Social Policy still in the dark ages when it comes to relationships



Two years ago I became aware of the work of two very able barristers who defend low income women accused of relationship fraud.

CPAG then began collecting cases and stories of horrendous misery and victimisation.

Then penny was slow to drop but finally it became clear that the cases that get to court are just the tip of the iceberg.  The welfare system as a whole is utterly bereft of any principle on relationships, except that if they can be found to exist, the state can save money. Under the last 6 years of welfare reform the screws have been tightened in unprincipled ways with very little challenge.

Finally this week we published our report The complexities of ‘relationship’ in the welfare system and the consequences for children.  

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Read it and weep for the direction we are taking.  Low income sole parents are increasingly subjected to surveillance and intrusion on a scale, surely unimaginable in good old, tolerant New Zealand?

Worse still, any children involved may suffer greatly especially if their mother is sent to jail. She can emerge still owing the same debt with repayments that burden the mother for the rest of her life. The resulting hardship further penalises the children.

Let’s think about the big picture here. Surely Work and Income should encourage healthy repartnering as good for sole parents and their children, and good for society.   But oh no… the strange truth is that policy operates to ferret out and punish fledgling relationships.  Unlike the tax system, the welfare system treats two people living in a relationship ‘in the nature of marriage’ much worse than two singles.  Unlike New Zealand Superannuation or ACC, ‘married’ people on welfare also face a draconian claw-back of extra income no matter which partner earns it.

Who is Solomon and can judge what qualifies as a relationship and when ‘dependence’ of a mother on a new partner begins in today’s complex world? When does a boarder become a de facto partner?  When do two sole parents sharing accommodation become more than flatmates? And why should it mean he ought to be responsible financially for her children?  Why, if there is some unsatisfactory man in and of her life, maybe violent and unreliable,   should she be branded a ‘fraudster’ and have her life and that of her children ruined?

Recent new legislation makes partners also accountable for so-called ‘relationship fraud’. While it acknowledges that the focus on the sole parent’s so-called ‘offending’ alone can be most unjust this is also just another step further in the wrong direction. We can expect some very iniquitous outcomes from the expected 700-1000 cases a year.

The answer does not lie in searching for the magic formula that defines ‘relationship’ and thus makes ‘relationship fraud’ a black and white issue. The way forward in the 21st century is to progressively remove all married and single distinctions in the welfare system.

Great to see Brian Easton’s wise words: Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments. He has been writing about these issues for more than 35 years. We need a groundswell of voices insisting that social policy is adapted to the 21st century.  The technological revolution is outstripping our social institutions and leaving us socially retarded and victims of outmoded thinking.

The report outlines numerous recommendations intended to open up dialogue for thinking anew about how we can better support mothers for their own sake and for their children’s well-being and surely for the good of us all.


  1. Finally a voice of reason! So what is a woman supposed to do when her de facto partner, with no common children, (and sometimes with common children) won’t or can’t contribute financially? It’s easy for people to say “dump him”, that have never been in that situation. Often this man is the only person she has. It is not very easy to go out and meet people with dependents and a very limited income. Very often, but not always, these men are predatory and latch on to a solo mother because they know her options are also limited. A very human and realistic article, obviously by an author with the ability to understand the human condition is not black and white, it has many shades of grey.

  2. Spouses who are not yet 65 and who can draw what is called unqualified spouse national superannuation, albeit it, at a slightly lesser rate, are also subject to this clawback of income, regardless of it’s source, and even if it is tax paid accumulated profits from a business that you have shares in, but no longer work for. It stinks.

  3. An interesting take on a problem that has tradition and financial dependence as its sources. The underlying attitude is one that has been handed down to us from our old English roots – if you are poor it is due to your own failings. This is reinforced by present day media who no longer serve as societal questioners but as establishment maintenance sentinels.
    How often does our MSM report on the ways that other people cheat the system – like business partnerships where one partner does all the work but the profits are shared with other partners (who are not involved at all in most respects) to minimise taxes. “But that is legal” I hear the right bleating. Funny how it is legal to pretend to be a partner when you are not, but it is illegal to pretend not to be a partner when you are, for the same purpose – financial advantage and from the same source – government taxes.
    Another irony in this matter – funny how the right always bleat on about nanny states and how the state shouldn’t interfere in the home – My Home my castle – but that this government of the right wants to interfere and intrude more and more all the time and its supporters, particularly Henry, Slater, Hosking and Farrar (sounds like a law firm doesn’t it?) cheer from the sidelines. The moment anyone tries to interfere in their private lives they start spitting the dummy.

  4. Yes ineed. And, a solution will never be found by fiddling around, making small changes to what is an inherently unworkable system, and by that I do not just mean the “welfare” system, I mean the whole way that society organizes EVERYTHING to do with people coming together as a “society”, especially the sharing (or, non-sharing) of wealth and resources.

    It is time to transition into the post-capitalist age, any other “solution” is not viable.

  5. It’s all right for the politicians and their fat cat mates – they’ve got theirs. They’re all right, Jack.
    It’s all right for the Work and Income lackeys with their cushy numbers, drawing down comfortable salaries for passing judgement upon the unfortunate casualties of Government economic mal-management. They’re all right jack.

    It’s all right for the system of jurisprudence and its practitioners. If people were being charged with criminal fraud, I should have thought to burden of proof should be as high as for any other larcenous offence. Two adults living under the same roof does not constitute any kind of relationship ‘in the nature of a marriage’. Not even close. W and I need to show more than that!

    Good heavens – maybe that is why this government is allowing house prices to go nuts (again). Force adults into doubling up. Ooo, look! adults living together. Obviously fraudulently accepting moneys from Welfare… What a way to boost national revenue.

    Well, the police, the lawyers, the judges and the corrections people – they’re all right, Jack. They’ve got theirs.

    Have you noticed that not a single politician in this Parliament has admitted this elementary fact: that the Private sector in this country can not possibly absorb New Zealand’s unemployed? This is never going to change. The politicians, the business types, W & I have a consummate cheek to force job seekers to accept responsibility for their state, when the blame should rest fairly and squarely on Government incompetence, fat cat avarice and envy (Ever noticed how anything the poor needs the fat cats want too? Why do you think superan is not means tested?), and the failure of Work and Income seriously to aid job-seeker to obtain work or a decent living income.

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