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Suffer the children

Written By: - Date published: 8:26 am, September 13th, 2012 - 17 comments
Categories: benefits, child welfare, human rights - Tags:

Over 2,200 children, according to the Government’s estimates, will end up living in households with their already meager benefit incomes cut in half under National’s plan to punish families who can’t afford to or don’t want to send their children to supposedly voluntarily early childhood education. I’ll give Bill English credit – he at least looked sick as he defended a policy of starving kids.

Dr Russel Norman: Has he seen the Cabinet paper on the social obligations for parents policy that states that 2,200 parents will have their benefits cut in the first year, and how does that help their children reach their full potential?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I understand that that is not actually what the Cabinet paper says. But I think that parents’ knowledge of those obligations means they are likely to comply with them, precisely so that they do not put the welfare of their children at risk. In fact, if they meet those obligations, it will be positive for their children.

Dr Russel Norman: I seek leave to table the Cabinet paper that shows that 2,200 parents will have their benefits cut in the first year.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is no objection.

Dr Russel Norman: Given that the Cabinet paper specifies that only “the most disadvantaged and vulnerable beneficiary families will be tested for complying with the regime”, what will happen to their kids once their parents’ income is slashed?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government takes the view that almost all of those parents will understand that they are reasonable obligations, because they are not so much obligations to the Government, they are obligations to their own children. We believe that most parents—in fact, almost all parents—would comply with those obligations.

Dr Russel Norman: Given that the Cabinet paper itself admits that around 2,200 parents will not comply with the obligations and hence will have their benefit cut, is it really moral for the Government to punish children for the perceived sins of their parents?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: In the first place, let us get it clear that it would be the parents who are punishing their children, not the Government. Secondly, we take a more optimistic view than the officials’ view in the Cabinet paper. The Prime Minister’s view is that most parents—in fact, almost all parents—are likely to comply with those obligations, and that means better results for their children.

Apart from the thousands who are left to live on starvation incomes.

Dr Russel Norman: Given that the Cabinet paper itself says that around 2,200 parents will not meet the requirements of this policy and will hence have their incomes slashed by the Government, does he take responsibility for the fact that the children of those parents will go hungry because his Government will cut their income by 50 percent?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I believe that the presence of the sanction will encourage almost all parents, except maybe those who are completely reckless in their regard for their own children, to comply with the obligations. It is an obligation to their children in the first place, and in the second place to the taxpayers, who are providing almost all of the income on which those families are living.

Dr Russel Norman: Given that his earlier answers acknowledged that there will be some parents—possibly up to 2,200—who will have their benefit cut as a result of this policy, how can it possibly be ethically acceptable to punish the children of those parents because the Government does not like the actions of those parents?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The point of the policy is to ensure that the parents take actions that are consistent with better prospects for their children in the first place and that, secondly, they meet their obligations to the broader community, which is offering support for that family. The Government is planning to introduce sanctions, as the member has pointed out. Those are fairly robust sanctions and the relevant department would ensure that every option is given to the parents to enable them to meet their obligation in the first place.

Of course, the point is not that ‘nearly all’ parents will comply with the Government’s edicts, its that some (2% by the Government’s estimate) won’t. What happens to the children of those families? Are they just collateral damage in this government’s unending war on the poor?

I believe that this policy is in breach of the Government’s human rights obligations. It is a policy to starve children for the actions of their parents. It is collective punishment of people for merely being related to someone who has done something the Government doesn’t like (not something that they’ve even made illegal!). And leaving a family to live on a half benefit just for not attending ECE surely meets section 9 of the Bill of Rights: Everyone has the right not to be subjected to torture or to cruel, degrading, or disproportionately severe treatment or punishment.

Hopefully, no children will suffer before this policy is reversed.

17 comments on “Suffer the children ”

  1. ak 1

    Yes I’d love to hear his wife’s take on all this abortion-inducing baby-snatching and mother-bashing. But that would require a journalist worth their salt.

  2. Carol 2

    And what about the government’s responsibility to provide jobs for all?

    Also, it’s just a nonsense to say that government policy is not punishing the children, it’s their parents who are.

    NActs keep banging the “responsibility” drum, but just don’t understand the responsibilities of government and society to all individuals.

  3. Pete 3

    I really think there needs to be a royal commission on poverty in New Zealand – to establish what level of poverty there is here, provide a metric on how it can be measured, find its causes and recommend remedies.

