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Lindsay Mitchell

Plans for Benefit Changes Misguided

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When a benefit-dependent sole parent refuses to name the father of her children a penalty is incurred. That’s because the state is then unable to recoup any of her benefit from the liable parent. But Green MP Jan Logie, now Under-Secretary to the Minister of Justice (focussing on Domestic and Sexual Violence Issues) maintains:

“Is it appropriate to deprive women of essential income when the reasons people don’t name a father are personal, private and, frankly, none of the state’s business?”

So if a mother isn’t naming the father because she has come to a private arrangement to directly receive a sum greater than $28 (but less than his otherwise calculated child support liability) it’s none of the state’s business?

Politicians like Jan Logie (and ex-comrade Metiria Turei), who believe every individual should have unconditional eligibility for state support in all its guises, have encouraged the state to grow too big. Big states rob individuals of freedom and privacy. So I’ve little sympathy when she turns around and asserts that a personal decision is none of the state’s business. Statists cannot have their cake and eat it too.

Now Carmel Sepuloni, new Minister for Social Development, says she will get rid of the penalty.

But will she have the numbers?

In 2004, the last time this particular issue was up for debate, Labour wanted to increase the penalty to stall a growing trend towards not naming fathers.

NZ First MP, Bill Gudgeon said:

“The bill increases the rate of reduction in the benefit, and does so as an incentive for sole parents to carry out certain actions so that the other parent contributes financially to the upbringing of the child. Currently, under section 70A of the Social Security Act the rate of benefit paid to the sole parent is reduced by $22 per week for each dependent child where that parent fails or refuses to identify the other parent in law, to make an application for child support, or to attend a hearing and give evidence at proceedings brought under the Child Support Act. By July 2005 additional increases in the rate of reduction will be imposed, but this decision will be reconsidered should the beneficiary meet the section 70A requirements… This legislation will be very difficult to implement, but New Zealand First supports it.”

The 2004 Labour government also held a common sense view on the matter.*

In the house, ACT MP Heather Roy asked then Social Development Minister Steve Maharey:

“When will he admit that this is just a rort so that fathers can dodge child support, and why should taxpayers always have to pick up the bill?”
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: “It is a rort, and I have said time and time again in this Parliament that fathers must front up to their obligations, and we will make sure they do, as much as we can.”

Maharey meant it and he increased the penalty in an effort to reduce the rort.

But today’s Labour party doesn’t care what it costs the taxpayers. And apparently they don’t care about children being denied their father’s name on their birth certificate either, arguably the bigger issue.


Sepuloni maintains the penalty isn’t working. However, the numbers who incur a section 70a penalty have fallen. In 2004 there were 19,443.

Last year the number had fallen to 13,616.

She has also said:

“The most common reason for not naming the parent was often family-violence related and so, keeping that mind, it’s almost like you’re doubly punishing these women and their children. So, we’re not going to allow that to continue.”

Here is what the Work and Income manual says though:

Your benefit payments may be reduced if you don’t legally identify the other parent or apply for Child Support. In some situations you may not need to do this, for example if you or your child would be at risk of violence. Work and Income can tell you more about this. (my emphasis)

There is already an exception to the rule for cases of violence.

So what’s the real reason for the change? I believe it’s the further imposition of radical feminism whereby women’s rights are elevated above children’s….with the added ideological bonus of screwing the taxpayer.

Dismissively, Labour claim it’s not really going to cost very much. No doubt they have calculated it based on forgoing the current $28 per week per beneficiary. On the back of a matchbox it’s around $20 million annually.

But this overlooks the future behavioural response and loss to the state of child support payments. Traditionally the state recoups up to 10% of the cost of benefits to single parents through child support. That will fall.

But wait – there’s more.

This is just one of the changes this far-Left government intends to make. They also want to scrap other sanctions (benefit cuts) such as those imposed for failing a drugs test or for failing to keep Work and Income appointments. It won’t surprise if they also scrap sanctions that motivated young parents to attend parenting and budgeting courses, and enrol their child with a local GP.

Many of the sanctions loathed by the Left merely imitate the obligations that the paid workforce experience. Now taxpayers will be expected to meet obligations beneficiaries don’t have to and pay for the beneficiary’s ‘privilege’.

This topsy-turvy ‘world view’ was recently exemplified when Catriona MacLennan, a well-meaning lawyer and advocate for the Child Poverty Action Group was heard extolling the generosity and kindness of Micky Savage’s original benefit system, and how New Zealand needs to return to that inclusiveness.

What a shock it would be for a young single mother of today to find, under the 1938 social security provisions, nobody was interested in whether she named the father of their child or not: because there was no benefit for single mothers. At best, a deserted wife could apply for a Widow’s Benefit but eligibility rested on her having been married and having sought financial support from the father through the courts.

It’s almost laughable when today’s beneficiary advocates complain about National’s ‘harshness’.

They are out of touch with reality. But they plan to drive policy made by a government with the same problem.

*Disclaimer: I submitted to the 2004 select committee that the changes would make little difference in the overall scheme of things. That is, the bigger motivational rort which was the DPB itself.