Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

Gordon Campbell on free contraception for the beneficiary poor

May 8th, 2012

If one can be grateful for small mercies, at least young women on benefits will not be forced into (a) having compulsory contraceptive implants fitted into their arms or( b) having IUDs installed as a pre-condition for receiving state support for their children – as was originally mooted by the Welfare Working Group on social welfare reform. Instead, such measures will only be an option, according to Social Welfare Minister Paula Bennett – and will not (presumably) be put forward by front line staff as an option that beneficiaries cannot refuse.

Bennett was at pains yesterday to present this mooted $1 million contraceptive package as being a voluntary form of assistance, rather than a tool of social engineering. Cost, she said, can be a barrier to effective contraception for some. (Despite Pharmac’s subsidies for some forms of contraception that is still the case, given the cost of going to the doctor.) Yet by making fully subsidized long term implants and IUDs available for free only to beneficiary mothers and their teenage daughters, the policy still carries a stench of eugenics about it. If cost really is the rationale, then these family planning methods should be being made available for free to all women on low incomes, whatever their occupational status. Otherwise, the state is making a distinction between the virtuous working poor and the poor on benefits, who are being regarded as irresponsible and/or morally degenerate. From October, this contraceptive assistance will be offered to all women on benefits, and their daughters aged 16 to 19.

That’s outrageous. Think about it. Most women are on the DPB due to marital or relationship breakdown, leaving them – usually – with the prime custodial care of the children from those relationships. In response, Bennett is offering to pay to insert IUDs or contraceptive implants in those women and in their teenage daughters. That is pretty insulting. From October, the state intends to treat all such women – most of whom are on a benefit not by choice but through divorce and relationship breakups – as if they and their children are sexually irresponsible. In this respect at least, the government’s view of beneficiaries seems to belong to the 19th century. It’s all a bit like the world of Nancy in Oliver Twist:

When such as I, who have no certain roof but the coffin-lid, and no friend in sickness or death but the hospital nurse, set our rotten hearts on any man, and let him fill the place that has been a blank through all our wretched lives, who can hope to cure us? Pity us, lady—pity us for having only one feeling of the woman left and for having that turned, by a heavy judgment, from a comfort and a pride into a new means of violence and suffering.

Is Paula Bennett being just as keen to offer women on the DPB financial help say, to retrain and/or carry out university study? Not so much. In the recent past, she has cut the same Training Incentive Allowance for solo parents that she personally benefited from whilst she was on a benefit – and she may now be reconsidering the wisdom of that move.

Given the potential for WINZ staff to cross the borderline and pressure beneficiaries into compliance, Bennett should be stressing that frontline staff will be given explicit instructions on this point of the voluntary nature of contraception – and that any pressure would be regarded as intolerable, and would have career repercussions for staff found to have abused their powers in this area. As Green Party Co-Leader Metiria Turei said on RNZ this morning, the state has no role in telling women what contraception they should and/or must use, simply because such women are temporarily in need of financial support from the state.

Also, as has been said many times before, the spectre of teen mothers is one that is easily overblown. Of all women on the DPB there is a higher percentage of women in the 55-64 age group than those aged 18-19 years of age. Those teen mothers may stay on the DPB relatively longer, but the stereotype – the ‘breeding for a career’ teen mother –is a tiny element within a small sub-group within a subset of the beneficiary numbers. The approach is largely to be a punitive one, regardless:

The reforms include a requirement for those who have another child while on a benefit to look for work when that baby is 1, rather than wait until he or she is 5.

Is this approach likely to stop the second child, or subsequent children, being born? Or is it merely likely to put the care of the first child at risk? I think we already know the answer to that one.

Welfare reform

The issue of contraception tended to over-shadow the other announcements yesterday on the first stage of the government’s welfare reform. The measures announced will cost $287.5 million overall over four years – the full package will cost $520 million – and are expected to save $1 billion over the same period – although Bennett has made it clear that the savings estimates are a ‘best guess’ figure only. That is putting it mildly. Over recent decades, the swings of the business cycle has been the main determinant of how many people go on the welfare rolls – and by comparison the eligibility rules for getting benefits, or the mindset of the recipients are virtually irrelevant. So, since the economy is expected to slowly improve over the next four years, it will be this enhanced economic activity – and not welfare reform – that will be the reason why the beneficiary numbers will decline.

The rough breakdown is as follows:

The first phase of the changes is expected to cost $287.5 million over four years. It includes $148 million to be spent on budgeting and parenting courses, with youth beneficiaries, aged 16 to 17, getting incentives of up to $30 per week for taking the courses. It also provides up to $64 million going to private providers of youth services.

