Rodney Hide: PC approach obscures facts

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Benefit dependency is linked to abuse statistics. Photo / Richard Robinson
Benefit dependency is linked to abuse statistics. Photo / Richard Robinson

Let's start with the numbers. They aren't mine. They come from a recently published Ministry of Social Development "factsheet".

A total of 76,000 New Zealanders were born in 1993. About 6000 were subsequently abused or neglected; 3000 became known to the Youth Justice system by the age of 17; and 41,000 - more than half - spent time in a household dependent on a main benefit such as the dole or DPB.

The benefit-supported children were six times more likely to be abused than those who were not benefit-supported. And they were 14 times more likely to be known to Youth Justice.

Those in households benefit-dependent for nine or more years were 13 times more likely to be abused and 29 times more likely to be known to Youth Justice.

Spending less than a year in a benefit-dependent household didn't increase the likelihood of abuse but doubled the chance of trouble with the law.

Those are the numbers. Now for the opinion. We can see that benefit dependency correlates with child abuse. But that doesn't prove it's the cause. There's a cluster of dysfunctionality variables such as abusive childhood, impoverished upbringing, drug and alcohol abuse, and so on. The variables interact, making it hard to disentangle cause from effect.

Nonetheless, the ministry factsheet is suggestive. If the benefit system were a commercial product the Government would demand a warning: Danger: Taking a benefit can endanger your children.

Certainly, such a correlation would be enough to force a food, a toy, or a medicine to carry, at least, a warning label and, perhaps, to be banned.

But don't expect a welfare warning. In brilliant double-speak the factsheet concludes:

"These findings are consistent with associations between low income and measures of child maltreatment found both across and within countries. They do not, however, establish that being supported by the benefit system causes a child to be more at risk of these outcomes."

The implication is that more welfare is needed to combat "low income" and, hence, abuse. But the ministry's analysis doesn't consider income, only benefit dependency. And the ministry quickly dispatches the demonstrated correlation, declaring their data doesn't prove that dependency causes abuse.

That's true. But it doesn't prove poverty is the cause. Or that dependency isn't. Poor countries have lower abuse rates than New Zealand and New Zealand had lower rates of abuse historically when we were poorer but less benefit-dependent.

The factsheet confirms how the politically correct answer is always to blame poverty and to call for more welfare. But perhaps political correctness is blinding us to the real culprit: that the benefit system itself is the cause of abuse and bad behaviour. Well, that's my opinion. And the ministry's own factsheet backs it up. Perfectly.

- Herald on Sunday

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