Saturday, 31 January 2009

Benefits increase, but it's all about the DPB

Somewhat appalled by this article in the Herald this morning, which states:
The numbers receiving the Invalid's Benefit rose 4.3 percent from 80,082 to 83,501 and the number on the Domestic Purposes Benefit jumped 2.2 percent and is now back over 100,000.
So the Invalid's Benefit goes up 4.3%, and "rose", whereas the DPB goes up a little over half of that and it "jumped"?

And then there's the fact that they go to Lindsay Mitchell, well-known and long-time critic of the DPB as well as an Act candidate in the last election, for their quotes. She's predictable, and I suppose at least I should give her props for being consistent:
"Teenage recipients present a particular problem because they stay on welfare the longest and their children experience multiple disadvantages."

Ms Mitchell says while some people genuinely need help, others have just made bad choices and are taking advantage of assistance which is easy to get.

Even if we accept that some people are on the DPB for making "bad choices" (is not getting an abortion a bad choice? not being able to access contraception? being raped? OK, this post is not about that, I'm going to move on) is starving them and their children the best response we can come up with?

Because remember, this is Act's welfare policy, and it's all about the DPB.

But back to being annoyed with the article. They haven't sought a quote from anyone other than Mitchell, whose opposition to the DPB is long established. They've focused the item on the DPB despite the fact the Invalid's Benefit went up by significantly more. There's no mention of any of the other benefits, eg unemployment (which you would expect to be going up, given all the lay-offs, the recession, etc). It's just yet another excuse to bash DPB beneficiaries.

Maybe I shouldn't have been surprised, given the Herald's source for their piece of bile: Newstalk ZB. But it's a sad day when talkback attitudes creep into the newsroom.


Anna said...

There's so much I could say about this, so I'm going to try to restrain myself.

I've previously made the point that the social science which claims that there is a causal link between DPB receipt and negative social outcomes is almost uniformly arse. Poverty and the difficulty of parenting without adequate resources (which affect other families, with and without wages) are seldom taken into account properly.

Secondly, when women are dependent on an earning husband to support themselves and their kids, that's morally upright. If they have the audacity to reject dependence on a male breadwinner, or there isn't one available, these women are moral failures. The 'problem' therefore isn't dependency - its these women's rejection of traditional family arrangements.

Some of those who've contributed to the 'jump' in DPB numbers will be laid off workers who were previously parenting alone, but on wages.

Teen mothers make up only a small proportion of DPB recipients. According to the last research I read, the largest client group is older women emerging from bad marriages, and the average stay on the benefit is 3 years - hardly a lifetime choice.

These useless layabout teen mothers are the very sort of worker that the 90 day 'fire at will' bill is likely to be used against.

Never is the quality of life of the young women on the DPB actually questioned. Parenting alone on the benefit can be a life of poverty and stress. In fact, parenting is hard under the best circumstances - that's why the birth rate amongst middle class women has dropped so much in the last few decades. Women who are parenting alone deserve our compassion, respect and support - not righteous folks like Lindsay Mitchell mouthing off at them.

Grrr. If this is what my restraint looks like, I bed you're glad I didn't lose my composure... ;-)

Anonymous said...

I agree with the overall thrust of your comments but I have to object to this:

"If they have the audacity to reject dependence on a male breadwinner..."

This thinking seems to perpetuate this idea that adults who have an arrangement that means that they live with a partner and/or extended family and don't work can't be independent. In my household (which includes extended family, though at the moment we don't share a roof) we don't view those who don't sell their labour to an external agency as "dependents".


Danielle said...

My aunt raised her daughter for the first eight years without the DPB, because we didn't have it at the time. It was a fucking nightmare for her and my cousin: she was 19 at the time, she earned practically nothing waitressing, she spent all her wages on rent and untested/qualified babysitters because there was no real daycare, and because it was the late 60s she had to lie to her landlords about having a kid at all while unmarried. Yeah, let's go back to that, ACT. Sounds awesome.

Giovanni said...

Yeah, let's go back to that, ACT. Sounds awesome.

Ah, the good old days. Sometimes I wonder whether conservatives plan to also bring back polio.

Anna said...

Katy, my intention was not to suggest that dependence is a bad thing, or that there's anything wrong with being dependent on a 'breadwinner' (as my own partner is).

