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?