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New Zealand fails at human rights - Tactical Ninja

Mar. 8th, 2011

09:41 am - New Zealand fails at human rights

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Yesterday I emailed my lecturer and asked her about researching the coercive sterilisation of drug addicts as a state crime. She said she thought it'd be a very interesting topic and that the NHS connection in the UK is a very clear one, with the attitude of the US government able to be framed as a crime of omission. She was very clear that one line I would have to pursue is the removal of the right to family as a state crime.

So far so good. Yay, etc.


I read The Hand Mirror - a kiwi-based feminist blog that focuses also on issues of intersectionality. I don't agree with everything they say but it is nice to see something out there that is about us. And last night they posted a thing about the Welfare Working Group that's made me consider changing my essay topic: If only those poor people would stop breeding. Summary:

The Welfare Working Group thinks that people on benefits having babies is a bad thing. They have 'found the issue difficult'. They think that being on a benefit provides incentive to have babies. Their solutions?

1) Ready access to long-acting reversible contraception for all parents within the welfare system. I suspect this would probably be free of charge. I have no issue with this, in fact I think all contraception should be free.

2) "Strong signals to parents that a welfare payment is intended to provide temporary support while they get back on their feet and into employment." While they are not exactly clear on what they are recommending here, the next sentence says "In practice, for most this means taking active steps to avoid pregnancy while receiving Jobseeker Support." So what this seems to mean is that along with their proof that they are trying hard enough to find a job, they are recommending that people be expected to produce proof that they are using contraception as part of their 'work-testing' weekly meetings. Yes, this is not a joke - that's what they are recommending. I don't know about you, but while I'm totally fine with sharing information about my contraception with interested parties, I draw the line at anyone else telling me I have to prove I'm using it. That is an invasion of bodily autonomy that crosses the line from concern to coercion. I am totally not ok with someone's income being dependent on their use of contraception, regardless of their social class. And what about men, who do not have the same array of 'long-acting' contraception available to them? Will they have to produce used condoms in order to continue receiving their benefit? Or will they be coerced into having a vasectomy? Or will it, like it usually does, end up being laid at the feet of women because men are in the 'too hard' basket?

Coercing people into proving that they use contraception is government control of fertility - you know, like they do in China? Only in New Zealand, they want to focus it on a target group - the poor. As far as I can tell this doesn't breach any of the human rights treaties that NZ is party to, or the Bill of Rights Act, but I could be wrong. As far as I'm concerned though, it's a form of discrimination and it's wrong.

[EDIT] I was wrong. The right to form a family - Article 16, Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

3) This is the real kicker IMO. Should said 'job-seeker' have a contraception failure, or choose to have a family, if "the changes to work test requirements do not address the incentives to have additional children while receiving welfare assistance"* - the WWG says: "the Government may need to consider financial disincentives, say by withholding part or all of the extra payments that come with having an additional child."

Yeah, you read that right. If someone has a kid while on a benefit, the WWG thinks the government should make the parent raise that child without any more help. You don't have to be any kind of mental giant to see how that would affect those already below the poverty line. I find myself wondering how that would affect our abysmal record of child poverty. I fail to see how making people live on the same amount of money with extra children will improve anything for anyone. I fail to see how a parent with two children is expected to get a job in those circumstances. I fail to see how the WWG can make this recommendation without having their fingers crossed behind their backs, and expect such a policy to make anything better, anywhere.

But that's not all. Such a policy would impact far more heavily on women - because whether we like it or not, it's much easier for a man to walk away from his child (witness: my own situation), and leave the mother literally holding the baby. And if right now you're thinking "Oh she could just have an abortion", read this. Your government is moving in the direction of making abortions harder to get, which again will impact more severely on the poor**. Also, Family Planning recently was forced to withdraw an application to start providing medical abortions in its clinics throughout the country. So no, 'just get an abortion' is not as simple as those who've never had one might think.

Lastly, there is something in our human rights legislation that covers this: "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and wellbeing of himself and his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same protection."

