If only those poor people would stop breeding

Cross posted

The Welfare Working Group was established by Cabinet:

… to undertake an expansive and fundamental review of New Zealand’s welfare system. The Group’s primary task was to identify how to reduce long-term welfare dependency.

In the midst of the Welfare Working Group’s final report (downloadable from the Group’s homepage), there is a nasty jibe about poor people breeding.

For some people the idea that it is not appropriate to have further children while receiving welfare is a significant change in expectation and will require a very different pattern of welfare use. …We have found this issue difficult and have given careful consideration to our response. In the long term, the most positive measures to reduce the number of children born to parents relying on welfare payments is to provide more positive alternatives, especially for teen sole parents. The Working Group considers that a component of addressing this issue is providing all parents within the welfare system ready access to free long-acting reversible contraception. … A majority of members of the Working Group are also in favour of strong signals to parents that a welfare payment is intended to provide temporary support while they get back on their feet and into employment. … In practice, for most this means taking active steps to avoid pregnancy while receiving Jobseeker Support.

Welfare Working Group final report, p. 77

And if you do have the temerity to have another child while you are already on the benefit, then:

The Working Group suggests that if the changes to the work test requirements do not address the incentives to have additional children while receiving welfare assistance, then 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.

Welfare Working Group final report, p. 78

By the way, that ‘contraception” is going to be “long-acting reversible contraception” (p. 77, plus footnote 65 on p. 77).

In other words, if you are on the benefit, the government is going to control your fertility.

Wealthy white people have always had a problem with poor people breeding. Many years ago, I watched a documentary by Deepa Dhanraj, “The Legacy of Malthus”, in which she argued that the (alleged) problem with the world’s population is not the number of children being born, but the distribution of resources. The documentary contained a couple of video clips that revolted me. Two movie stars, both well-fed are white, both with no particular concerns about how to feed and clothe themselves and their children, appeared in commercials urging people to donate to the Population Institute. The Population Institute:

is an international non-profit that educates policymakers and the public about population, and seeks to promote universal access to family planning information, education, and services. Through voluntary family planning, we strive to achieve a world population in balance with a healthy global environment and resource base.

The donations were to enable the Population Institute to provide contraceptives to women in third world countries. A fine and noble purpose, on the surface, perhaps. But the subtext that I heard, loud and clear, was that wealthy white people who were already consuming far more than their share of the world’s resources, wanted all those poor brown people to stop breeding. The world would be a much better place for everyone, that is, for the wealthy white people, if poor brown people would stop causing all the problems.

And I am revolted by the wealthly, well-educated, well-resourced people who wrote the Welfare Working Group’s final report suggesting that all would be well in this country if only the poor people stopped breeding.

It turns out that the key to decreasing the size of the world’s population is not forcing people to use contraceptives, or to have just one child, but to educate and empower women. Ensure that women are educated, ensure that they have the resources and capability to build lives for themselves, and can sustain themselves and their children, and in time, the population will drop. The process is so well known that we have a name for it: “demographic transition.

Educating women is the critical factor in reducing the birth rate. Providing contraceptives turns out to be neither here nor there:

While the bomb has been largely defused, the implication remains that to bring growth down more rapidly we should do the only thing we can do now: fund and promote family planning programs among fast-growing populations. The rest is pie in the sky.

Our response is twofold. First, demographers will tell you that even if average family size in a fast-growing society were cut by half tomorrow, its population would not stop growing until well into the next century. So every solution, including family planning programs, is a long-term one; there are no quick fixes. The second part of our answer is more surprising: simply providing birth control technology through family planning programs doesn’t affect population growth all that much.

Individual women on the Domestic Purposes Benefit are not the same as populations. There is no ‘demographic transition’ for an individual. But ‘demographic transition’ does provide some clues. The key is to empower women, to ensure that they have the resources the need to obtain and retain a job. That means investing in education and training and childcare. It means pouring far more resources into schools for teenage parents, where young mothers can be sure that their children are being cared for while they finish their secondary education. It means enabling sole parents to access training grants, such as the grant that our Minister of Social Development used herself when she was a sole parent on the DPB. It means truly focusing on giving sole parents a helping hand. And that will be a complex and expensive solution.

