Get married stay married and you won’t be poor

By   /   May 31, 2016  /   15 Comments

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The Family First report, Child Poverty: Don’t Mention Family Structure by Lindsay Mitchell extols the value of the institution of marriage. According to her, family structure is the elephant in the room when child poverty solutions are discussed.

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The Family First report, Child Poverty: Don’t Mention Family Structure by Lindsay Mitchell extols the value of the institution of marriage.  According to her, family structure is the elephant in the room when child poverty solutions are discussed.

“Unemployment, low wages, high housing costs and insufficient social security benefits are consistently blamed for child poverty yet a major culprit (if not the major culprit) is family malformation, that is, a lack of two married committed parents.”

So being not ‘married’ and therefore not ‘committed’ makes your child’s poverty your fault! Sole parents, valiantly struggling to cope with the aftermath of violent relationship, or a partner who has taken off to Australia leaving her literally holding the baby, or bereavement, will likely see her views as entirely irrelevant.   Marriage or re-partnering can be a highly risky venture for many women. NZ has a shocking record of intimate partner violence and child abuse at the hands of step-fathers.  

To say that parental breakup is the prime cause of child poverty is a bit like saying spots are the prime cause of measles. Financial mismanagement, ill-health, alcoholism, drug addictions, incarceration, poor housing, food insecurity, loss of work, lack of support, sick children can put unbearable stress on even good relationships.

In support of her theory that child policy is due to rise of sole parenthood Lindsay Mitchell uses the MSD graphic and says:

“The official source of child poverty statistics, the Household Incomes Report, only provides data extending back to 1982. Since then, all of the relative measures depicted below6 show the proportion of children in low-income households has risen. Each line charts the percentage of children living in households with incomes below varying percentages of the median household income. The most commonly used poverty threshold is 60 percent of the equivalised median household income after housing costs (AHC). In 2014, 23 percent of children lived in such households (blue line); in 1982, the proportion was 12%.”

What? No mention of the impact on child poverty of the Ruth Richardson benefit cuts of the early 90s?  Lindsay Mitchell studiously ignores the sharp rise that is so clearly policy driven.

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We can agree with her that sole parents and their children have higher rates of child poverty compared to married or defacto couples with children.  But around 50% of poor children come from two parent households.  In the welfare system, couples with children are in deep poverty as Boston and Chapple’s table shows. Coupledom itself hardly seems to be the answer.  Perhaps a high number of sole parents and their children are poor because they don’t have enough to live on and neither do couples on benefits? Maybe policy should fix that?

It is deeply offensive to read this:

“It is not the intention of this paper to explore at length why marriage has fallen out of favour with most social science academics and policy-makers. The aim has been to show that marriage provides the best economic environment for raising children. The evidence is overwhelming and incontrovertible.“ p 41

Apart from the blanket statement that marriage is best when often it clearly is not, her snipe at left wing academics is misplaced. Thinkers on the left favour strong, caring, mature relationships of equals. The left reject the limitations of traditional marriages where the woman is assumed to be dependent on the man. Parents who are respectful and caring of each other do provide a good environment for children- this can often be found in ‘unwed’ groups,  but is too often not found in those who are traditionally  ‘wed’.   

Among the three men endorsing this report is DR DON BRASH –for goodness sake!

“Once again, Lindsay Mitchell has produced a stunning indictment of society’s increasing indifference to marriage. There can’t any longer be any serious doubt that the breakdown of the institution of marriage has been a major contributor to economic and social poverty in New Zealand over recent decades. And easy access to no-questions-asked state welfare has in turn been an important contributor to that outcome.”

Excuse me Dr Brash—we have read your autobiography…

Lindsay Mitchell wants to claim child poverty is caused by marriage dissolution at the same time as she claims policy encourages that dissolution because separated couples are better off on welfare.

What exactly does Lindsay Mitchell want here? Less welfare? Policy implications of this report might be taken that she intends a reduction in the safety net yet further to limit ‘incentive to separate’ and to further stigmatize the unwed. These moves would be extremely dangerous. It is best to accept the world the way it is, rather than make policy for the world the way family values ideologues think it ought to be.  

What is needed is a total review of how WINZ regards relationships in the welfare system. We should create conditions for good relationships to flourish. For example we should have individualised benefits like NZ Super. We should not pay married couples less just because they are married or defacto- payments, nor encourage spying on sole parents to sniff out unfolding new relationships so as to punish her with an investigation. Nor assume that any man who takes an interest in her should be expected to support her and her children financially. See CPAG report on relationship issues.