- Article 25, Universal Declaration of Human Rights

So, um, from what I gather, this proposal removes the security we are promised in the event of unemployment, and ignores the bit about how all children shall enjoy the protection of their health regardless of their birth status. And it only removes it from one group of people - the poor.

* Yes, that's right folks. The WWG actually believes that the current DPB setup encourages people to have more children. I find myself wondering how many of those people have ever been on the DPB. Obviously they haven't read any of the debunking research for that myth (US based but equally true here, see myth 1). And please, don't give me your anecdata about that one or two people you know who (etc).. because I have anecdata too and NOBODY I have met has ever chosen to have a kid to get the DPB. So let's stick with the facts, eh?

** Currently in NZ you have to visit your doctor, then get two recommendations and an examination before you can have an abortion. I have heard that the shortage of doctors is making it hard to get timely appointments, and that there is currently a very real risk that a woman may not be able to gather all her recommendations before she's passed the 'use-by' date for abortion, after which they won't perform one. And that's without considering the cost of these appointments for those already living below the poverty line.

I have two final comments to make on this: first, New Zealanders like to consider this to be an egalitarian society. It is not, and anyone who claims that these recommendations are 'common sense' or who thinks it's ok to make invasions into the bodily autonomy of someone who is receiving assistance from us because they are poor, or who thinks that penalising people financially for doing something that richer people are able to do freely is all right because the 'bludgers' are 'milking the taxpayer', should perhaps do some damn research and learn some facts before spouting off about this. And probably take a long hard look at yourself.

"There but for the grace of God, go I"


Last thing - this could either fit with my essay topic, or become my essay topic. I am tempted.

First was still a bit wobbly this morning. The drugs they use on dogs seem to be considerably more potent than those they use on humans - either that or her venerable age has slowed her recovery. She ate last night and kept it down and she was much perkier today. Now, I wait to hear from the lab that is culturing her snot, and the other lab that has the right size scope, to see when she can get in. I might have to drive her to Palmy for it.

I have $300 left in my savings, after that it's going to get interesting depending on what needs doing next. But I get paid on Friday! ;-)

Comments:

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From:dragonvyxn
Date:March 7th, 2011 09:45 pm (UTC)
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my god... i hope that you do write an essay on that. it's unbelievable. i read your last essay - you're clear, coherent and well thought out, very enjoyable to read. :-)
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From:tatjna
Date:March 7th, 2011 10:10 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, I totally did a McEnroe when I read that.

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From:tatjna
Date:March 7th, 2011 10:54 pm (UTC)
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You made a post? Link please.
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From:tatjna
Date:March 7th, 2011 10:57 pm (UTC)
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Ah, right, that one. I thought you might have done a new one. ;-)
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From:ferrouswheel
Date:March 8th, 2011 12:46 am (UTC)
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Generally agree, but nitpicking:

"...penalising people financially for doing something that richer people are able to do freely"

While in an egalitarian society that wouldn't happen, but in most places poor people are penalised. There are many things people with money can do that those without can't... and rich people are not eligible for the benefits so can't be penalised. In fact, with progressive taxation, one could take the view that they are penalised for earning more. But all this shows (I think) is that money shouldn't be the basis for which to base decisions of human rights.

As I understand it, India and China's sterilisation programs are/were specifically targeted at the poor - so it might be worth investigating if this has had any noticeable effect if you end up doing this topic for the essay (if it hasn't, then obviously the argument for it has no leg to stand on).

I am a little conflicted though, since as overpopulation gets to be a bigger and bigger issue, and as I am also a fan of longevity research, I find any "right" to have children not particularly compelling. At the same time, impinging on bodily autonomy is also something I don't agree with. So I dunno.

Also, it's weird the the Universal Declaration of Human Rights chooses to say "found a family" and doesn't explicit say "have children".
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From:tatjna
Date:March 8th, 2011 12:53 am (UTC)
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"But all this shows (I think) is that money shouldn't be the basis for which to base decisions of human rights."

This so very much.