Or we could just put all sole parents on the pill. Cheap, simple, and with that nice overtone of punishment.

And there’s a final sting in the tail. I know of no ‘long-acting, reversible contraception’ for men. The Welfare Working Group is making women into gatekeepers of the nation’s domestic purposes benefit bill. Except that last time I enquired into the matter, except in very unusual circumstances, it still took two people to make a baby. Why is is only women who are required to take responsibility for keeping the cost of the domestic purposes benefit down?


31 comments on “If only those poor people would stop breeding

  1. M-H says:

    Oh god… would they really bring this is? I really really hope not. Your final point is very well-made.

    I received that training allowance. It enabled me to attend Massey to complete my undergrad degree and my first masters degree. The conditions around it got worse and worse as time went on – the first year I received money for books on top of my fees and the DPB, but in my last year it was very minimalist – fees were paid direct to the Uni, who had to report on my progress. The crunch came when I went to a conference in Australia to present on my thesis work, paid for by the Faculty, and they stopped my benefit for the 5 days I was out of the country – and had to pay rent and my then teenaged son still had to be fed during that time! I had to take my passport in to prove I had returned to the NZ (hello! I’m standing in front of you!) was even told that I had no right to leave the country while I was in receipt of the DPB, no matter who was paying for the trip or what it was for.

  2. Jan says:

    This reads to me like something from about the 1920s. The whole ethos could have been lifted straight from many of the policies of that time. I don’t have references here but they applied to indigenous parents in particular and to those on welfare payments.

    Male contraceptive, longlasting? Yes, there is such a thing. One of my sons participated in a study for this, an implant in stomach for very many years. It worked well for them, his wife could not take contraceptive pill because of history of nasty blood clots in the family. He was a bit tender for a couple of days after it was placed, but then he forgot it was even there. When they wanted a third child after about five years, it was removed.

  3. vibenna says:

    I do see the problem they are grappling with; the need to balance entitlement against resources. But nonetheless I find that overtones of eugenics and statist control of the poor revolting. To make the points, I’ve changed a few words ….

    “For some people the idea that it is not appropriate to have further children while making excessive use of natural resources is a significant change in expectation, and will require a very different pattern of asset accumulation and use. …We have found this issue difficult and have given careful consideration to our response. In the long term, the most positive measures to reduce the number of children born to parents relying on excessive resource consumption is to provide more positive alternatives, especially for middle aged wealthy white people. The Working Group considers that a component of addressing this issue is providing all such parents ready access to free long-acting reversible contraception. … A majority of members of the Working Group are also in favour of strong signals to parents that lower taxes on high incomes are intended to promote economic efficiency rather than high levels of personal consumption … In practice, for most this means taking active steps to avoid pregnancy while they are using excessive amounts of capital and natural resources to support their lifestyle.”

  4. george says:

    Let’s have unlimited breeding by people who cannot afford to care for their children or pay a fair share of the cost of educating them. Then, let’s take all of the money from the “rich” and spread it around until everyone is poor. Then let’s wait for the world wars that will be fought over the increasingly scarce resources that remain after all capital is squandered and not available to produce food, clothing and shelter.

    Or, let’s use the intelligence that we have to reduce population increase, above all among those who cannot afford to have a family, so that we don’t need to nuke huge swaths of Africa and Southeast Asia to control population that way . . . . Sorry to couch this in such stark terms, but eventually we will face these kinds of choices.