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About the author

Co-director retirement policy and Research Centre, CPAG management committee

15 Comments

  1. fatty says:

    Lindsay Mitchell has been an ACT candidate in the past. She’s a d-grade researcher and even worse at thinking critically.

    As Max Rashbrooke said the other day:

    “The problem not so much is what they’ve written but what they haven’t written. The colossal thing that they’re ignoring … is what matters to poverty rates is not how many kids you have in sole parent families, it’s how the welfare and work systems support those sole parents…

    It really is a report where all they’ve done is draw two lines that run together then draw an enormous [number] of conclusions from that.

    It really is at a level of someone doing high school level NCEA statistics. It takes two things and you plot them together and you make a connection, there’s no real statistical analysis … it’s a very long report on something very simple that we’ve all known for a very long time that’s not actually very relevant.”

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/80508306/lobby-group-family-first-blames-unmarried-couples-for-child-poverty

    BTW, Jesus hates Bob McCoskrie

  2. Wensleydale says:

    Listening to Don Brash lecture us on the benefits of marriage is both hilarious and insulting. Lindsay Mitchell might wish to reconsider having her “work” praised by a serial adulterer whose last marriage turned out to be a slow-motion trainwreck of his own design.

    • reason says:

      Don Brash cheated on his first wife and hooked up with a Singaporean one …… which he then used to claim he was not racist while fueling racism.

      I also remember when he was reserve bank governor he had mortgage interest rates as high as 17.5% …….. ‘to drive out inefficiency’ was his reasoning.

      People like Brash and now Key are the direct reason why poor children and others are forced to live in cars, garages, tents etc.

      Tax havens like New Zealand has been made into by national gives right wing government the perfect excuse for claiming there is no money to spend on health, housing etc.

      If people read nicky hagers Dirty Politics https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dirty_Politics they would realise that increased hardship and poverty are a natural result of horrible nasty dishonest leaders…..

      One example ……

      It’s a fact, repeatedly stated by Health professionals, front-line police and social agencies that Alcohol abuse is a HUGE contributor to family violence, child abuse and family break ups….

      “Alcohol was a major factor in a lot of physical and sexual abuse cases the unit dealt with, Mrs Schaare said.” …Detective Sergeant Kylie Schaare child abuse unit.

      Family violence in NZ
      • Highest reported rate of intimate partner violence in the developed world.

      • Police attended more than 100,000 family violence incidents last year.

      Nationals response was to do Dirty Politics smears on health professions and Police officers who were calling for effective regulations to lower alcohol abuse …….. Peter Dunne joined in as well.

      After smearing the health professionals and others they ignored almost all of their recommendations and protected the Liquor industry….. Its often women and children who pay the cost for this policy abuse by the Nats.

      “We spend about $85 million per week on alcohol, thats why they don’t want you to understand its a drug”. Sgt Alastair Lawn

      $200,000,000 per year spent pushing/advertising it to our young and others.

  3. Mike in Auckland says:

    Well, as shocking as this may seem, this seems to be a trend in society, whether we like it or not. I hear more and more how many in the younger generation are actually becoming more socially conservative again, which should also not surprised, they were raised under neoliberal kind of conditions, and know nothing else.

    Blaming failings on those that are different is nothing new, and so some think, well, I only commit to my relationship and my kids, and nobody else. The steady indoctrination has led to more and more people questioning previous social reforms, it seems.

    And the ‘wrap around services’, which I now rather call “whack around services”, as they are not to be seen, and where some may exist in rudimentary forms, they rather come in the form of new obligations, with additional pressures, additional requirements to deliver on them, they are punitive.

    Self reliance, responsibility for your own actions, “independence” from taxpayer support, looking after oneself, and such words are now common messages not only from our government, it seems there are too many out there that repeat these.

    Many working have no time for those getting support from WINZ, have no time for some parents, especially sole parents, having many children, supported by WINZ. This is the result of endless messaging from the top, to divide society, to play the blame game, to stigmatise those at the bottom as either “pretty useless”, as “lazy benefit bludgers” and what as “benefit addicts”.

    When we have a WINZ Health Advisor go around comparing benefit receipt to “drug addiction”, and MSD and WINZ condoning this, based on flawed “science”, then we have a problem.

    It seems nobody out there bothers looking at facts and true science anymore, they simply fall for and react to endless misinformation and manipulation.

    https://www.nzma.org.nz/journal/read-the-journal/all-issues/2010-2019/2015/vol-128-no-1425-20-november-2015/6729

    “Is the statement that if a person is off work for 70 days the chance of ever getting back to work is 35% justified?”

    https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.files.wordpress.com/2015/09/msd-dr-bratt-present-misleading-evidence-on-worklessness-and-health-post-09-08-15.pdf

    As not enough of us know the truth, as not enough bother to read and share the truth, and as too few bother standing up for social justice and fairness, we get rolled by the ignorant, perhaps be all better get married now???

