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Lindsay Mitchell

Welfare: Violence made viable

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Lots of people survive courtesy of a benefit. They do so because they are too sick to work, can’t find a job, have children who need feeding with no other source of income, and so on. There are a myriad of reasons why people receive welfare.

Most of these people – 300,000 or thereabouts – are not violent. The same can be said of the general population.

Yet the odds that violence will occur within the beneficiary population are much higher.  That’s what the statistical evidence says.

Violence – or more particularly – family violence, is relatively common in New Zealand.

There are 100,000 family violence reports to police annually, yet the government thinks this represents only 20% of the actual level. The thought that half a million reports would better represent the actual state of affairs in Aoteoroa is chilling. And, frankly, hard to believe. (Perhaps a flag with a fist on it would best portray New Zealand?)

But statistics are all we have with which to form objective opinion. And opinion is what motivates action.

A round-up of some relevant data then.

Firstly, children who appear in the benefit system under the age of two make up 83 percent of those children who have a substantiated Child, Youth and Family notification for abuse or neglect against their name by age five.1

That is a staggering correlation. Furthermore, the risk factors for child maltreatment amongst long-term beneficiary parents are extraordinarily high (notwithstanding the majority of beneficiaries do not abuse their children.) Children who spend 9 or more years in the benefit system are almost 13 times more likely to experience a substantiated finding of abuse or neglect than non-beneficiary children.2

Analysis of the New Zealand National Survey of Crime and Victimisation Survey 2001 revealed, “Employment status was found to be a significant predictor in explaining IPV [Intimate Partner Violence] over a lifetime with those who reported as being on social welfare benefits being most at risk of reporting IPV”.3

More specifically, “Women who were beneficiaries had risks over four times the average for all women.”4

Benefits can’t be shown to be a cause of violence. But they strongly correlate with the incidence of it.

Some supposition then.

1/ When money is attached to the vulnerable, they will be exploited. Women and children (and undoubtedly some men) whose primary value to a violent partner/parent lies in the cash they accrue weekly through the benefit system, are rendered weaker than the general population. A woman who participates in the workforce has protection through a number of factors. She has a social network beyond family; she will probably have greater self-esteem; she is not subject to a (potential) ex-partner’s vexatious reports to Work and Income that could result in cash deprivation; and she is less available to an abuser time-wise. The power of abusers frequently lies in isolating victims. Welfare plays into their hands.

2/ Alcohol and drug abuse is a proven factor in the perpetration of violence. Being a functioning, productive individual generally requires moderation of both.  Unconditional benefits indulge abuse. At June 2015 there were 4,500 beneficiaries who were reliant on welfare with the primary incapacity of substance abuse (on a positive note, the number is tracking down).

3/ The criminal community treats welfare as secure subsistence. The turnover between the benefit system and prison typically runs at around 4,000 annually. In these coming-and-going social environments the well-being of children is especially precarious. Crucially, committing crime does not affect eligibility for welfare.

4/ Generally, the best protectors of children are their natural parents. Because welfare for single parents (father substitution) has negated the need for the nuclear family,  exposure to non-biological live-in partners has increased.

5/ Disillusioned and displaced men form gangs. Gangs necessitate and thrive on violence.

6/ Welfare’s ‘money-for-nothing’  appeal  works against a value-system that embodies effort and honesty. It sits comfortably alongside the ethos of car converters, drug dealers and home invaders. Violence is a prerequisite for each.

There is a school of thought that says ‘welfare benefits stop people committing crime’. Social security supposedly relieves individuals of the monetary desperation which spurs criminal acts.

In which case, why has the number of beneficiaries historically risen alongside the violent crime stats?

The government’s well-intentioned review of family violence laws may be useful. Or it may be yet another case of frantically slapping sticky plasters over wounds that won’t heal while the state continues to fund and facilitate a violent lifestyle amongst a small minority.


1/ Vulnerable Children – Can administrative data be used to identify children at risk of adverse outcomes, http://www.msd.govt.nz/about-msd-and-our-work/publications-resources/research/vulnerable-children/

2/Child abuse rates in the beneficiary population: MSD cover-up by omission, August 29, 2013, http://lindsaymitchell.blogspot.co.nz/search?q=non-beneficiary+population

3/ RISK FACTORS FOR INTIMATE PARTNER VIOLENCE VICTIMISATION A thesis Submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science in Statistics by Fleur McLaren School of Mathematics, Statistics & Computing Victoria University of Wellington p://researcharchive.vuw.ac.nz/xmlui/bitstream/handle/10063/804/thesis.pdf?sequence=2

4/ Family Violence Statistics Report, August 2009, pg 143, http://www.nzfamilies.org.nz/sites/default/files/downloads/family-violence-statistics-report.pdf (last accessed February 15, 2012)