Government’s mean treatment of families highlights flaw of targeted welfare

Gareth MorganTax and Welfare

New Zealand GovernmentNow the government has conceded that families providing care for their disabled members deserve the same pay for the work as outside contractors, albeit there will be no back pay for those who haven’t already lodged a claim, the barn door is well and truly open for other carers who do similar.

As pointed out here there are parallels for those who provide early childcare and care for the elderly. We subsidise rest homes to take care of the elderly, but we don’t pay an equivalent amount to families who look after their elderly instead. We pay subsidies to childcare centres but not to the parents who look after their children during the same hours at home.

We know the government hates this Court judgement because of the concern that unscrupulous families could trump up claims. But by the same token the current policy discriminates harshly against genuine family-based carers. And this is what the Court has ruled – targeted assistance as per the government’s rules has on this occasion breached human rights and cannot persist. This is the core issue with targeted welfare which lies at the heart of the “social assistance” approach to welfare that the government and its Welfare Reform Group is so enamoured with.

By its very nature if you target welfare and people miss out because the targeting machinery excludes applicants for reasons that breach natural justice, then you are in breach. This is one of the arguments for having an unconditional basic income that allows all to have a certain level of dignity – no selection criteria applied.

Now in response to the government’s surrender on this issue insofar as families caring for their disabled is concerned, Mr Ryall has said “It will have to be at the lower end of the estimates because we simply can’t afford to be in that high end,” . But if we extend the precedent the Courts have established for family-provided care of the disabled, to early childcare and to care of the elderly where equivalent breaches of the human rights of family providers are occurring, then fixing the whole model of paying only commercial providers and excluding families, would blow the “cost” to smithereens.

If we go the next step and accept this logic holds that targeting in general can give rise to eligible people missing out who shouldn’t, then the whole premise for targeted welfare collapses. For example, government deeming that the unemployment benefit isn’t payable to someone because of family circumstances brings into question the discrimination endemic in these targeting regimes. The time for an unconditional basic income, as we talked about in The Big Kahuna, is overdue.



Government’s mean treatment of families highlights flaw of targeted welfare was last modified: December 15th, 2015 by Gareth Morgan
About the Author

Gareth Morgan

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Gareth Morgan is a New Zealand economist and commentator on public policy who in previous lives has been in business as an economic consultant, funds manager, and professional company director. He is also a motorcycle adventurer and philanthropist. Gareth and his wife Joanne have a charitable foundation, the Morgan Foundation, which has three main stands of philanthropic endeavour – public interest research, conservation and social investment.