Good News for Mums
The Government is bringing in multiple measures to support the rights of parents (particularly mothers) and children. The Government is not yet acknowledging the importance of caregiving by ensuring all families have enough income (for example, the cost of the two commitments below only adds up to ~$30 million, equivalent to around 1-2 percent of what’s required for income adequacy for all). But these developments – all shepherded by Carmel Sepuloni as Minister for both Social Development and ACC – are steps in the right direction:
- ACC is to cover more parental childbirth injuries, not just those caused by treatment; people assisted will include 17,000-18,000 women per year. We’re pleased Minister Carmel Sepuloni was explicit the aim is “to improve gender balance, fairness and equity” for ACC, and we’re impressed that a petition signed by 55,025 people and an article by RNZ’s Anusha Bradley was instrumental in bringing the issue to the Minister’s attention (women’s advocacy works!). But as Greens’ ACC spokesperson Jan Logie points out, all birth injuries – including those suffered by babies – and birth trauma/ mental health injuries should also be included. The law is expected to pass mid-2022.
- From next month, parents who have another child while receiving a benefit will no longer be forced to look for work when that child turns one, thanks to a new law. More than 11,000 benefit recipients – disproportionately Māori and women, due to discrimination – were affected by the previous 2012 policy, which was a misogynistic, racist “vice-signalling” attempt to coercively influence parenting choices and deny women their reproductive rights. Repealing such injustice, says Minister Sepuloni, “reflects the value this Government places on the importance of caring and parenting.” But the 2018/19 Welfare Expert Advisory Group recommended repealing eight benefit sanctions and obligations in total; this is only the second one the Government has repealed so far (the first being the sanction against parents – mostly women – who don’t name the other parent).
- Meanwhile, miserly Child Support rules continue, although Minister Sepuloni says she agrees they are discriminatory and need an overhaul. A recent Michelle Duff investigation shows the Government denies some of the country’s poorest families (mostly headed by sole mothers) more than $150 million collected from co-parents (mostly fathers). Experts, advocates and government agencies – including the Children’s Commissioner, MSD, Oranga Tamariki, and family law academics – are urging the Government to pass on the fathers’ contributions to their children as happens in other countries, as this would likely reduce child abuse and neglect, and improve children’s wellbeing.
At the same time, the Government should stop forcing sole parents on benefits to request child support from their exes: current law places domestic violence victims in greater danger and represents a human rights violation. Sepuloni says it’s a complex area and will change in due course – but in the meantime, perhaps as many as 100,000 children suffer under current law.