As unreliable as self-selecting TV and website polls are, it's
fair to assume that most voters are applauding National's decision
to offer free contraception to women on the benefit and their
teenage daughters. The strong puritanical streak in our national
psyche takes a firm line with people who have children when they
can't afford to provide for them.
It has been a good way for a beleaguered government to win brownie points after a series of scandals and ahead of what is likely to be a grim Budget season.
And to be honest, I don't think the scheme's quite the devil's spawn some make it out to be. The hypocrisy evident in the willingness of parties based on the principles of individual freedoms to intervene in the lives of some citizens purely because they don't work for a living is worth noting. And you have to wonder why the scheme is being delivered by the department that deals with the work searches and the dollars, not the department which cares for people's health.
What message does that send? That this is a financial concern, something restricting a person's duty to work? I'm surprised from a purely political point of view that this hasn't been administered through Vote Health.
But let's also acknowledge the value of making it as easy as possible for women to avoid unwanted pregnancies, for the sake of the unwanted children that result as much as what it means for the women. And targeting teens makes sense.
What's more, Pharmac already funds long-term contraception and the tiny $1 million price tag on this policy is telling - very few people will be touched by this "initiative". For all the hoop-la and headlines, it'll be interesting to see how much of that $1 million is spent in the first year.
On that point, the main purpose of this post is to offer a chart. I'll paste it in below.
I've just spotted the Herald's editorial this morning and my chart reinforces it's commentary on the policy:
The National Party has a tendency to exaggerate the problem of beneficiaries having babies, particularly in their teens. Mothers under 19 give birth to about 7% of babies born in New Zealand each year. The rate has been fairly stable regardless of contraceptive campaigns. The true scale of the problem can be seen in the amount the Government has budgeted for its latest programme: a mere $1 million in a package of $287 million to give unemployed teenagers further education and training. The number of 16- to 18-year-old parents on a benefit is just 1165. The number of 16- to 17-year-olds on all benefits is not much greater: 1400.
Those numbers make much of my point for me. But I've got something else.
Many New Zealanders see teen DPB mums as a modern scourge, a crippling problem for this country. That's in large part because certain politicians have been willing to use them to score points over the years.
The reality is substantially different from the myth. See this:
Characteristics of working-age Domestic Purposes Benefit recipients (aged 18-64 years), at the end of March 2007 and at the end of March 2012
Percentage of recipients who
Male 10.2 12.2
Female 89.8 87.8
Maori 40.6 42.6
Pacific people 9.6 10.2
18-19 years 3.1 2.7
20-24 years 14.8 16.9
25-39 years 50.7 46.0
40-54 years 26.8 28.3
55-64 years 4.6 6.1
Declaring earnings 20.9 16.9
Caring for a dependent child aged 6 years or under* 60.4 62.1
Caring for a dependent child aged 7-13 years* 29.8 27.4
Caring for a dependent child aged 14 years or over* 9.8 10.5
Caring for two or more dependent children* 50.8 48.6
Number of working-age Domestic Purposes Benefit
recipients (aged 18-64 years) 97,142 113,005
The figures in bold highlight a staggering wee factoid that's my current favourite. There are more than twice as many women aged over 55 on the DPB than there are teens on the DPB.
Indeed, just 2.7% of the DPB population are teens. Hardly a generation breeding for business, is it?
What do you think? Have your say on the messageboard below.
Tim Watkin is a producer for Q+A - Sundays on TV ONE