The word found is used, I think, to allow for adoption, fostering and whāngai type arrangements as well as reproduction.

From what I understand, overpopulation is less the current issue than distribution of resources. However, increasing longevity may alter this in the future. I'm not averse to forms of population control but when they are targeted at specific groups it looks scarily like eugenics. So for me it's less about the right to have children and more about the right to not be discriminated against based on class/income/employment status if you want them.
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From:phaetonschariot
Date:March 8th, 2011 09:48 pm (UTC)
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The thing is I think currently we need to make birth control much more readily available before we can make any judgement on birth rates with regard to population growth. Because if people were able to access birth control, those birth rates might look a lot different, and that's what we should be looking at, who's having kids when it's much more likely to be an active choice rather than something that just happens. Are people having them because they can't afford birth control, or because they think the benefits outweigh the financial strain? If it's the former, then the whole discussion is moot because we could work on making birth control accessible rather than debate the morals of restricting autonomy.
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From:vernacularity
Date:March 8th, 2011 08:54 am (UTC)
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there's a whole bunch of stuff going on that disturbs me, and i am going to include the new gov gen being head of army/spy-services as one of them.
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From:vernacularity
Date:March 8th, 2011 08:54 am (UTC)
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considering gov gen occupies a position top of our constitutional hierarchy
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From:phaetonschariot
Date:March 8th, 2011 09:51 pm (UTC)
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Not to mention the eugenics programs in New England in the 1920s which supposedly were an inspiration to Hitler. Fun times! Though facts about it still happening now is definitely important since otherwise people are inclined to shove it in the "not an issue anymore" box.
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From:phaetonschariot
Date:March 8th, 2011 09:43 pm (UTC)
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PS (general audience since I'm pretty damn sure you already know):

People on welfare pay tax. Nyah.

I was making a couple of sarcastic comments on Twitter just last night about how, duh, NZ doesn't have race problems! Applies also to any other minority group, even if they have legal protections.
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From:tatjna
Date:March 8th, 2011 09:56 pm (UTC)
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I was on welfare for a couple of years around the early 90s and again in the late 90s. I really needed it. During that time I paid tax at the going rate for my level of income.

Now, over 10 years later, the amount of tax I pay would provide the gross income for one person on the DPB. I've been paying that amount for more years than I was ever on a benefit. I find it very difficult to understand how people can ignore not only that people on benefits contribute according to their means, but also that people on benefits are more likely than not to contribute substantially more in the future.

And I really really don't get how anyone begrudges our collective contributions being pooled and used as a way of ensuring none of us starve. Considering the alternative makes me feel very misanthropic.

This is interesting - on how the poor contribute more than just tax.
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From:phaetonschariot
Date:March 8th, 2011 10:12 pm (UTC)
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Seriously - MOST beneficiaries are only on it for SHORT TERM. That means that the rest of their lives apart from a few months or years, they're probably working, earning more than on welfare, and paying more tax.

And for some reason a lot of people refuse to understand that in any society, improving the lives of the lowest socio-economic group is the best thing for society as a whole. Things like making everyone more able to access and afford medical care thus reducing the cost of the health sector by cutting preventable serious illness. Offering more opportunities for people so they can increase their productivity. Educating everyone, meaning more skilled workers in professions that require intensive study and training. Reducing crime. Raising self-esteem and reducing self-medication via alcohol and other drugs. SO many things that mean a better country all around, but no, it's more important that POOR PEOPLE DON'T GET HAND OUTS.
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From:tatjna
Date:March 8th, 2011 10:20 pm (UTC)
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Research has demonstrated that the biggest indicator for reduced family size is maternal education level. The more educated the mother, the less likely she is to have a lot of children.

