Church leaders want benefit levels raised. Do they also want to see benefit numbers grow? Because that will be one result of lifting benefit payments.
Various US studies have shown a percentage rise in welfare payments equates to an equal or greater percentage rise in beneficiary numbers. It stands to reason. People on benefits weigh up the costs of working compared to being on welfare. The smaller the gap between working and welfare, the more likely they are to choose the second.
Treasury addressed this in its 1996 Briefing to the Incoming Government; “If there were to be an increase in benefits, it would narrow what is already, for some families, a rather small margin between the income a household receives when it is on a benefit and what it might receive at the point of entry into full-time employment, particularly when the additional costs of employment are taken into account. This could discourage a movement off benefit into employment.”
Another important consideration is the effect of welfare on children. American Robert Rector summed it up well when he said, "Higher welfare payments do not assist children; they increase dependence and illegitimacy, which have a devastatingly negative effect on children's development."
In New Zealand it is estimated around 5 percent of families with children are in trouble. That is, they are affected by domestic violence, alcohol and drug abuse and addiction, and excessive gambling. These problems lead to enormous economic stresses. Many are reliant on welfare (although there is often male with income from work on the scene but not pulling his weight.) Raising benefit levels for these families will not improve their situation.
On the other hand, it is also clear that a good percentage of people on benefits are managing. In 2007 55 percent of people on the DPB were in debt to Work and Income. Forty five percent were not. On other benefits the level of indebtedness drops.
Because the church social workers are dealing with the grinding everyday slog of beneficiaries scraping by (for whatever reason) their reaction is to solve the problem the quickest and easiest way. Get government to pay them more.
But we all know that easy solutions are not usually effective or lasting. It is deeply troubling that these church leaders now seem to be out of step with what government has being trying to do - albeit with limited success. The best income- earning potential must come from working. That is why the In Work payment was introduced.
New Zealand's big economic problem is low productivity. That is why we are in a poor comparative position internationally and why so many are leaving the country. Higher wages and better skilled people will not come from making benefits more attractive. The churches need to look at the bigger picture and longer term. New Zealand enjoyed its greatest prosperity when very few people were dependent on welfare. Before the decline of the two-parent family and widespread resort to welfare as a long term option.
Increasing welfare payments would ironically have the opposite effect from that the churches expect. They would find even more people lining up for their services. That is surely not what they want.
No normal human being wants to see people suffering. Neither do they want to increase suffering inadvertently. The church is virtually bribing politicians emotionally by inferring increasing benefit levels is the only "just and compassionate policy." They are wrong. Perhaps this is a good example of when politics and religion shouldn't mix.
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