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Dr Muriel Newman

Time for Action

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The next few months will be critical for the new government. It’s a time when the expectations of change must be honoured.

For many, that change can’t come soon enough! We simply cannot have another nine years like the last. Economically, it was a great period (as it was for most economies), but the benefits have been largely squandered by politicians who imposed their personal philosophies onto the public creating an intrusive, powerful and costly state bureaucracy that has incrementally robbed New Zealanders of their freedom and eroded their personal responsibility through mindless new laws and regulations.

These outcomes were of course predictable – a bigger state can never deliver a better society. Anyone who doubts that just has to look not only at the litany of failed experiments throughout history, but also at the living example of 50 years of state control in Cuba (which incredibly a naive few still cherish as a romantic ideal of socialism).

In his speech from the throne, Prime Minister John Key alluded to the need for a renewal of individual freedom and responsibility, “My Government will be guided by the principle of individual freedom and a belief in the capacity and right of individuals to shape and improve their own lives”. He explained, “My Government will not seek to involve itself in decisions that are best made by New Zealanders within their own homes and their own communities. The new Government’s vision is not to dictate the way in which New Zealanders should live their lives, but instead to ensure they have the opportunities they need to make the best choices for themselves.”[1]

For those New Zealanders who need the helping hand of the state, John Key promised that, “The Government’s welfare policies, like all its policies, will help people to help themselves. They will reflect its belief that paid work is the route to independence and well-being for most people, and that it is the best way to reduce child poverty”.

He also outlined his intention to address one of the most serious problems facing this country, that of the burgeoning underclass: “In going for growth my Government will be acutely conscious of the fact that it is in the interests of no New Zealanders, and to the detriment of us all, to allow an underclass to develop in New Zealand”.

This is good news. While estimated to be no more than five percent of families, New Zealand’s underclass is largely responsible for most of the worst problems in society including those horrific child abuse cases.

Children like Nia Glassie, the Kahui twins, and Lillybing were not born into loving homes with committed parents ready to nurture and guide them through to adulthood. These children came into a savage world that was squalid and chaotic, dominated by booze, drugs and violence. The social pathology and moral degradation that blights the lives of the underclass, is deadly to children. If they are not killed, they are maimed, destined to pass on their destructive conditioning to the next generation.

Liberal socialists would like us to believe that these problems are mostly caused by poverty. But in many of the worst cases of abuse that we have seen there can be upwards of $1,000 a week in welfare payments going into the home. These are not problems of poverty, but problems created by state support.

For those who work for a living, there’s a responsibility to not only perform but to behave – as cricketer Jesse Ryder is finding out. But the fact that social welfare comes with no strings attached allows the underclass to live whatever indolent lifestyle they please, thumbing their nose at acceptable social values and standards of behaviour, protected from judgementalism and stigma by the stifling political correctness of the state sector.

The seeds of this failure were sown by the Kirk Labour Government in the seventies. Up until that time, a fundamental social contact existed in New Zealand whereby state support was only given to those who were ‘of good moral character and sober habits’. Civil society took care of the “undeserving” poor by giving them food and shelter in return for work. No-one starved and there was no underclass.

But the Labour government changed the dynamics by replacing the ‘good character’ requirement for state support with a universal benefit entitlement. As a result, – for the first time ever – taxpayers were forced to fund destructive, criminal and anti-social behaviours. This situation continues today with taxpayers providing welfare support for most of the country’s criminal gang members.

At the same time, the Kirk government also introduced the Domestic Purposes Benefit, which, while assisting many mothers to escape violent relationships or get back on their feet after messy marriage breakups, created unmarried motherhood as a career choice for unskilled women. There are now generations of children who have been raised in a culture of deprivation by solo mothers who have no history of work and no understanding of the value of education. In fact, with no conditions attached to welfare benefits, such as an obligation to ensure that their children attend school, these parents deny their children the opportunity for a better future that a good education provides.