But of course the allowances for single parents to get tertiary education are an unnecessary drain on the taxpayer!
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From:phaetonschariot
Date:March 8th, 2011 10:27 pm (UTC)
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If nothing else you don't have much space to have kids if you're trying to get a degree. :P

I note also for the record that education ≠ intelligence. It is very very very possible to be uneducated but still a hell of a lot smarter than the person next to you with a Masters.
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From:tatjna
Date:March 8th, 2011 10:32 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, most of the validated studies on this that I've read have been very clear that the correlation is in education, not tested intelligence. Intelligence being a subjective thing for which testing accurately is extremely difficult, I'm not surprised.
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From:phaetonschariot
Date:March 8th, 2011 10:34 pm (UTC)
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IQ: a number indicating how well a person performs on IQ tests.
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From:wildilocks
Date:March 9th, 2011 09:41 am (UTC)
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Sorry to mention anecdata, but I am a child of a single parent who did it for the AU equivalent of the DPB. I also know several people in AU and the UK (but not NZ) who've become pregnant with the sole purpose of going onto benefit and never having to work again if they can help it. While that life is not a great one, the ease of getting paid for the noble job of increasing the population, is indeed one that is implicitly encouraged both in AU and NZ from years of actively intending to increase the population. In 2006 in Methven I found a fascinating piece of NZ political propaganda from the 50's which blatantly told women they needed to have more children for the good of the economy. It's just what we were told we had to do.

I don't think we're in that world any more, but we have the political tendrils still woven in. While I don't agree with forcing anyone to use contraceptives against their will, providing more incentives to do so I think is not unreasonable. I don't think they are going about it in the right way, but I do think it's an important issue and needs careful handling.

I've long said in Oz the baby bonus should be maintained for the first child only, and the second child should be neutral/no bonus - but third and more children, people should have to pay for. Like a carbon credit, we should have reproduction credits, which you could sell if you chose not to reproduce; this is a way some poor folks could leverage themselves out of poverty; by selling their baby credits to the rich, rather than being co-erced into forced contraception. I know it'll never happen, but it's nice to dream of a society where we genuinely consider our carbon footprint and our legacy on *equal* terms and consider limits appropriate, instead of our obsession with endless growth and going forward and multiplying til we destroy the planet. I don't see how that's really great as a human right, in the long run.

Don't look at me like that. :P
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From:tatjna
Date:March 9th, 2011 10:03 am (UTC)
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How many people do you know of who are on the DPB and didn't have their children just so they could *cough* never work again? Because it seems among all the stories of these (usually women) who supposedly choose a life of poverty because they are lazy, I virtually never hear anyone tell stories of the vast majority who end up on benefits because of crappy life happenings. I wonder why that is.

I have no issue with incentives to use contraception. I have a big issue with aiming those incentives (and lets not forget the sanctions because they are the bit that add up to coercion) at only one group of people. And you're right, they don't want New Zealanders to have less children - last I checked our birth rate is pretty low and it seems as a nation we are afraid of the scary immigrants so they want us to breed more. So the idea of starting what amounts to a more-palatable eugenics program just seems even more like marginalisation. And it disgusts me.
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From:wildilocks
Date:March 9th, 2011 11:07 am (UTC)
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I don't knowingly know anyone in NZ on DPB, in fact I know few NZers who are parents at all. In my childhood mum had friends who were also on benefit, with kids, we lived in crappy cheap suburbs, but I never knew much about other kid's parents' circumstances. And I hated my childhood enough to never want to subject any child to that kind of upbringing, so I guess I've avoided having much to do with parents on welfare, by design or by accident? Who knows. The people I have met who have done this have been expartners of friends, or random people who've only briefly had interaction with.