In any welfare-to-work process, the provision of quality, affordable childcare is an essential ingredient. Within that $287.5 million, some $80 million has been earmarked for childcare and early childhood assistance. At the receiving end, this will take the form of a $6 an hour childcare subsidy – which Bennett presented as being a rate, when taken alongside other existing forms of childcare subsidy, as adequate to meet the cost of childcare for beneficiaries being required to work full or part time. This is very arguable – especially when there will be no inflation adjustment in early childhood provisions.

Assistance payments would provide young parents with up to $6 an hour for 50 hours a week for their children to attend approved early childhood education services. That’s on top of funding for the 1155 extra early-childhood education places needed to meet the needs of parents returning to work or study.

However, Prime Minister John Key said although there would not be cuts to early childhood provisions for working parents, there would be minor changes. “Those changes could result, at the margins, in some people getting not necessarily less funding over time but not necessarily more as the general inflation rate increases.

In answer to a further question from Scoop, Bennett gave assurances that the reforms would not result in the children of beneficiaries being pushed into the kind of low quality childcare that has typified much of the welfare to work process in the United States. Time will tell whether Bennett’s confidence is well placed on that score.


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    1. 18 Responses to “Gordon Campbell on free contraception for the beneficiary poor”

    2. By Michael Mckee on May 8, 2012 | Reply

      But they should be, it is only right and fair.
      I don’t understand why people haven’t got it into their heads.
      When you are on a benefit, you are spending someone else’s money, not your own.
      More importantly you are not contributing towards your future or the nations financial well being.
      Therefore they have rights on what you can or cannot do with their money.
      Similarly you have an obligation on how you spend your time.
      If you are not looking for work or studying to upskill/upgrade yourself then you are not working to be a contributor to society.
      The benefit is not a right but a privilege because other people are paying for it.

    3. By female on May 8, 2012 | Reply

      One thing the welfare reforms will increase is abortions. I’m stunned at the attitudes so many new zealanders are showing towards benefit-recipient women at the moment. Stunned and appalled.

    4. By Miriam on May 9, 2012 | Reply

      @Mr Mckee you are confused, by looking after their children they are contributing to both their children’s and the nations future.
      Needing a benefit does not take away their social and economic rights as you claim.
      Why don’t you correctly define “contributor” and apply your idea honestly to all people, investment bankers, commodity traders (see how they contribute to famines) etc or what good they bring to society . Other people pay for the riches that one man gains from bidding up the price of food and commodities.
      Mr McKee feeding the poor is a duty and beneficiaries are not privileged. You should’ve found it gross that measures fitting for animals were suggested for these poor mothers.

    5. By Gordon Campbell on May 9, 2012 | Reply

      I would like to correct a mistake in the above column. The WWG did NOT recommend compulsory long acting contraception for beneficiaries. It said ““The Welfare Working Group recommends that ready access to free long-acting reversible contraception be provided for parents who are receiving welfare.” However, the potential for eventually turning that ‘free availability’ of contraception to welfare recipients into a condition of receiving welfare assistance is obvious. The concerns about this potential development were not allayed last June, when Social Development Minister described herself on the Q & A programme as”a big fan” of long-acting reversible contraception for young mothers on welfare but….”I don’t think we’re quite at compulsory sort of stages.” Hardly a ringing renunciation of state compulsion.

    6. By megan pledger on May 9, 2012 | Reply

      If the man who made a women pregnant is also on a benefit then why isn’t he offered free contraception? And penalised if a new baby is born?

      Why are the women’s sons not offered free contraception?

      It sounds like women are carrying the can for a responsibility that should be equally shared.

    7. By Miriam on May 9, 2012 | Reply

      Mr Campbell I though you described the current oppressive MSD culture well which is important to the issue.
      The latest “family planning” from the MSD as a “benefit” is inappropriate. Heres another thought:
      “Joan Campion, spokewoman of Pfizer, the maker of Depo-Provera, said, “As part of the Depo-Provera label, physicians are already advised on benefits and risks of Depo-Provera, including the risk of breast cancer”

    8. By Tarajane on May 9, 2012 | Reply

      The crux of the issue, imo, and why it cannot avoid a massive potential abuse and coercion, is best expressed like this:

      Ministry of Health.vs.Ministry of Social Development.

      @ Megan – exactly! Universality would include all people, not all women. Despite all our “advancements”, sperm still assists in the making of babies.

