I was interested to see the release of National's welfare reform policies today, particularly those relating to benefits for single parents. I was a single-mum for a few years before I met my tane, and so was on and off the benefit (DPB) during the times when I was not working.
My experience is, that part-time work is hard to find, and a lot of part-time jobs are at hours that do not match those of Early Childhood Education (ECE) Centres. So it is hard to get a start.
Also, childcare was extremely expensive, and it still is.
When I did have work, it was part-time contract work, which meant I was constantly on and off the benefit (which is a task in itself having to constantly go through the rigmerol of reapplying) . I used to hate going to meet with my case manager at WINZ, because I felt 'diminished' in someway - I'm not sure if it was just me, or if it was the process, but I felt (at the time) whakamaa, and like I had lost a bit of my dignity (I do think its the process and how they treat you - like nothing about you matters other than the fact that you 'have to get off the benefit'). I can imagine how, after long periods of time, this could eat away at your sense of self-worth and self-belief.
What really made a difference for me, was having the support of my whanau and friends - no matter which way you look at it, being a solo mum is being a solo mum - its hard, and sometimes you need a hand.
I was lucky enough to have supportive parents, and a wide network of cousins and friends who helped me with babysitting, after kohanga pick ups, and even kai if we needed it. They gave me time out when I looked stressed, and they taught me how to look after a baby (which surprising tho this maybe, does not come naturally when you give birth!). That sort of support is something that money cant buy, but it is something that made all the difference. It allowed me to work, and allowed me to study.
I spent such a long time as a single mother, and I had many friends in the same boat! We used to call ourselves the SMC - single mothers club. (I could, and have thought about, writting a book, but I'll save that for today ;-P)
Issues that face single parents hit a tender nerve with me - I was lucky I had the support around that I did. And even with that support, I still needed the welfare system to support our whanau too.
So I couldn't resist but put my 5c in when it came time to developing the Maori Party policy, and I am really pleased with what has come out in their policies around this particular kaupapa:
- Re-establishing the Training Incentive Allowance (which was around when I was on the DPB - but I wasn't eligible as a post-grad student - I wish I was!)
- Support Teen Parent Units (I was at Uni when I got hapu, but I went to visit some teen parent units in the past - and I think they are awesome for our young parents, and our babies)
- Encourage employers to set up more part time job options
- Encourage employers to subsidise childcare (When I moved off the DPB it was the childcare costs that hit me most in the pocket, when I was no longer eligible for childcare subsidies)
On top of that, we have whanau ora. And like I said above, if it wasn't for the huge support network that I had (which included friends, parents, and cousins) I would never have been able to do the things I have done. That to me is whanau ora. Obviously its also about reciprocity, and about giving back to my whanau and friends as well.
Anyway, I know the welfare reform announcements are bigger than just benefits for single parents - but I suppose the points I am trying to make are:
1) We need a welfare system that sees people, not burdens - and one that recognises that people have different skills, strengths and needs.
2) If we are serious about getting people into work, then we need to create an environment where you can manage whanau and work together - that means putting into place the neccessary support for people in the workforce e.g. childcare, part time or flexi time jobs (specifically within the times that ECE's are open),
3) We need to acknowledge the role that our whanau and support networks play in raising kids
It is my hope that policies such as this will make a difference to other mums in the future.