Honestly? I was disgusted with my mother's life choices though I know she had little other incentive to do anything other than have more children,she was brought up with the woman exepcted to fulfil this role as her main reaon for living. Getting pregnant by deceit and intending to gather sole parent benefit, and she said she did it because she missed being a mum to have something to possess, that was "hers", after years of boring bar jobs. Frankly, I don't think that's a good enough justification to become a welfare recipient, but I do genuinely think it is an easy enough mindset to entice people who are at a loose end, and are already in a poverty cycle on the dole. I've been on the dole myself for a while when younger. I didn't find it that hard especially after being a student for years on less allowance and having to actually work hard much of the time. But I was lucky I didn't fall into the trap, and stay there: it could easily have happened to me given my upbringing. I think being given stronger encouragements not to continue this is a good thing, not a bad one. I definitely don't see it as eugenics, but an attempt to break the generational poverty cycle. But there needs to be better education, more carrots, and less sticks.
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From:tatjna
Date:March 9th, 2011 05:41 pm (UTC)
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Yes you do. I was on it for two years. In a poor town full of poor people, and the women there on the DPB were there because they had started out trying to do what society says you should (these influences are particularly strong in small towns) by getting married and having babies, and it hadn't worked out for whatever reason. You know my story. And you know what? I am never going to begrudge people like your mother a so-called free ride so that people like me and those I knew can avoid the kind of life I would have had to live if I didn't leave when I did.

I think my 15 year old anecdata counts as much as yours. So again we're even. Can we talk about facts now?

This is the factsheet from the Welfare Working Group. They are the ones who proposed this idea so there can be no accusations of selection bias.

If you look, you'll see that numbers of people on the DPB have gone up since National got in. This happens every time they become government if you care to check the stats. Additionally, single parents in full time work were on the increase before the recession started. You'll also note that by percentage the majority of people on the DPB are there through relationship breakup or job loss.

Ah fuck it, just read it yourself. I don't know if I can even discuss this with you. Any policy that so blatantly targets women who are already poor and marginalised and makes them poorer and more marginalised when every indicator for small families is related to giving those same people more education and more money, is fucking lazy and disgusting government. And you've bought the rhetoric.
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From:wildilocks
Date:March 9th, 2011 09:14 pm (UTC)
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Hey, I know you were on DPB, but you aren't now. I don't discount your experience but you didn't ask me "do I know anybody who has ever been on DPB" which is a different question.

I speak only from my own experience and my opinion is informed by this, not rhetoric. My childhood DID suck and frankly I think society would have been better off if my mother had not been given a "free ride" as you say. She would have been better off. I can look at life and death far more pragmatically than a lot of people as I do try and see the much bigger picture, not just the in-your-face one. I'm a staunch atheist and I feel we are currently in a completely out of control phase of history that is likely to crash very violently. So I'm not perhaps the most level-headed about some of the population stuff as I would be if we lived in a different era, or our govt policies did not encourage growth at all costs.

Fact is once people are alive it's really unethical to kill them, but I think it's highly ethical to consider whether it's more moral to breed and continue breeding at all costs, as most religions teach (power in numbers); OR do we consider our footprint as a species, and start taking control of ourselves, and where people will benefit the most by a change in core policy. You have agreed that the core policy of the Govt is still to continue to increase the population.

I don't agree with targeting poor and marginalised women AT ALL, and I recognise the statistics of National clearly showing that their policies are NOT effective. I think we've had similar discussions in the past. But for women to be encouraged NOT to go onto DPB directly from unemployment I think is genuinely going to benefit them individually, as well as society as a whole. I think it needs to be done DIFFERENTLY than proposed; women should definitely be given more support in education, by a BIG margin. Sanctions are not appropriate; as said previously, more carrots, and less sticks.
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From:tatjna
Date:March 9th, 2011 05:48 pm (UTC)
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And if you don't see it as eugenics, what do you call it when a government decides to try and stop a certain group of people breeding for the benefit of everyone else?
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From:wildilocks
Date:March 9th, 2011 09:29 pm (UTC)
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Ummm... please recognise that I think it is a GOOD THING to reduce the number of people in that "certain group of people" and instead, moving them into the group of "everyone else"?? IE if single unemployed women are given more encouragement to get educated, and move into paid work, then that means there are less single unemployed women, and those specific individuals are now in the category of "everyone else". And I don't think there's any argument that it's much harder to move into paid employment as a single parent, than it is a single unemployed woman. Once again, encouraging single unemployed women to become educated and employed rather than pregnant should minimize reduce the size of BOTH groups, instead of women moving from one to the other and continue the cycle of poverty.