      i agree with you, my neighbor is on welfare, i have known him my whole life, he has two kids and one more on the way, with his and his girlfriends ‘benefits’ and his parents pension, he was making more money than me and never worked a day in his childrens lives, i did not know it at the time, i took pity on him and helped him a lot, free work that he could’nt AFFORD, free care rides to the point of abuse, he used my car more than i did. then i got a new job that paid six figures, it was an oil patch job, i got him a job that paid 18 dollars per hour plus overtime, in short, free food, free flights and a 50 to 60 thousand dollars a year pay. he laughed in my face, called me a fool and a sucker for going away to work, and he REFUSED THE JOB, i have since cut him off, it was hard at first, as everything is an emergency, even being out of bread, now instead of using my car four to nine times a week on my dime, he pays for a cab, once or twice a week, so i thought him how to plan, he is always throwing digs at me, when i was working poor, he made fun of me because i kept my heat at 19 to 20 celsius, he had his on 23 to 26 celsius with windows open in the winter, he laughed at me whenever the price of gas went up, then he complained about the price of milk, bread and meat, i was sick of hearing his whining. i told him that it was reasonably priced, he nearly took a fit, threw my job in my face and wished a ten dollar a liter gas rise on us working people, i told him when that happened that his family would have very strong legs from walking as nobody would drive them, and that they would lose weight, and they would have to live on a fraction of the groceries that they now get, no bags of chips, pop or cigarettes, and he would have no market for his weed plants, so they would be hungry. i told him that my wages kept up better with inflation than his welfare. he said that welfare people should get a raise, so i told him to call his case worker and ask her for a raise, he should tell her what extras that he did to deserve a raise, just like us workers. him and his girlfriend smokes about 400 to 500 dollars per month in cigarettes, a car payment, and thay sell enough weed to be comfortable, but they are always broke and complaining about it, I HATE THEM ALL.

  5. Chally says:

    Oh, george, that is ludicrous.

    Well argued, Deborah.

    • STERILIZE them! says:

      no chally, what is ludicrous is my tax dollars paying for these lazy good for nothing bums children, when i would rather put the money on my future, whatever happened to YOU PLAY, YOU PAY, in the wild, if an animal has a child and does’nt go hunting, that child starves, we are watering down the human blood line with these people (I ONLY MEAN THOSE THAT HAVE CHILDREN WHILE ON WELFARE) those that go on welfare after they had children because of a job loss or losing a spouse have my upmost respect, they are not abusing the system, those that never work and expect their children fed and free houses and cigarettes should be sterilized, and be forced to have random drug tests, if they fail the test, their children should be taken away and their benefits terminated on the spot, no three strike system, if they can afford cigarettes, drugs or liquor, then they don’t need benefits.

    • marcylyn says:

      We need to get rid of welfare, if they can`t afford to feed,clothe and take care of thier little own then they shouldn`t be having babies. I too, am sick of my hard earned tax dollars going to stupid people who can`t even look after themselves let alone another human. The black women are the worst for this. They should also be sterilized. I think the govenments are listening finally. Tax payers are fed up.

  6. stargazer says:

    george, let’s increase the minimum wage and institute fair labour laws, let’s strengthen unions so that more of the business profits are distributed towards the people who put in the labour to earn those profits. that would mean that the “rich” you speak of wouldn’t be so rich, but it would also mean a fairer society and it would mean that everyone could afford to raise their kids.

    or let’s just allow wages to be driven down, have high unemployment, have a government that won’t institute policies that create jobs, then blame people for being on welfare and think of how we can neuter them.

  7. Mindy says:

    Did you actually read Deborah’s post George? She did actually answer your concerns, maybe you didn’t like the solution?

  8. homepaddock says:

    I agree the key is education but take issue with your statement: “And I am revolted by the wealthly, well-educated, well-resourced people who wrote the Welfare Working Group’s final report suggesting that all would be well in this country if only the poor people stopped breeding.”

    That is not what the WWG is saying. The problem isn’t anyone having children it’s people who have children and expect/need other people to pay for them.

    It’s not simply about money either – children of sole parents, especially young sole parents – feature disproportionately in all the negative statistics – poor education, poor health, less likely to be employed, more likely to be abused and to commit crimes . . .

    Women, especially young ones, who have additional children while on a benefit also feature disproportionately in negative statistics including as victims of abuse.

    The WWG has come up with a very tough prescription and the government has already rejected some of the more radical ideas. Benefits are necessary for temporary assistance when people are faced with circumstances beyond their control and longer term, sometimes permanently, for a few.

