I want to explain some basic facts of life to our Prime Minster, about how work and childcare fit together for people who don’t have a wife at home to keep everything running smoothly.
New Zealand’s Welfare Working Group has recommended that people who receive the DPB (Domestic Purposes Benefit), should be subject, in certain circumstances, to work testing. The DPB is mostly paid to sole parents, to enable them to care for themselves and their children, and as it turns out, those sole parents are for the most part, female. According to the Welfare Working Group, instead of bludging off the nation (I’m being sarcastic), those wretched women should be working. In some cases, they should be working from when their child is 14 weeks old, and in all cases, they had been look for work when their youngest is three years old.
Mr Key is a bit queasy about that 14 week requirement. But…
‘work testing when the youngest child was aged three was more reasonable. The parent would only have to work 20 hours.
“That makes sense because it ties up the the Government’s 20 free hours… I think that basically makes sense.
In other words, because you can get 20 hours of free childcare, then you will be able to work 20 hours a week.
Mr Key has come up with this thought in response to the Welfare Working Group’s final report on how welfare should be reformed in New Zealand. It is, as you would expect, nasty. But oddly enough, it is not unrealistic with respect to childcare. Unlike Mr Key.
Chief Executive Officer Prime Minister doesn’t understand is that 20 hours of child care doesn’t equal 20 hours at work. Even if you are lucky enough to have childcare provided at your place of employment (and hey, good luck with finding that), you still need to allow a few minutes each day for dropping your children off, and collecting them again. More realistically, if you need to take your children to childcare, and settle them in, and then get from their childcare centre or preschool or kindergarten to your place of work, you need to allow extra time. My guess is that you need to allow an hour a day, depending on where you live. I suppose that if you are lucky, you might be able to find a job where you work your 20 hours over three days, so that you limit your drop-off-and-travel time to 3 hours. But then you will need to allow time to take lunch breaks, but of course, your child still has to be cared for. My conservative guess is that in order to work for 20 hours a week, you need 25 hours of childcare.
But that only works if you have pre-school children. If you have school age children as well as a pre-schooler, then you’ll need to arrange school holiday care, for the 12 weeks of the year when schools are closed. You will be able to cover four weeks with your own leave, but that’s still eight weeks when you will be juggling children and childcare and work. Not an easy task at all.
The Welfare Working Group itself acknowledged these problems. Even though it recommended that sole parents receiving the DPB be required to look for work, this was only possible:
…subject to the Government addressing issues with the current availability and affordability of childcare and out-of-school care which we recommend are urgently addressed…
The final report also noted that:
We have proposed that sole parents (and other carers of children in the welfare system) be required to work at least 20 hours per week once their youngest child turns three years old. To meet this work obligation, these parents may need more than 20 hours of care per week, once travel time to work is factored in.
The expansion of out-of-school services would enable more parents to work full-time and have hassle-free care for their children before and after school and in the school holidays. Increased availability and affordability of these services is critical to enable a full-time work expectation to be introduced for sole parents once the youngest child reaches school age. In addition, it may be necessary to require schools to open earlier to give parents more flexibility about when they can start work. We propose that the Ministry of Education urgently develop proposals to facilitate the expansion of out-of-school services on school property, including during the school holidays.
Whatever else may be, shall we say, problematic in the Welfare Working Group’s report, at least they were not unrealistic about the connection between a parent’s ability to work, and the availability of good childcare.
Unlike our Prime Minister, who clearly has little idea about just how much work it takes to combine paid employment with parenting. And that worries me. The Welfare Working Group’s report is just that – a report. Now it is up to the government to read and understand that report, and decide which bits it will adopt as policy. And the leader of our government has just demonstrated, in one simple little phrase, that he has no understanding of the reality of day to day life for working parents.
I realise that it’s been a week since the Welfare Working Group’s report came out. But take a look at the datestamp on the article I linked to: 11.16am, on Tuesday 22 February. Slightly over an hour and a half later, Christchurch was torn apart by a lethal earthquake. All this last week, we have been watching and waiting and grieving with the people of Canterbury. However as I said last Friday, something we need to do now is get on with it. Get on with working and thinking and writing, because “they are depending on us to keep the place running and to support them while they work to get their lives, their homes, their communities, back together again.”
I hope to write some more about the Welfare Working Group’s report in the next few days.