Kerre McIvor

Kerre McIvor is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Kerre Woodham: A mother of all policies

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Having a baby young reduces life choices.
Photo / Northern Advocate
Having a baby young reduces life choices. Photo / Northern Advocate

The only real problem with offering free long-term contraception to women beneficiaries is the way the Government sold the initiative.

Had the Government offered free contraception to parents who are receiving the Working for Families tax rebate, instead of beneficiaries, you can bet your bottom dollar Sue Bradford and other like-minded advocates would have been shrieking from the rooftops that lower-income people were being discriminated against and that they too deserved the same assistance offered to working couples.

Contraception is expensive. Ask any man or woman on a limited income.

And so long as the Government is not coercing women into opting for long-term contraception, and while there is still freedom of choice, I don't see how this is offensive.

I have heard stories of women being used as cash cows by predatory men who get them up the duff to collect the extra money the DPB will bring in.

I've also heard stories from women who love their babies but never intended to get pregnant and are now finding it even tougher to get into the sort of work that will ensure they have a significant degree of self-determination.

Having a baby young and living on a benefit reduces the number of choices you have in life and it requires a monumental effort to get out of the mire of welfare dependency.

It's worth repeating that most people, men and women, who go on to the DPB do not see it as a career. Most of them are there from seven to nine years while they come to terms with a failed relationship and young children.

But those who do have children and keep on having children while on the benefit - about one in four - and expect the taxpayer to continue to pick up the bills for these children, should not be surprised when questions are asked about the value taxpayers are getting on their investment in these young New Zealanders.

If children born to unmarried mothers were given the best possible start in life through their mothers eschewing drink, drugs and cigarettes during their pregnancies, if they were born into clean, safe houses, if they were nurtured, body and soul, if they were educated and stimulated by their parents, that would be brilliant for the child and brilliant for the country. And some babies who are born to mums on benefits have exactly that experience.

Far too many do not and we've all seen the consequences.

I don't think the Government's offer of free long-term contraception will fix the problem of babies being born to inadequate parents. It's far too complex for that.

If you have nothing, babies become your form of currency. If you've never felt secure or safe, you want something you think is going to love you unconditionally. If you're in a relationship with a man who wants you to have his baby, that's very seductive. And if you have minimal education and you live in a town where there's very little chance of finding employment, going on the DPB seems logical.

But the Government is offering women a chance to control their fertility, a way of putting off having babies until they get out of a bad relationship or can get into a better place, literally and metaphorically.

For those who can see beyond the grind of their day-to-day reality, the offer of free long-term contraception is an opportunity. And I can't help but wonder what the reaction would have been if Labour had proposed this policy.

Political tart's silly move

Hah. Colin Craig is a fine one to talk about promiscuity. The wannabe politician would leap into bed with John Key if it meant his party had the chance to get into Parliament.

The Conservative Party leader bemoaned this week that it was dreadful for the Government to offer free contraception to women when it was well known that Kiwi girls were the sluttiest in the whole wide world.

As you can imagine, this provoked quite the response from commentators from the left and right. But he wasn't beneficiary-bashing - he insulted all Kiwi women, apart from those God-fearing 70-year-olds who'd only ever known their husbands in a carnal sense.

He based his comments on a Durex survey - hardly empirical evidence.

I did wonder if he had thought about who these women were having sex with. I'm sure there are some promiscuous girls having sex with each other, but they can't all be girls going wild together. Which means if New Zealand women are slutty, so too are Kiwi men.

On talkback I've had infuriated callers spit out the worst insult they can think of - "You're nothing but a socialist/right-wing/fascist [pick your adjective] slut," they'll shriek. And my usual response is: or a fun-loving girl who made the most of her opportunities.

Silly old Craig. He should beware the precedent set by right-wing conservatives in the United States. Whenever a man who has campaigned on purity and the sanctity of marriage brandishes the word slut around with wet-lipped relish, a scandal is never very far away.

Craig may well be exhorting women to close their legs if they want a life-long partner: my advice to him is to close his mouth if he wants a political partner to give him a leg up into Parliament.

- Herald on Sunday

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