    Moving people who could work from benefits into jobs is not easy nor is it cheap – child care and training/education are just two additional costs – but I’d rather spend money on that than give up on people and leave them in poverty.

  9. Che Tibby says:

    “Why is is only women who are required to take responsibility for keeping the cost of the domestic purposes benefit down?”


    “I know of no ‘long-acting, reversible contraception’ for men.”

    i’m certain if you had a cheap version of the latter, the former wouldn’t be necessary.

  10. Mindy says:

    @ Che Tibby – but then you have to ask the question why isn’t there a long acting reversible contraceptive for men. My answer is because men have long been all about controlling women’s fertility while keeping men fertile and virile. So maybe they need to do something about all those men thoughtlessly sowing their seed rather than expect women to be gatekeepers.

  11. che tibby says:

    waitaminute… are you seriously suggesting a gender-based conspiracy to control women’s fertility?

  12. Che Tibby says:

    this has been dogging me, “why isn’t there a long acting reversible contraceptive for men.” is interesting.

    if you consider sterilisation for a minute, vasectomy has developed in leaps and bounds. today is is *relatively* cheap (and subsidised for low-income people), simple, and up-taken by a high proportion of NZL males.

    this suggests two things: first, medical science has been developing in respect of male fertility.

    second, men are willing to be irreversibly sterilised in high numbers, usually for the benefit of their partner who no longer need use contraception.

    i’m not quite sure how these facts fit your question about reversible contraception for me.

    is it perhaps that the pill is an effective and highly popular method of birth control? that would in turn place pressure on any need to develop the same for males. because as much as i despise economists like Rebstock, it’s a fairly simple answer to your issue of control.

  13. WittyKnitter says:

    Err… Che Tibby, sterilization isn’t easily reversible. It doesn’t fit into Mindy’s question at all.

    Any why is it assumed that money has anything to do with the ability to bring up children well? I know many people who are finanicially able to have many children, but who do a truly dreadful job of bringing up future citizens. No-one suggests they should not have any more; in fact, here in Australia they are encouraged to ‘breed’.

  14. homepaddock says:

    “why is it assumed that money has anything to do with the ability to bring up children well?”

    Your income by itself doesn’t make you better or worse at bringing up children. But it is easier to shelter, feed, clothe, educate, provide healthcare and opportunities for children on medium to higher incomes than lower ones.

    It’s not just income but where it comes from – children in homes dependent on benefits are more likely to feature in negative stats than those on similar incomes where one or both parent works.

  15. Che Tibby says:

    @wittyknitter “Che Tibby, sterilization isn’t easily reversible. It doesn’t fit into Mindy’s question at all.”

    but is it an indication that
    1. medical science isn’t solely focused on female reproductive capacity.
    2. the responsibility for preventing pregnancy is not solely limited to women – men play a role that does actually lift ‘the burden’ from their partners.

    this makes the question about reversible contraception moot. perhaps it’s just that the pill has been easier to deploy, and *that’s* whats stopping a “male pill”.

  16. Mindy says:

    But che tibby you would think that all those men complaining about having to support children that they didn’t want because they only wanted casual sex would signal to Big Pharma that there is a market for a male pill that would allow men to be certain that they were sterile while they were out having their fun?

  17. WittyKnitter says:

    Yes, Mindy, indeed you would think that. 🙂

    Nothing about bringing up children is easy, and I often thought that the lack of money was one of the less difficult things. I lived on a benefit twice during my children’s early years, so I do have experience in this area.

  18. stargazer says:

    so ele, given what you’ve said in your last comment, the solution is then to increase wages so that more workers could be on medium or higher wages, and to introduce policies that would stimulate economic developement and provide jobs. you would address the causes of poverty, not control breeding of the poor.

  19. Che Tibby says:

    “they didn’t want because they only wanted casual sex ”

    hmm… have you heard of a contraceptive device called “a condom”?

    apparently they millions of these things a year. very popular apparently. both men and women all over the world purchase them when they’re out having fun.