  4. Blue 4

    Cutting a benefit by half should never be used as a sanction. Ever.

    If a person needs a benefit in order to survive, then cutting it in half is to slowly starve them to death or force them into criminal activities to survive, for which they will no doubt be sent to prison and have their future job prospects torpedoed.

    It’s insane, it’s cruel, and it should be unthinkable to any Government and society with a scrap of common sense and decency.

    • Carol 4.1


      But then, this is what Paula Benif*ct says is part of polices to help those in most need by identifying and targeting their needs.


      Our reforms will fundamentally change the way welfare is delivered. We are applying an investment approach to understand where best to target support, looking at each individual on a benefit, given their needs, challenges, and prospects of a quick return to work.

      Sue Moroney: Trying to look busy. Doing nothing about jobs, trying to look busy.

      Hon PAULA BENNETT: Opposition members call out, but, actually, although the unemployment benefit did drop under them, we saw the sickness benefit increasing, we saw the invalids benefit increasing, and actually they should be ashamed of what they did for those people in that time.

      • Olwyn 4.1.1

        This last is nonsense, and she knows it. The overall number on all benefits dropped significantly under Labour.

        • Draco T Bastard

          Yep, she should have been pulled up by the Speaker for lying.

          • David H

            Yeah but Lockwood has been even more protective of his side in this debate it’s really getting tiresome to have him pop up to ‘help’ on of the NATS that are on the end of a heap of sticky questions. So for him to pull up Puddin’ for Lying? Sorry that would surprise me more, than if he flew around the chamber unaided.

      • just saying 4.1.2

        Hon PAULA BENNETT: Opposition members call out, but, actually, although the unemployment benefit did drop under them, we saw the sickness benefit increasing, we saw the invalids benefit increasing, and actually they should be ashamed of what they did for those people in that time.

        Bennet is presaging a brutal regime of reducing benefits and other supports for the sick and disabled similar to that enacted in Britain recently. I believe it may be announced as early as next week.

        On a different note, it would be considedred cruel and inhuman treatment to deny the essentials of life to prisoners in our jails, and it would be illegal to withhold food and shelter no matter what offence a prisoner had committed.

        • ianmac

          Good point JS. Punish kids but not punish criminals behind bars (or naughty MPs who tell fibs either.)

        • Olwyn

          That is a very good point. Depending on how far these “reforms” go, there may be room for challenging them on a human rights basis. People are sometimes dragged before the courts for mistreating employees such as household servants in these ways.

  5. A pedant writes: When Jesus said “Suffer the little children,” he didn’t mean “make the children suffer.” Just like when Queen Gertrude said “The lady doth protest too much” she didn’t mean “The lady should stop all this complaining.”

    • Lightly 5.1

      yeah, it’s like ‘suffer a witch to live’ and the root of the word ‘suffrage’. It meant ‘allow’ and has shifted to mean ‘undergo, endure’. I’m sure James knew that, hence the pun title.

      the best one on how the meaning of words shift is when King James II saw the rebuilt St Paul’s after the Great Fire. He called it ‘amusing, awful, and artificial’ – all of which was praise:

      ‘amusing’ – inspired by the muses, riveting.
      ‘awful’ – puts one in awe,
      ‘artificial’ – a work of art.

  6. Peter Martin 6

    This is not the country that I wish to leave to my children.

  7. Carol 7

    And Jan Logie (Green MP) has pointed out some facts that show how off-target it is to enforce beneficiaries to send their children to ECE:


    I would like to remind the Government that:

    *15 hours of ECE for a 3 year old is not recommended by kindergartens. They’ll only take a child up to 12 hours a week at that age.

    * some parents may wish to follow the Steiner educational model that doesn’t start children in school until age 7.

    *some parents want to have a choice about the educational environment they put their children into. Not all ECE is suitable for all children. One of my colleagues went through three services until she found one to suit her daughter.

    *some families chose to home school their children to provide them with an alternative positive schooling environment.

    It is the role of the State to enable these choices not supplant them.

    According to my analysis this policy breaches 7 articles in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child: 3,5,12,14,18,23 and 26. Most of these are about the parents role in deciding what’s best for their child.

    • ianmac 7.1

      Thanks Carol. Jan is pretty clued up. And what did happen to the right to personal choice?

      • Draco T Bastard 7.1.1

        And what did happen to the right to personal choice?

        Under NACT the only people allowed to make a choice is the rich, everybody else must do as the rich tell them to do.

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