When I was a member of Victoria University’s Academic Board, I had the particular experience of sitting next to Religious Studies Professor Paul Morris at Board meetings. He had the very typically academic capacity to coherently use such words as “exegetic”, “detraditionalisation”, and spoke of “ethical moods”. He had the admirable scholastic ability to talk at length on any subject, and make simple topics sound very complex indeed. He would lean forward and gesticulate, as if making a very profound statement, and then say: “On the other hand…”, and completely contradict himself. Academics adored him for his little knowing smirks, at weighty analyses without conclusions, to assure them that if they had followed his unnecessarily verbose and complex reasoning, they too were worthy. In short, he was a pain in the bloody arse.
Morris has since graduated to becoming the prototypical ring-in on ethical and religious issues. Hence, when the Labour Party needed somebody to lecture them on the Exclusive Brethren at their conference, they called in Professor Morris. Morris gave them what they wanted: the Exclusive Brethren are evil, they do strange things, and according to Morris, they aren’t even Christians. Christians, the learned Morris believes, are closely attuned to Socialism.
Paul Morris offers his opinion on everything, whether invited or not. That celebrated bastion of intellectual credibility, the Marsden Fund, paid Morris a very healthy sum so that the Religious Studies specialist could write a very esteemed work on the New Right in New Zealand from 1984-1999. Morris, who has no qualifications in economics or political science, has top billing for the book on VUW’s Religious Studies website, above an evidently much less religiously relevant text published by the department, a directory of “Interfaith and Ecumenical Activity in New Zealand”.
But I digress. Morris’ seminar at Labour’s Conference prefaced the announcement of a Christian wing within the Labour Party. Putting aside her devout atheism and her refusal to acknowledge the importance of Christianity to large tracts of New Zealand society, Helen Clark has embraced the concept. Clearly now that Labour is dredging the polling abyss at 36% of the vote, there might just be electoral advantage in presenting itself as the morally compassionate party.
It is hard to refute Morris’ view, that the redistribution of wealth in society is something that Jesus would have favoured. After all, Christ did speak at length about the plight of the impoverished and disadvantaged. But it is another step entirely to draw the conclusion that welfare dependency is compassionate.
Yet Paul Morris' world view doesn't actually extend beyond the ivory rises of Kelburn Parade in Wellington.
A relative of mine got involved with a chick from Wellington’s most disadvantaged suburb of Cannons’ Creek. If you haven’t heard of Cannons’ Creek, it’s in Porirua East. People in Porirua West invent all sorts of new names for their comparatively prosperous lifestyles, just to distinguish themselves from the perennial misery of Cannons’ Creek. Outside of South Auckland, Cannons’ Creek has the worst educational achievement, the worst standards of housing and healthcare, the highest rates of teenage pregnancy, and violent and petty crime in the country. Pick any negative social statistic, and Cannons’ Creek rates alongside Otahuhu, Otara and Mangere.
Bear with me here, because it gets a little bit complicated. This relative of mine, and his partner, were the caregivers of her nephew and niece for a year. They were aged eleven and nine. They had different fathers, but the same mother. The mother had three further children to a third father, who was living with her while receiving the unemployment benefit and dealing marijuana, but took to beating the bejeezus out of his two defacto step-children. The father then impregnated the mother’s best friend, and while that best friend was pregnant, took care of the youngest baby so that she could receive the DPB until she gave birth. He then had three further children by the first mother. The mother then required that her two eldest children, in the care of their aunt and my relative, be returned to her when she realised that not having them had an impact on her benefit.
This woman has had eight children by three different fathers, none of whom are named on the children’s birth certificates. The children are subjected to domestic violence, are rarely present at school, live in third-world housing conditions, and receive little nutritional encouragement.
They do, however, have plenty of family around them. Six of their mothers’ siblings live in the same street, in a row of state houses. Of the seven adults, not one of them has achieved any formal educational qualification. They have over sixty first cousins. Not one of their parents’ generation has ever held a full-time job. Of the four living generations of that family in that Cannons Creek street, not one of them has ever been exposed to paid employment. This fourth generation of welfare-dependent children may well be born with the same genetic opportunities as a child from Khandallah or Remuera, but forty years’ of welfare dependency means that these children will grow up without knowing anybody who works, let alone takes full responsibility for their personal actions.
The precise numbers of hard-core, welfare-dependent New Zealanders is still relatively small. The Kahui families are not the norm. They comprise less than two percent of the population. Yet they contribute massively disproportionately to New Zealand’s negative social statistics: 95% of New Zealand’s violent offenders are aged between 15-25. 95% of those offenders are welfare-dependent, with substance abuse, poor housing, no educational achievement, short life expectancy, poor health standards and poor nutrition all being common themes. They tend to most often victimise each other. But not always.
The social cost is astronomical. Encouraging small clusters of the most socially disadvantaged New Zealanders to continue to see welfare dependency as their only life option is anything but compassionate. It is not the children’s fault that they were born into deprivation. It is frankly not their parents’ fault that the socialist state has told them, and their parents before them, that their welfare-based lifestyle choices are morally neutral. After forty years of a so-called benevolent welfare state, the options for the least advantaged in New Zealand have become singular.
Putting aside Labour’s electoral need for a societal underdog, creating a culture of envy towards those who prosper and do actually have lifestyle options, it’s hard to see how anybody can alleviate extreme poverty by advocating further welfare dependency. It simply doesn’t make moral sense to encourage people who cannot afford to have their present children to have more children. It doesn’t make moral sense to remove people from the economic consequences of their personal decisions. It makes even less moral sense to do that when the personal decision involves the creation of another human being who will inevitably be born into social misery.
Liberals don’t like the idea of society making moral decisions on behalf of people, yet liberal socialists advocate taking economic responsibility away from those who are welfare-dependent. The only practical solution, as I see it, is far greater intervention in the lives of the most socially destitute, to ensure that poverty shrinks, rather than grows.
But let’s get to specifics. What would help end the cycle of welfare dependency in New Zealand among the hard-core Kahuis of South Auckland and Cannons Creek? Here are a few steps, to be applied to the most vulnerable families:
- Every child receiving welfare must have their father named on their birth certificates. Liberal socialists will shriek such all sorts of hysterical things about mothers being raped, but you can’t set public policy around very rare events.
- No welfare entitlements to the father of children living with mothers on the DPB.
- Fathers not entitled to leave New Zealand while children living with a dependent DPB beneficiary.
- Requirement that all children must attend school. Non-attendance would lead to the benefit being cancelled.
- All children must receive medical check-ups at least every six months, to check on the nutritional and general health status of the child.
- Random alcohol and drug checks of welfare parents.
- No violent offenders permitted to live in the same home as children.
- A maximum six months of entitlement to the unemployment benefit in any five year period, and a maximum of two years’ entitlement to the DPB for any person in their lifetime.
- Frequent, random checks of homes of welfare dependent children.
The economic costs of those steps would be very high in the short term. The social cost of not doing it is even higher, now and in the long term. It’s the compassionate thing to do.