A lot of you won’t remember it but there was a time in this country when being on a benefit wasn’t seen as the fault of the person receiving it and the idea of a social welfare system was about just that: the welfare of our society. It took a campaign of right-wing scaremongering through the late eighties and nineties to change that and, in my opinion, we are a much meaner and poorer people for allowing this vile mentality to be planted in our national psyche.
There’s a must read piece up on scoop at the moment by Anne Else that reminds us of how we treated sole parents before we lost our compassion and that points out how John Key was himself a beneficiary of that treatment.
Back in 1969, when Key’s mother and her three children went onto the widow’s benefit, they would have received about 65 percent of the average wage, plus the family benefit of $3 a week for each child. Housing costs were much lower than they are now, especially if, like them, you lived in a state house. Basic foods were subsidised. Electricity costs were among the cheapest in the world.
So John Key’s family was poor, but not desperately so. Sole parent benefits stayed at 65 percent or more of the average wage until National slashed them in the early 1990s. They’ve never got anywhere near that level since.
If Mrs Key had been able to do some paid work as well, she would have been allowed to keep her earnings. By earning the maximum allowed, a widow or deserted sole mother with one child could receive more income than a general labourer. The standard exemption for other income was then worth around 60% of the one-child benefit rate. But by 1985 it had sunk to 15%, and has barely recovered since.
I doubt Key would be in the position he is now without state housing, his mother’s widows benefit, free health and education and all the other good things that helped create the best educated and most prosperous generation this country has ever seen.
It’s just a shame his policies are designed to deny others the same chances he had.