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Experts warn Welfare Working Group

Written By: - Date published: 8:59 am, July 11th, 2011 - 11 comments
Categories: welfare - Tags: , , ,

Paediatrician Professor Innes Asher has written an open letter to the Welfare Working Group lauding their aims, but warning that their recommendations will harm children.

Child Poverty Action Group and Every Child Counts have endorsed the letter, bringing with them a considerable number of academics and other experts in the fields of child health and social policy.

The letter was tabled in parliament last week, so National will not be able to deny knowledge of the issues and expert thinking when they go into the election making welfare an issue and beneficiary-bashing a sport.

Innes Asher systematically goes through the reasoning and expected results of the Welfare Working Groups proposals.  She works at the sharp end of child poverty as she says in the introduction:

I am writing to you about this, because as a paediatrician I see many children with preventable diseases causing life-long damage (such as bronchiectasis – permanent lung scarring from respiratory infections) founded in lack of resourcing of their families. As an academic I am aware of the evidence showing that our children’s health outcomes are poor by international standards (1), some preventable childhood diseases are increasing (2) and that under-resourcing of the most disadvantaged children by state policies is a factor (3).

She sees 8 issues pertaining to the well-being of children:

  1. Every child reaching his/her full potential is necessary for the economic future of New Zealand.
  2. The importance of investing in the early years so that children reach their potential.
  3. Requiring a sole parent to job seek when baby is one year old will be damaging to some children. Requiring all sole parents to job seek when their youngest is three years old will be unduly harsh for some children.
  4. Sanctions against sole parents who do not comply will harm children, due to reduction in resources.
  5. The reality for children of sole parents is harsher than this report describes.
  6. New Zealanders work when there are jobs.
  7. Threshold and abatement of earnings from paid work should be structured to enable the transition for parents from ‘not working’ to ‘working part time’ to ‘working full time’
  8. Cuts in welfare in 1991 drove children into poverty, not parents into work.
And then goes through each, in devastating detail, showing why the WWG’s suggestions are wrong – morally, financially, socially.

I recommend reading the whole letter to see the arguments against further cuts to welfare, and how the Right is wrong on welfare and beneficiaries.  However, as a warning for society, part of her comment on issue 8 is this:

The ‘welfare cuts’ policies led to the rise of preventable diseases like rheumatic fever, pneumonia, bronchiectasis, and serious skin infection which resulted in expensive hospitalisations, and for some children in permanent disability. The meningococcal epidemic, fuelled by household crowding, caused many deaths and lifelong damage and had to be controlled by a costly immunisation programme.  The health status of our children for preventable diseases remains poorer than pre-1990’s levels. The long term costs of medical care and disabilities (all preventable) are likely to have outweighed any savings from the welfare cuts.

11 comments on “Experts warn Welfare Working Group”

  1. prism 1

    Is it possible to take the graph back to 1890? People who don’t want to be touched by hard facts and soft humanitarianism might be surprised by how far we have slid back in our social welfare.

    We have had a lot of knocks over the years. Some people have had their traditional life pattern cut away, lost their jobs with replacements that don’t allow them any self-pride or security. Now it is managing day by day and trying to ensure that there is some fun in life before they shrivel up and sink into depression. They can’t be wonderful role models for their kids from this situation.

  2. Jim Nald 2

    From that graph, what happened in the period post-1986 to 1992 that took us a new, higher level? That’s a significant 15-20 percent jump for the period.

    There was the gradual unfolding of post-crisis management of Muldoon’s policies, including the change to squeeky clean currency float, and Roger kicking the Rogernomics ball one step ahead of everyone else? There was also, early in that period, the ‘Black Monday’ of 19 Oct 1987?

    Looks like policy-making in NZ took the wrong path and we have kept driving on further with the lousy map, maybe stopping only briefly for a handiplast or ice-cream at a corner dairy, but not really turning things around.

    • Jim Nald 2.1

      Oh, just reminded of the tosser for the day. Or past few days.

      1988 – early 2002: the reign of a notorious Governor of the Reserve Bank

      • Draco T Bastard 2.1.1

        The big jump occurred in 1991 with Ruth Richardson’s MOAB which cut benefits by 15% or 20%.

  3. prism 3

    Looking at the graph 1982 to 1991 there was a comparatively low level of child poverty. But it rose sharply after National’s 1991 welfare cuts.

    During 1999-2008 which was Labour’s term there is hardly any change at first from the high child poverty figures but in 2004-2008 there was a noticeable decline. However this was reversed in a little over a year when NACT got back into power in 2008.

    Not a standard that either left or right can take pride in.

  4. Optimus Prime 4

    There is much to agree with in Prof. Ashers letter and of particular note is the importance she places on parenting and investment in early childhood to enable attainment of their potential given our ageing population.
    It is disappointing to read of the high rates of preventable diseases, especially when there is still free, accessible healthcare for children here and the availability of comprehensive immunisation programs.

    • Colonial Viper 4.1

      Best form of disease prevention is the reduction of family poverty, family stresses and unhealthy living conditions.

      Doctors visits and immunisations are certainly helpful but will barely keep up if those deeper issues are not comprehensively addressed.

      Immunised but cold, damp and underfed is not the optimal preventative health solution.

  5. ChrisH 5

    Ben – What comes across clearly from the demographic arguments in Prof. Innes Asher’s letter and recent Fabian talks is that this bennie bashing is “worse than a crime, it’s a mistake.” The phrase of course dates back to Napoleonic times, when Napoleon I could not be dissuaded from his march of self-destructive folly. It’s exactly the same with the Right in New Zealand and its senseless Maori- PI- and Bennie bashing when the brown children they are casting into poverty are the only ones who are going to look after them when they are old, if you look at the demographics.

  6. RedBaron 6

    The Child Support Act was passed in 1991. Prior to that single parents received the DPB plus any maintenance they managed to get out of the other parent. However collection rates under the old Liable parent scheme were awful. Once the Child Support Act was passed anyone on a benefit had payments from the other parent directed to the state to offset the DPB.
    Effectively, sole parents were hit with a triple whammy, lower benefit rates, diversion of the other parent’s contribution to the state, and some very repressive court decisions that made it almost impossible to get any increase in Child Support beyond formula assessment out of the other parent no matter how wealthy.
    Finally, a receiving parent cannot sign a binding legal agreement for any child support greater than formula assessment e.g twice the maximum level of formula assessment would not be upheld. Any caregiving parent needs a court order with all the associated costs to receive amounts beyond formula assessment..

    • Colonial Viper 6.1

      What’s the problem with further disadvantaging the economically and socially vulnerable women who are trying to bring up the next generation of young New Zealanders?

      We could make it a political sport in this country, like taunting caged rats with sharp sticks.

  7. Jim Nald 7

    Might there also be an association with an emerging and increasing streak of nastiness in New Zealand politics and society?

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