John Key understands all of this only too well. In a State of the Nation Address in January 2007, he stated, “Left unchecked, the problems of a growing underclass affect us all. These are tough problems – very tough problems. But I have no intention of being a Prime Minister who tackles only the easy and convenient issues. I don’t pretend I’ve got all the solutions. But I can tell you that dealing with the problems of our growing underclass is a priority for National, both in opposition and in government”.[2]

This week’s NZCPR Guest Commentator is Theodore Dalrymple, an internationally acclaimed author who has shed much light on the dark cruelty and moral squalor of the underclass through his experience of working as a doctor in the British prison system. In his article Social Pathology: disaster or goldmine? he puts into words the sickening revulsion we all feel about the fact that barbaric child abuse is still commonplace in our modern day society:

“There is something peculiarly shocking about cases such as those of Nia Glassie[3] and Baby P[4]. We are incomparably more technologically advanced than ever before, and absurd though it may be after all the evidence to the contrary, we still cannot help but expect moral advance to go hand in hand with technical advance. We are, moreover, incomparably richer than we were a hundred or even fifty years ago; and however much we may deny that extreme poverty necessarily results in or excuses gross immorality, we cannot help but think that the absence of raw material deprivation – hunger and cold – ought to make us better people, and serve to eliminate the worst of human conduct.

“These two cases seem so important because they are indeed emblematic of the disquieting gap between what we are and what we feel that we ought to be and no longer have an excuse for not being. It is the sheer, unforced exuberance of the moral squalor of these cases that appals us. Yet while this moral squalor was unforced, no one can say that it was actively discouraged either, quite the reverse in fact”.

While politicians and social agency workers are keenly aware of the degradation of underclass families and the role of welfare in sustaining their destructive lifestyles, they have done little alert the public or change the system. As Theodore Dalrymple points out, this is a key problem as the public remains blissfully unaware of the incontrovertible link between welfare and child abuse:

“All too often the public commentary excludes the link between welfare and child abuse, due in part to the misguided practice of non-judgementalism which frowns on the family circumstances being known in case it creates a stigma”.

What this means, of course, is that while people who want to prevent child abuse call for more government funding, they fail to question the policies which have created the environment in which child abuse flourishes. The “Every Child Counts” lobby recently recommended that a trust fund of $1 billion be established to fund “innovative child-abuse prevention work”.[6] With child abuse having become big business – an estimated $2 billion a year – fear of losing their funding and livelihoods must be why these groups, who understand the link between welfare and child abuse only too well, have staunchly opposed policy reform that would end the growth of the underclass.

Many policy options are available to the new government. To tackle the problem described by Theodore Dalrymple in his article, of women having multiple children to multiple partners in order to increase their benefit payments – even though doing so may place the children at serious risk of abuse – one solution would be to cap the value of the benefit based on the number of children when the recipient first enrolled.

A more comprehensive approach would be to restructure the Domestic Purposes Benefit so it is no longer a stand-alone benefit. Such stand-alone benefits have been found to be hugely problematic, which is why New Zealand is one of only a handful of countries that have them. In the USA their stand-alone sole parent benefit was found to be so harmful to children that President Bill Clinton led the move to replace it in the mid nineties. What’s more, no-one has called for its return.

However, a simple first step would be to ensure there is greater transparency over the link between welfare and child abuse by recording the family circumstances of abused children – whether the parents are married, single, or defacto – as well as whether or not the family is on welfare. Such statistics, obviously published so as to protect the identity of individuals, would nevertheless help the public to better understand that it is the welfare system itself that needs changing if we are ever to get on top of this horrific problem.

1.John Key, Speech from the Throne
2.John Key, The Kiwi Way: a fair go for all
3.Muriel Newman, A Priority for Change
4. Times, After 17 months of unimaginable cruelty, Baby P finally succumbed 
5.Muriel Newman, An Interview with Theodore Dalrymple 
6.The Press, Cross party push to fight child abuse