Much has already been said about the recent announcement by National of it’s “solution” to what it claims are the many young languishing as school dropouts or on either a Domestic Purposes Benefit or an Indepednent Youth Benefit. Like a lot of policies instituted by this National Govenrment the position it has taken seems devoid of both compassion and real understudying of the types of circumstances that lead people to be 16, independent from their family and requiring of governmental support.
What shocked me most as this story has continued to unfold, is how much political support this has gained with the New Zealand public at large. On Monday the 15th August snap polls on both the New Zeland Herald and Stuff websites show over 80% support for what are actually quite radical and dis-empowering measures.
Much like “youth drinking”, “boy racers”, “sexual abuse victims” and “welfare mothers” it seems the facts are unable to get in the way of our desire to scapegoat and blame the young and or most vulnerable for the often quite desperate conditions that they find themselves in.
The scale of the problem belies the size of the response. In actual figures we are talking about approximately 1600 who receive the special Independent Youth benefit and the overall number is dropping relative to the overall employment rate. The numbers of young on the D.P.B. is approximately 2400 and also seems to be falling for young people, or at least not rising relative to the overall number on a D.P.B. The policy also involves the government tracking down the 8,500 – 13,500 early school leavers who aren’t on a benefit and paying private welfare agencies to get them working or enrolled in something. Given that these as yet to be named agencies will be financially rewarded for any outcome, it’s not hard to see how this could go very wrong.
This policy then is less about solving a large and crippling financial drain on the state and more about political marketing, National positioning itself as being tough on the “dropouts” and “bludgers” without addressing the real causes of these problems. It also removes many freedoms and rights from young people simply because they require state assistance or have dropped out of school.
This approach is also unlikely to solve any of the problems it claims to address. It doesn’t take a social worker to figure out why a sixteen year old would need to be autonomous from his or her parents and seek financial support from the state. This benefit is meant to enable those young who are abused or neglected in their family of origin to have a safety net and seek independence. Young people, likely to be struggling without any real or actual support, will now be further stigmatized by being stripped of their independence. They will be unable to make financial decisions of their own, and required to pay for goods like groceries with a special “digital food-stamp” card when they do their weekly shopping. How will this build their self esteem or sense of self worth?
Lastly under this policy any single teenage parent will be compelled to return to training or work once their child reaches one year of age. As Russel Brown puts it:
“the choice to continue parenting children full-time after they’re able to walk on their own would become the preserve of the employed. Compulsorily.”
There is a mountain of empirical evidence about the impact of parental attention and attachment on later adult functioning influencing everything from addictions and depression to physical health outcomes, all of which demonstrates that this is a bad idea. And without wanting to wade into the contentious debate about childcare, what is clear is that parents are best placed to decide when and how much childcare their child can tolerate, and from parents I talk to this depends upon the child’s temperament, the quality of childcare and the parents personal belief about what is best for their child. The message from this government however is clear: if you are young, unemployed and have a child, you lose the right to choose.
Who exactly does this benefit?