Lindsay Mitchell: Labour welfare policy a sham

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Labour's Phil Goff is wrong on welfare, writes contributor Lindsay Mitchell. Photo / Dean Purcell
Labour's Phil Goff is wrong on welfare, writes contributor Lindsay Mitchell. Photo / Dean Purcell

In an effort to differentiate themselves from National, Labour is promising to extend the In Work Tax Credit (IWTC) to beneficiary parents and scrap any work-testing of the domestic purposes benefit (DPB). The first can only be a cynical vote catcher because the IWTC was a Labour creation after all. Or are we to accept that it was a good idea in government but not in opposition?

Promoting the second promise Annette King says that there shouldn't be an 'arbitrary' youngest child age for requiring a sole parent to find a job. Yet, in the same breath, she is also promising an extension of paid parental leave to 26 weeks. Isn't that an 'arbitrary' figure? In any case Australia and the United Kingdom, the two countries we generally compare ourselves to, have welfare rules based upon a work requirement set against the age of the youngest dependent child.

Labour is also refusing to deal with the significant problem of women adding children to their benefit.

When tackled about this Labour Leader Phil Goff defensively told Mike Hosking that most women on the DPB came from a marriage break-up and were there for only a short period of time.

The Ministry of Social Development's Statistical Report used to record whether someone on the DPB had been divorced, separated, separated from a de facto or never married when they became dependent. But it stopped doing so in 2001. There is no source of data that backs his claim. Requests under the Official Information Act to obtain this information have been refused.

Next he doesn't define a short period of time. Is it 6 months? 2 years? Three years? That's a subjective quantification. But again, his claim is either ill-informed or deliberately misleading.

In his book The Poverty of Welfare Michael Tanner describes how welfare statistics can be highly misleading. He uses the example of a hospital ward where 12 out of 13 beds are occupied by patients staying one year. The other bed is occupied by patients that stay one week. Thus, over the year, 80 percent of the patients entering the ward stay only one week - or for a very short period. A census taken on any given day however would show that 85 percent of patients were in hospital for a long time.

Similarly then it is possible to say that "most people go on the DPB for a short period of time" as well as "most of the people on the DPB have been there for quite a long time".

Ministry of Social Development research highlights this phenomenon with the following; "On average, sole parents receiving main benefits had more disadvantaged backgrounds than might have been expected. Just over half had spent at least 80% of the history period observed (the previous 10 years in most cases) supported by main benefits. This reflects the over-representation of sole parents with long stays on benefit among those in receipt at any point in time, and the longer than average stays on benefit for those who become parents as teenagers.

Had the research considered all people granted benefit as a sole parent, or all people who received benefit as a sole parent over a window of time rather than at a point in time, the overall profile of the group would have appeared less disadvantaged."

But what does Phil Goff do?

He uses the picture that paints less disadvantage because it suits him to politically.

This is precisely why he should get nowhere near the levers of power again. He demonstrates that he has no intention of fixing what is a huge social problem for New Zealand by refusing to tell the whole truth about it.

* Lindsay Mitchell is a welfare commentator

- NZ Herald

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