Simon Collins: Forcing parents back to work may not be answer

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National's hard line on sole-parent beneficiaries is a reminder that when it comes to core social policies, National and Labour still come to the election from fundamentally different perspectives.

In its nine years in office, Labour has done everything it can to encourage and tempt sole parents into paid work, but has gone out on a limb internationally by refusing to force them into paid work against their will.

It believes the welfare state exists to empower those who would be powerless without it. For sole parents, the domestic purposes benefit gives them the power to leave unhappy or abusive relationships, and to balance paid work and unpaid parenting in the ratio that suits them and their children.

In contrast National, as John Key put it yesterday, believes in "a genuine safety net in times of need". It thinks people should be moved on as quickly as possible.

"It's not fair on the people who pay the nation's welfare bill to have people receiving benefits and not making every reasonable attempt to pick themselves up, find a job, and stand on their own two feet," Mr Key said.

As his policy pointed out, New Zealand's refusal to work-test sole parents is now out of line with all Western countries except Australia, Britain and Ireland, all of which have signalled moves to start work-testing.

Arguably, this may be a factor in New Zealand's high rate of sole-parenthood - 28 per cent of all households with children, the second-highest out of 24 countries in an OECD report last year.

But the highest rate of sole-parenthood (33 per cent) was in the United States, a nation with one of the world's toughest work-testing regimes.

This suggests there are other factors besides welfare in the breakdown of the traditional family, and forcing parents into paid work may not be the answer.

- NZ Herald

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