I have a column in the Dominion Post today.
It’s easy to criticise the welfare system. Beneficiaries get too much money, too many of them cheat, and it all costs too much. But the unrecognised reality is that our comprehensive health and welfare systems create freedom and security for us all.
Those of us who are fortunate enough to be able to pay taxes have a straightforward reason to support the welfare state: it’s simple prudence. One day, it may be our turn to depend on the state.
Our health and welfare systems are based on need, not some notion of worthiness. If we are in need, we are entitled to assistance, and that means that we may live as free citizens. It means that we are secure from economic fear, secure from absolute want, and secure from the interference of our neighbours. That freedom and security makes all of us beneficiaries of the welfare system.
This time, I’ve outed myself as a lecturer in Taxation, and a newly joined member of the Labour Party. I’m not sure how long I’ll be welcome in the party, of course…
As ever, the subbing is by the newspaper, not by me.
You should also read Giovanni’s excellent post on this topic: The Man on the Roof
I had a huge amount to get through at work this week – study material that simply must be prepared and loaded onto websites and ready to go a week ahead of the second semester starting. The second semester doesn’t start until mid-Juiy, but there are two weeks of school holidays first, and my part-time job means that I don’t work then. As well as masses of work, I had two rehearsals for my choir, and a concert at my daughters’ school, and a meeting for a trust board that I am on. On top of all this, as is reasonably common, Mr Bee was away some nights, for work. I knew that the week would be frantic.
And then, on Monday morning, Miss Ten the younger came into our bedroom, looking very pale and droopy. She has a sore throat and sore ears, and really was quite miserable. She spent two days aawy from school, but by Tuesday evening, she was looking much better. Good, I thought. I can have three really good days in the office.
Except that by Tuesday evening, Miss Ten the younger was getting paler and paler, and clearly getting sicker and sicker. She was away from school on Wednesday and Thursday, and again today, ‘though by late afternoon, she had recovered.
I didn’t get a single day in the office all week.
There are some things that make managing sick children easier for me than for many parents. I have an office to myself, which is standard practice for academics in universities, and it’s large, so I have a sofa in there, which is ideal for sick children. I had meetings on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday that I didn’t want to miss, so on those days, the girls came to campus with me, and languished on my sofa, with books and my iPad to keep themselves amused. My work can easily be done at home, although it’s a nuisance not having ready access to the resources in my office, and not being able to wander down the hallway to consult a colleague over a problem if necessary.
But working at home has its limitations, notably with respect to my laptop. By Thursday I had sore arms and hands thanks to the height of the dining table where I was working, and the clunkiness of my laptop’s mousepad. I could solve both those problems (mouse instead of a mousepad, swapping to a different table), but the ergonomics at home are not nearly has good as my desk in my office. And try as I might, I never get as much done at home as I do in the office.
It was been a tough week. But even then, for me, as a working mother, it has been comparatively easy. Academic jobs are one of the few jobs that are output oriented instead of input oriented. My employer doesn’t really count the hours I put in. Instead, I am measured by the number of students I teach, and the amount of research I do. If I happen to do my work in the middle of the night, that’s just fine. Obviously, I have to turn up for the classes I teach, and as a rule, I ought to be in my office and present in the department during normal work hours, but if I need to work from home, I can. And I am not a sole parent. Because Mr Bee has a Big Job, we have consciously decided that I will work part time, so that we can manage childcare.** However, even though I end up taking most of the childcare responsibilities, if the sky really fell down, I could call on Mr Bee for help.
But what say you have a job where being present is what matters? How many bosses are going to be happy with an employee taking a whole week off to care for sick children? And here’s the thing about children: they are little repositories of disease. They get sick, with winter bugs and illnesses, and sick childen cannot go to school or daycare. That means that you cannot go to work.
And if you are a sole parent, then by definition you do not have a partner with whom to share childcare. This is why the National party’s plan to make sure that all those sole parents are out working will fail. It’s not that that parents don’t want to work. All the evidence shows that the great majority of people who are on the DPB are only on it for a few years, and move off it when they are able too. Many of them find employment precarious and difficult to manage – witness Paula Bennett’s struggle – but they are willing to work. The problem is the lack of jobs where employers are happy for employees to take leave to care for sick children. Add to this the need to take leave for school holidays – 12 weeks school holidays each year, but most employees only get four weeks annual leave – and the minor detail of most jobs running for eight to nine hours each day, while school runs for only six, and trying to find work that enables a sole parent to work suddenly looks very difficult indeed.
It’s Saturday now, and at last, everyone is well. With a bit of luck, I will get a whole clear week in the office before the school term ends on Friday. Fingers crossed….
