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.