Please note I'm NOT saying the National govt's policies in regards to making these transitions are good! I agree National have a lot of lazy and crap policies. As I'm sure I've said in comment threads in the past on this subject, I strongly advocate for better education, and through education women as a whole are going to make better choices and be less likely to go on to the DPB. National don't seem to give much of a crap about education, and by using sticks instead of carrots, they are actually achieving the opposite of what would to me, be an optimal outcome.
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From:tatjna
Date:March 9th, 2011 10:09 pm (UTC)
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Encouraging single unemployed women, whether they are parents or not, to get educated and move into paid work seems like an admirable and altruistic goal on the surface.

However, there are a couple of things in the language of this that are problematic. First, it assumes that single unemployed women are like that through choice. They need 'encouragement' to 'get educated' and 'move into paid work' to make them 'like everybody else'.

So it assumes that these women are different somehow from other people, that they are not motivated to work or get an education. Yay othering!

The other thing it assumes is that the 'problem' is personal not systemic. What paid work will they move into? Why are these women not already educated? How did they end up in a demographic group that statistically has larger families and less money? Why does living in poverty as part of a marginalised group trap some people and not others? Who are those people and what has happened to them to create that situation?

The benefit currently available for a single parent with one child would not even cover the rent for the house I'm currently living in. And if the kind of wages a person can earn from a 'move into work' (you know, the magical work that is supposedly freely available to all who want it enough) are not sufficient to offset the extra cost of working, who is to blame for that? The parent?

You say your Mum worked crappy bar jobs for years. You said she had a goal of having something for herself when she had another child*, and you disapprove of that choice because of your own experience of a childhood in poverty. Yet, she was working (at the crappy bar jobs) and it seems that a combination of the jobs being crappy plus a feeling of unfulfilledness is what drove her decision. She was doing the things our government wants people to do, and changed her mind. I find myself wondering why the DPB looked better to her in this context - where was the support for her as a working parent to ensure she could have enough money to be comfortable and live a fulfilling life, substantially better off through her work than she would be otherwise?

My story is similar in that my parents worked for fuck all too and I grew up poor as well. And I look at you, and I look at me, and I think "You know, circumstances might have been different for us but we turned out ok. Why?" Probably because our folks did a good job despite being poor. And I don't know about you, but I know part of that for me was because they were able to have a modicum of security through the availability of benefits.

The upshot of all this for me, is that people on the DPB are a symptom of a problem, not a cause. And deciding that they have no right to have children, regardless of our personal views on population control**, is at best a stopgap measure that in the end will exacerbate the problem of poverty rather than fix it. Frankly, it's a stupid idea that won't work but that will make the general, unthinking populace go "Yep, awesome idea. They're way better off not having more kids."

Of course, you're not actually saying that. You're saying that policy should be created to address the current problem for those who are already in this situation, and that you think this policy would be more effective if the people concerned did not have more children. And that is probably true. But it has to be their choice, and they won't make that choice without some pretty big systemic improvements in work availability, education levels and health outcomes for poor people.

* I assume she had another child, sorry if I'm wrong about this.

** Incidentally, I agree that there's no good reason to constantly strive for population increase. I am all for families being smaller. I draw the line at coercion to achieve this when the most effective methods are related to having enough money and a decent education.

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From:wildilocks
Date:March 9th, 2011 11:55 pm (UTC)
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I think we're basically both in agreement that things as they stand kinda suck, that National is not helping but making the problem worse.

My mum was pretty good at educating herself, but never wanted to get formally educated (systemic problem?) She was definitely intelligent enough to be able to have earned a degree, but she was never encouraged to do this.

As a wealthy first world country, NZ could be investing more in technology and higher tech industries, not just farming and tourism. This is a problem with poor govt policy for sure, and if policies were more forward thinking, there would be more employment opportunities for all - yes including young unemployed women.
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From:wildilocks
Date:March 9th, 2011 11:57 pm (UTC)
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Oh, and my mum had 4 children that I'm aware of: she had two in the UK, and then two more in Oz. I'm no 3.
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