  4. Duncan Bayne says:

    > So being not ‘married’ and therefore not ‘committed’ makes your child’s poverty
    > your fault

    Pretty directly, actually.

    If you have children knowing you can only afford to do so when married, and then divorce, I can’t see who else you can blame for your children being poverty-stricken.

    If you have children on your own, knowing you can’t afford to do so, then there’s even less case for blaming someone else.

    > . It is best to accept the world the way it is, rather than make policy for the
    > world the way family values ideologues think it ought to be.

    That is possibly the least progressive statement I’ve ever read from a commentator on social policy. To merely accept the world the way it is is to abandon any hopes of improving it. Surely we should demand more from our politicians?

    • fatty says:

      “If you have children on your own, knowing you can’t afford to do so, then there’s even less case for blaming someone else.”

      Duncan, we have the capabilities as a country to ensure no child grows up in poverty, but we’ve chosen to distribute resources so that many kids grow up in poverty.

      The view of ‘if you can’t afford them, then don’t have them’ is a nasty view – but unfortunately the norm in NZ. It’s an ideological view, made without considering the outcome. Last time I checked, NZ’s birthrate wasn’t a problem, but distribution of resources is.

      The family unit as we know it is a recent invention, and it’s disappearing. Thank god for that. I don’t know why people think it’s ‘natural’.

    • Brigid says:

      And what about widowed parents Duncan? Is their poverty also their fault.
      Oh of course it is. Silly me!
      The dead parent should have known they would leave their family in poverty and should not have died!

    • Joanne Lynch says:

      But circumstances change- a partner dies, work conditions change- as much as you can ‘plan’ ahead for this life thows curves balls.

      • Mike in Auckland says:

        I suppose some will argue, you should not “retire” if you cannot afford it, same as you should not be born, if you cannot afford it, as you may have been born without “functioning” to be of “economic benefit” to the players that run the business show.

        This is how eugenics and so forth start, making judgments on people being “deserving” or not, and as there are always some stronger than others, and some facing crisis, it is absurd to give such commenters any credit.

        I tend to tell them, wait until you have an accident, so you end up in a wheel chair and depend on society for survival, maybe lose your supposedly secure job and become unemployable, on a new job market where you are no longer needed, and without any support to learn new skills.

        The Social Darwinists and ACT Party ideologues, they tend to forget that life may not be fair for many, and they would thus rather suggest, get “rid of them”, as they cannot fend for themselves. Nothing else can be read into such thoughts and comments, we have to be blunt about the truth.

  5. Andrea says:

    I wondered which sort of ‘committed’ marriage this woman is thinking of?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yXlzkuFBJ7s

    Is she also actively working on a welfare system that means families don’t need to split to get what’s needed to put food on the table, shoes on the feet?

    Just like the 1960’s, isn’t it… https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cathy_Come_Home

  6. “Excuse me Dr Brash—we have read your autobiography…”

    ZING!

  7. Psycho Milt says:

    We should create conditions for good relationships to flourish.

    Sure. First item on that agenda would be making sure no-one has any basis for a claim that the right contraception wasn’t available to them. Plenty the government could do to improve that situation.

    Second would be giving men good reason to fear creating children outside of a good relationship, because there will be consequences for them and the consequences will last as long as the children do. Plenty of scope for new policy and example-setting enforcement there.

    Third would be to end any increase in benefit for caregivers who have additional children while on a benefit.

    Once we’ve got those in place, we might see a greater proportion of people having children because they’re in a settled relationship and want a family, and fewer having children because they just don’t give a shit.

    • reason says:

      so you would starve the children to prove your point psycho ?

      Nice little streak of sadism there …..

      or have you been drinking?.

      You’ll be pleased to note that the working poor can not afford the money to raise children either.

      Silly ol honest workers have let the govt and speculators make them unable to afford food & housing …..

      Greedy people can have heaps of kids though as thats fair and we need more selfish greedy people in NZ……………

      • Psycho Milt says:

        so you would starve the children to prove your point psycho ?

        No-one would be starving anybody, so no.

        You’ll be pleased to note that the working poor can not afford the money to raise children either.

        Low wages and poor working conditions in this country are a serious problem, but not the subject of the report under discussion. If you could make a list of the off-topic issues you’d like my comments to address, that might speed things up.

  8. […] poverty is a result of falling rates of marriage and that current welfare policy encourages this. Susan St John has already questioned the policy implications of this […]



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