Rather, it's that everyone is dependent to some degree or other. I'm dependent on my partner to care for my kids during the day. Old people are dependent on the pension. As Julie's post points out, a growing number of people are dependent on the invalid's benefit. So when people say that welfare 'dependence' is a bad thing, they're choosing to stigmatise a very specific sort of dependence while ignoring other forms which are morally OK and taken for granted.

Anna said...

I should clarify that, and I should have used the word 'interdependent'!

What I meant is that no one can literally exist by themselves, including those who depend on employers for market income. I don't think it's possible to live without being interdependent, whether or not you have a job - that's the sort of society and economy we live in. Some ways of being dependent are more secure and reliable than others, but I don't attach any different moral value to them.

The rhetoric of independence which surrounds welfare bashing irks me in part because it pretends that some people actually are independent and hence better than others. This in turn disguises how reliant we are on the economic and political conditions which make our lives possible. We all depend to some degree on the conditions which preserve our jobs, determine the price of our food, provide public transport, etc.

And nothing irks me more than MPs of the right going on about wasting taxpayer's money. Where do they think their salaries come from - the frickin' fairies?

The political/economic idea that people are autonomous, rational, detached, self-interested creatures is used differentially to stigmatise some relationships of dependence and utterly disguise others. Even the most rabid right winger can go home at the end of the day, eat a meal made by his wife and not perceive he is thus in some way interdependent with her.

The whole discourse about dependence/independence is very closely tied in with the invisibility of non-paid/women's work.

What a rant!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Anna. On rereading my post it might have seemed a bit more crotchety than I intended. I agree that stigmatising whatever group is ridiculous, along with the assumption that some monkey in a sales position (to use one example that is close to my heart) who earns $200k as a result of the underpaid labour of others has somehow earned it, whereas someone whose miniscule income comes in the form of assistance from the state hasn't.

Anyway, my original point was: the idea that women need to work to be independent is a powerful one in western society. However, living with a man who pays the bills doesn't mean that you are "dependent" on him and to use the term is demeaning. "Interdepedence" is much closer to how these things work in reality.

anita said...

This press release might explain both the source of the article and the source of Mitchell's quotes.

The Herald makes me sad for journalism

Daniel said...

It sickens me how the same politicians who express such concern about the number solo parents and the rate of the DPB also support the policies which mean that couples receive less benefits and usually pay more taxes than two individuals.

If marriage and 'family values' are so important why do we penalise them so heavily?

Anna said...

I don't think that's what's being argued here, Daniel. Benefits for one (eg the DPB) are higher than, for example, the unemployed couple rate as a reluctant admission that two people living together can exploit an economy of scale. And DPB recipients simply aren't better off than other people - they are consistently in the poorest portion of households. So it's difficult to sustain the argument that two-parent families are in anyway penalised.

Nor do I think that anyone here is arguing that there is anything inherently wrong with a single parent-headed household - just that it's a very hard row to hoe.

Are you suggesting that conditions for solo parents should be made more difficult to incentivise them to get married?

Julie said...

Thanks for the heads up Anita, that does rather explain a lot. I didn't think I could get much madder at the Herald after this gem, but it appears I was wrong.

Daniel said...

While couples do have a financial advantage that's supposed to be one of the reasons to form a family unit. If the state captures that advantage through higher taxes or lower benefits for couples it discourages couples from forming or from staying together. Especially at the lower end of the income scale.

I certainly don't think things should be made any harder for single parents, they need more help not less. I agree with everything you've said in your post. I was just pointing out some of the hypocrisy in the situation.
My point was there is a group of politicians who claim that solo parents are bad, or that the DPB is too high, or that it breaks up families etc. And these same politicians are responsible for policy that reduces income for couples as opposed to singles. They are creating a lot of the problem they fear. One of the things that is hard about being a solo parent is finding a new relationship (assuming they want to). Throwing financial barriers in the way just makes things harder.

Hugh said...

If the state captures that advantage through higher taxes or lower benefits for couples it discourages couples from forming or from staying together.

And that would be a bad thing why?

millsy said...

Lindsay Mitchell solution to the welfare problem is well documented.

1) Footpath
2) Cardboard box
3) Begging

Just like in the good old days of Victorian England.