as other children to be abused or, at least, to have abuse detected. In response, the head of the Women’s Refuge Collective, Merepeka Raukawa-Tait asked:

Where are the good men in this country saying enough is enough? And why don’t we say to young Maori girls, “Listen, don’t go with any drongo. Don’t get into a relationship with anyone who hasn’t got a job or isn’t interested in getting out of bed in the morning”

Unfortunately, the message DPB is sending these girls is different. No matter who you go with, the state will look after you and the baby.

The social welfare (4)


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