    9. By Lissa on May 9, 2012 | Reply

      The 90s told me that National would make a whole lot of ruthless, awful decisions that would make many lives much harder, so I came out of the last election expecting to be thoroughly disgusted by a lot of what was about to occur politically, but goddamn… this is some audacious, vile bullsh*t.

      Are these people psychopathic?

    10. By Hannah on May 10, 2012 | Reply

      A small amount of tax payers money is spent on benefits. As a full time working woman I am more than happy to contribute what I can to help mothers get back into the work force. Society seems to look down upon single mothers but not even think about the “fathers” involved and the part they have played. To categorize women on benefits as sexually irresponsible is sickening. They may have ended up in this situation for many reasons, some very sad reasons. People need to think before they judge. Mothers do a bloody good job with what they are given.

    11. By DTP on May 10, 2012 | Reply

      Come on, this is pushing slippery slope a very long way. Any article that starts with things that are unpleasant but NOT being done is making a pretty hefty attempt to set a mood unfairly. “The green party has NOT said that all cats and dogs are going to be shot on sight. However they are supporting new suburbs having covenants on restricting ownership”. Factually correct but rubbish journalism.

    12. By greta on May 10, 2012 | Reply

      As a working woman I am more than happy what I can to help mothers generally, whether they want to be in the workforce or not!

      How about some free Depo Provera for the guys? Why have they not even bben mentioned? Penises do things too.

    13. By DrWatson on May 11, 2012 | Reply

      For those who don’t realise it, Men have been able to get free contraception for a long time. Walk into family planning, get an arm full of condoms, walk out.

      This legislation is not compelling, but enabling. It should however, be extended to cover all people on low incomes, and not just those receiving a benefit.

    14. By RobertM on May 11, 2012 | Reply

      My own views are that are young women should have the right to free injections or implants for long lasting contraceptives at say age 15.5 and 18.5 and that an attempt should be made to encourage breeding in say the age range of 21 to 24 and then free contraception after that. I believe women need the right to 24 hour childcare several days a week. The expense would be met by radical cuts to the health system, social work areas. I believe the current health system and in particular the militant left wing interventionist attitudes to the New Zealand medical system is undesirable. The priority of the medical profession should be to enhance peoples sex life. The only long term solution to the growing rest home and alzheimer care problem is the Dutch solution of active euthanasia. Voluntary euthanasia is not something I support at all.
      Good health and good mental health is best achieved by vigorous sex life. Young women at there sexual peak between 15 and 25 should maximise the opportunity

    15. By james on May 11, 2012 | Reply

      Those on the benefit are scum, This is why a poll on tv 3 showed 80% for birth control. Its interesting How the media refer to those on a benefit as them, as if us, having a job gives you the right to judge. Forget that some have got injured from our work places or been made redundant after 20 years in the work force. The issues are complex and there are no simple solutions. Bigots like cameron slater eg breeders and michael laws ferals need to get a life and not be such bigots.

    16. By Heavydee on May 12, 2012 | Reply

      I tend to think the moral panic around eugenics that has been suggested by Sue Bradford and Gordon above is being overblown. I absolutely agree that not all beneficiaries are in this position by their own choosing and I don’t think solo mothers should be singled out as abusers of the system. However, as a teacher working in South Auckland, I regularly deal with children who come from unhappy homes which are also welfare-dependent homes. Serious behavioural issues and poor academic performance are the result, as are children regularly being sent to school dirty and without any breakfast or lunch. I don’t think providing some options to reduce the number of children born into these conditions is necessarily a bad thing.

    17. By AC on May 13, 2012 | Reply

      I was forced to apply for a widow’s benefit at the age of 58 (my first-ever contact with WINZ) and soon learned that I was the underdog in a power relationship vis-à-vis my case manager.

    18. By james on May 18, 2012 | Reply

      what about those who have injured themselves at work or been made redudant and have paid taxes for 20 years and now have no choice but to have the safety net to provide for them. The issues are complex but instead you take the unintelligent way to support your comments. I have a pet hate of white middle class red neck males who make comments like ferals and breeders .

    19. By Joronda on May 21, 2012 | Reply

      An overseas study of 369 college age women has found that not wearing condoms reduces frequency and intensity of depression, because the semen enters the blood stream soon after sex and releases mood elevating hormones. The speramtoza seperate from the semen and go looking for an egg.

      The women who use condoms experience far more bouts of depression, and the intensity of the depression is much higher than the non-condom users.

      Women of all ages need affordable contraception based on their individual needs and choice, but with such a huge NZ Deficit, all the Govt can do is help those most at risk of an unplanned pregnancy.

      Male Journalists often love to score political points, but in reality are out of their depth in trying to understand child-rearing issues.

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