  20. Che Tibby says:

    maybe i should put a stake in the ground: i think that the rebstock report is appalling, and know that the findings are shot to hell. i also have a first-hand experience of benefit dependency.

    but i’m not sure that the response to rebstock should have *any* gender bias, male or female.

    many people on the DPB are males, and many women on the DPB have partners who are on the unemployment benefit. the simplification of the issue to “these women are sluts” is as wrong as “these are all the children of runners”.

  21. homepaddock says:

    Stargazer – economic growth is needed to both improve wages and create jobs. Both of those will help people who are willing and able to work to find it.

    I do support addressing the causes of poverty – which are many – and I am not in favour of controlling anyone’s breeding regardless of their income.

    I am also supportive of finding ways to encourage people who could work to do so before having more children so they don’t have to depend on a benefit. But I do not support the suggestion that women on benefits should seek work when a subsequent baby is just 14 weeks-old.

  22. Mindy says:

    Stargazer – economic growth is needed to both improve wages and create jobs. Both of those will help people who are willing and able to work to find it.

    Well, IMHO, that is half the equation. The other half is providing affordable childcare options so that parents are able to find paid employment that doesn’t suck up all their pay. It is of no value to get people off benefits if they are spending all their pay on childcare and effectively working for less than they would get on benefits, and the answer is not to reduce benefits.

  23. […] popular assumptions that Muslims are opposed to integration and reject Western values. In If only those poor people would stop breeding, Deborah of A Bee of a Certain Age analyses the Welfare Working Group in NZ in the context of […]

  24. Deborah says:

    I’ve just approved a couple of comments in this thread which make me feel quite ill. But that just means that I let them through moderation, not that I approve of them at all. I’ve got the submitter on permanent moderation.

    Case in point, really.

  25. Scott says:

    This is the worst excuse for clear thinking I have ever read. For that, at least, I’ll give you kudos. Where on earth do you get the idea that any wealthy white person gives a tinker’s damn who has babies as long as that wealthy white person ISN’T SUPPORTING THEM ALREADY.

    Do you really believe that people who are living off of other people’s money shouldn’t feel responsible, and yes, gasp, even grateful? And do you really believe that anyone; rich white American, middle class Mexican, or even yes, a poor black person, who for example out of the goodness of their heart was supporting a family, would welcome the news that the family was expecting a baby? Of course they wouldn’t, and if the shoe was on your foot, you wouldn’t either. You’d have to be insane to be happy for a family you’d taken under your wing because they already couldn’t support themselves who was having another baby, not only because they’d be adding to your burden but because of the far worse situation they were creating for their own and their children’s future.

    Stark. Raving. Mad. It is very, very important in this world to take responsibility, and looking for some government or social class to push it off onto is an attitude far beyond wrong. Thinking like yours is what got the boy of that mother in your story exactly where she is today, for instance. Your ideas have created the millions of women just like her, and you’ll just keep pushing them out. Is it the boy’s fault? Of course not, but is it mine, or yours, or anyone else’s for that matter? Did you force her to have sex, or to turn down what free contraceptives I’m sure she could get?

    No, and if the responsibility is taken by those to whom it does not belong then you accomplish nothing. Nothing – except perpetuating the situation; and in a way that’s the worst thing your fallacy of ‘every must be spared pain’. These ideas, that responsibility is ok and all but not when the shit really hits the fan, have created your little story. You keep it going, by keeping it going.

    It really is that simple. Email me if you want. Seriously. What you are so painfully missing is that an organization offering welfare recipients free birth control has nothing to do with how the benefactors feel about welfare recipients having babies and everything to do with the fact that they’re on welfare already. They can’t support themselves! They’re having babies! I’m paying all their bills! How can you possibly not see the egregious harm to all of us in this!?


  26. WittyKnitter says:

    Why are all these Americans suddenly posting here, I wonder? Very bizarre. They have no context for what they are ranting about. I assume you’ve deleted those earlier ones which I’d swear were written by the same illiterate person; because I have subscribed to the comments on this post I get them in my email in box. Yuck.

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