Numberless studies have shown that while any benefit system worth the name must provide a safety net for those in genuine need, staying on a benefit for a long time is not good, by many measures, for society or individuals.
Indeed those who move from welfare to work gain the most from it, yet of course some call it beneficiary bashing.
The policy proposed by National this week, which would alter some of the incentives currently in place, has been, perhaps predictably, denounced by Labour as a return to the policies of the 1990s and an attack on beneficiaries. It is hardly either of those things, although how effective some of the proposals would be and how they would work in practice may be open to question.
Labour would label a ham sandwich as a return to the policies of the 1990s, if National made it. It is their focus group tested slogan to be applied to everything.
The proposal that single parents on a benefit should at some point have an obligation to begin to look for work, if implemented, would not be extreme. Indeed, it would put New Zealand more in the mainstream of welfare thinking around the world.
It is Labour who is at the extremes with their policy.
A later OECD study, addressing the notion that allowing single parents to stay out of paid work benefited their children, reiterated the organisation’s belief that it was in the best interests of all, including single-parent families, to engage in paid work as this was the most effective way to reduce the risk of family poverty, enhance child development and give children the best possible start in life.
So why is Labour against reducing the risk of family poverty, enhancing child development and giving children the best possible start in life?
The test of any policy is, of course, how it would work in practice and this policy still needs to be fleshed out. As with the work tests that Labour has introduced for the unemployment benefit, there would be increased administrative costs with National’s proposals and it is unlikely that any large savings would be made. If, however, it is likely the long-term social results would be beneficial, as the OECD suggests they would, then the proposals deserve consideration rather than kneejerk dismissal.