* Working in paid employment
** Yes, this might create issues in many careers. As it turns out, in an academic career, I should be able to go back to fulltime work fairly easily once my children are old enough. Also, I no longer have a career. I just have a series of jobs which do well enough for the time being.
Earlier posts on the National Party’s policies for sole parents:
- Get those sole parents working
- Keeping its promises
- I did it, so why can’t you?
- Making those slappers cross their legs
I have an opinion piece in The Dominion Post this morning, on teen pregnancy.
If we really want teenage girls to stop having babies, then we need to do some hard work on the conditions they face.
That means good education and good jobs. But that would take real money. It’s much easier to just demonise teenage mothers. It’s reminiscent of the panic in the 1970s about Third World women. It serves the same purpose, setting up a group to be blamed for the troubles of the world and made to take responsibility for them, while the middle classes need do nothing.
I’ve seen three sets of arguments supporting the government’s plan to provide limited free contraception to women on the DPB. The first two are positive arguments in favour of the plan, and the third is a response to arguments raised by people opposing the plan. They are: (1) it’s free contraception; (2) it’s all about improving choices; and (3) it’s not eugenic or racist at all. Let’s look at each of them in turn.
(1) It’s free contraception.
No, it’s not. It’s free contraception of a certain type. It’s only free if you make a government approved choice to use long lasting contraception, such as an implant or an IUD. If it was genuinely free contraception, then the government would be supporting all contraceptive choices, not just the ones that constrain women’s choices.
(2) It’s all about improving choices
It doesn’t improve choices at all. It actually decreases choice with respect to contraception, by weighting the choices heavily in favour of one choice. Of course, women can still “choose” to use other forms of contraception, but when one choice is free, and the others cost money, then a woman who is already poor (remember, this is available only to beneficiaries) may find that she can’t afford to make any other choices about controlling her fertility. If it’s a choice at all, it’s a Hobbesian choice.
Fear and liberty are consistent: as when a man throweth his goods into the sea for fear the ship should sink, he doth it nevertheless very willingly, and may refuse to do it if he will; it is therefore the action of one that was free: (Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan
Of course, the “choice” offered is not nearly so extreme as Hobbes’ choice, but it is nevertheless a choice that is badly skewed by the costs attached to some options, and as such, it does not improve choices.
(3) It’s not eugenic or racist
Morgan Godfery and I (one, two) have both argued that the policy has racist overtones, in that it is seeking to control the fertility of poor women, and poor brown women, who make up about 53% of those receiving the Domestic Purposes Benefit. The response has been to say, “No, it’s not!” I would stop short of the word “eugenic”, but I do think that there are very nasty overtones about controlling women’s fertility, and given the high proportion of Maori and Pacific Island women amongst beneficiaries, a racist overtone as well. This can be seen in the type of contraceptive that is approved for use: it is long-term contraceptives, which controls fertility for years at a time. But more than that, it is the fact that the “free” contraceptives will be available not just for women on the benefit, but for their sixteen to nineteen year old daughters as well. In other words, not only does the government want to stop poor women from having babies, but it wants to stop their daughters from having babies too. The government is extending its control of women’s fertility to the second generation. It’s that extended reach that makes the policy worrying.
I think that many of the people supporting the policy, or at least not opposing it, have brushed over the details, focusing on “free” contraception, instead of contraception of certain approved type, the weighting of choices, and the reach into the second generation. The government has glossed over these details, but they make all the difference.
As the Dim-Post has pointed out, the government is only spending a million dollars on this policy. It’s chicken feed, and for that small price, they have generated a huge amount of discussion. I’ve said it before, and I think that it’s still valid: there’s a giant dogwhistle in all this, National pandering to its base, inviting them to hate on the beneficiaries. How despicable is that.
From New Zealand Doctor’s twitter feed:
H/T:@pictorialjack The organisation is New Zealand Doctor, and the twitter feed is NZDoctor_news.
The tweet reads: NZMA “strongly supports” policy enabling women on benefit & female dependents of beneficiaries to get financial assistance re contraception.”
Except… it’s not financial assistance for contraception in general. It’s long term contraception only, whether it’s suitable for the woman or not, and it’s part of a policy designed to control the fertility of a particular group of women in our society.
Check out my previous post for the details on this horrid policy: Making those slappers cross their legs. The effect of the policy is to control what women may or may not do with their bodies. More than that, given that over 50% of people receiving the DPB have brown skins, it’s hard not to read this policy as one of stopping all those poor people, and all those brown people, and especially those poor brown people, from breeding.
And the NZMA is supporting it. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.