John Key’s latest video, a solo mother’s story is based on an anecdote about how he ‘talked to a young mum’ on a benefit who had only $18 left for food at the end of the week. He advised her to get a job. She did, at 30 hours a week. Problem solved for Mr Key.
Conveniently ‘Grandma’ is round the corner, just delighted it seems to take up his suggestion to provide day care for 30 hours a week. Conveniently for John Key’s story, Grandma is also on a benefit and the subtext is that she has nothing better to do.
But what if Grandma could work at the minimum wage or more, and is only on a benefit until work is available? Or is she on a benefit because she is sick? If so, how can she do the demanding job of childcare for 30 hours or more a week once daughter’s travel is taken into account? If she is on NZ super, she is over 65+ and would be unlikely to relish the task of parenting young children with no flexibility for other interests.
Why did he not suggest that grandpa might be asked, or is this just women’s work? And what of her opportunity cost? In all probability she has already sacrificed a career and savings to raise her own family. John Key’s next video might well be suggesting that older people should work as long as possible to add to their KiwiSaver, to say nothing of actually needing more than a benefit to survive before retirement.
Let’s assume that this sole mother has a 3 year old and a 1 year old. Ignoring the accommodation supplement, her net sole parent benefit is $15,359 which with the Family Tax credit of $8,164 for her two children gives her $23,523 net.
If she works 30 hours at the minimum wage, she will get $18,676 net and that will be topped up by $4100 to the Minimum Family Tax credit guaranteed income of $22,776. With the Family Tax Credit of $8,164 and the In Work Tax Credit of $3,120 she will have $34,060 net.
It looks like she is ahead by $10,556. But the net cost of the foregone wages of the grandmother is at least $18,676. The daughter’s gain is at her own mother’s expense. This is especially so, if Grandma has to go off the jobseekers allowance because she is no longer available for paid work. Of course if she is available for work on the jobseeker’s allowance, she can’t be relied on as a babysitter. In John Key’s soothing and patronising example, the children’s needs are rendered invisible.
If the grandmother can’t look after the children, professional day care for 5 days a week for 2 children could be, even with subsidies, just as high, at $350 or more a week.
In John Key’s world, the children are magicked away, and thus he does not understand the problems that arise when the children get sick, as they tend to do with monotonous regularity. Day-care fees continue but the day-care won’t look after sick children. It becomes very trying for employers when the mother has to take time off. Then, when she loses her job, she will have to fight her way back on the benefit and may suffer a period with little or no money.
The real issue is that looking after small children is real work. Someone has to do it if the mother does not. Why not recognise this work is valuable by paying the sole mother at least the in work tax credit. Let her decide about doing some paid work when she is ready, and be more generous to allow her to stay on a part-benefit at least while the children are young. Paid work should not impose an impossible burden on either her, her children, her mother or her employer.