For the past five years the left has pilloried Paula Bennett for her hypocrisy. She is something of a poster child for the National Party, someone to persuade the electorate that National is not full of rich white males wanting to increase their control of our society. What better person to parade than someone who is female, part Maori, and allegedly someone who improved herself through her own efforts.
The claim of hypocrisy is made because Bennett was able to gain a University degree when she was a solo mum, which is fine, but one of the early things she did as Minister was to prevent other solo mums from doing the same after cuts were made to eligibility to the training incentive allowance, a payment which made education for solo parents easier to attain. The hypocrisy was palpable as was the stupidity of the decision. Why would you make it harder for solo parents improving themselves and trying to get themselves off the DPB?
This decision has opened her up to continuous attacks for climbing the state provided ladder and then pulling it up after her and then setting fire to it. It has been part of a theme relied on by Labour to highlight the difference between the parties.
National is moving to dim the difference. From the Beehive website:
Budget 2014 will make it much easier for sole parents to move off benefit and into full time study announced Steven Joyce, Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment and Paula Bennett, Minister for Social Development.
The Government is investing between $18 and $24 million over four years to implement three policy changes that will align the student support system for sole parents with the benefit system.
It is estimated the changes will see around 3,000 more sole parents move into fulltime study over the next four years, adding to the 2,400 currently accessing mainstream student support.
From July 2015, sole parents taking up full-time study will receive at least the same level of accommodation support from the student support system as they do with the benefit system. Currently they may receive up to $165 less per week.
The change is cynical. It does not return the situation to what it was when National gained office but they can say now that they are improving things. No doubt they will say that the country could not afford this policy back then but this did not stop National from giving large tax cuts to the already wealthy at the time.
And suddenly Paula is a champion for solo parents receiving education to better themselves.
It makes sense to invest in education for more sole parents. We know that a sole parent with no qualifications spends on average around 17 years on a benefit at a cost of $230,000 over their lifetime. That’s compared to a sole parent with a tertiary qualification spending seven and a half years less on benefit, costing $88,000 less over a lifetime.”
If this is the case then why has Paula actively disrupted efforts by solo parents to better themselves during the past five years. Could it be that National’s internal polling shows that issues relating to poverty and inequality are becoming critically important and they realise that they are especially vulnerable on these issues?