Monday, 5 March 2012

Desert Where Her Heart Is

Two more of the cheer-leaders of the right have been attacking beneficiaries in the last day or so.  Yes, confirming their places amongst the heartless are Lindsay Mitchell and Deborah Coddington.
Amusingly, while they both come from a similar ideological view-point, and both express abhorent views, they also contradict each other.
Lindsay Mitchell attempts a fisk of various opponents of the government's proposed changes, and gets pretty poor results.
But the question put to the Prime Minister by Green MP Metiria Turei , asked why was the government "intent on forcing single parents with little babies as young as 12 months" into work? The answer is to discourage women from adding babies to their benefit.
Well, no, that's not the answer, for several reasons.  The proposed requirement is that mothers are "ready for part time work when their child is twelve months old".  With National's success at increasing unemployment and decreasing the number of jobs, being ready for work and working are quite different things.  Babies are, quite frankly, a pain in the backside, and a lot of hard work.  Having a baby for "economic reasons" is not something that happens in New Zealand any more, hence the decrease in average births per woman since the 1960s.  Anyone who has a baby to be better off financially is either:

  • in a pretty dire financial situation already (and trying to punish them by cuts to social welfare is misguided), or
  • only going to make that mistake once.

Or both of the above.
Despite the article headline being about helping children, Mitchell dedicates most of her opinion-piece to methods of punishing mothers.  So I remain unenlightened as to how decreasing the amount of support provided to mothers actually helps children.  As I see it, Lindsay Mitchell doesn't care about children at all.  What she wants is for poor people to not have children at all.
And there is no mention of fathers.  For Mitchell, somehow, fathers are not part of the equation at all.
As we head toward the end of opnion-piece we get the raw ideology.
Freedom of choice is what the reforms are essentially about re-balancing. True freedom of choice can't encroach on someone else's. Most voters are behind the reforms because they feel unfairly treated when one group is allowed to make a choice that they are denied. Why is it fair for single parents to be supported to stay at home indefinitely when most partnered parents go back to work quite quickly?
Lindsay and I disagree fundamentally about the first sentence - I think the reforms are an attempt to reimpose an outdated sexist moral code and to make a show of trying to save money (by transferring the costs to the health and justice budgets, and to individuals and insurance companies).
The second sentence is straight rubbish - all freedom of choice encroaches on some else's freedom of choice.  In this case the proposal is to legislate to reduce the freedom of choice of women on the DPB.  And in doing so, encroach on the freedom of choice of children.  This is, in Lindsay Mitchell's world, a way of helping these children.  Bizarre.
Hard to believe, but the third sentence worse than the second.  An unsupported statement ("Most voters are behind the reforms..." - proof please).  The inability to distinguish between voters and citizens, though if you do not believe in society it is an easy enough mistake to make.  And outright lies ("...when  one group is allowed to make a choice they are denied.); the DPB is available to anyone who meets the eligibility criteria. One criterion is "not in a relationship"; if one of Mitchell's disenchanted voters wants to go on the DPB, they can, if they ditch their partner.  The thing is that most people choose not to (that freedom of choice thing again) because, in the circumstances they find themselves in, it's better to stay with their partner.
The DPB is, for most of its recipients, a last resort and a temporary measure.  Punishing all the recipients based on the perceived failings of a select few recipients is sheer bloody-minded stupidity.
And the final quoted sentence - sorry, I stopped reading at "wah wah, it's not fair."  This line of argument  is too poor to be used so bluntly by any serious commentator.  Actually, its use is quite fitting, then.

Deborah Coddington's opinion-piece is more coherent.  She outlines the miserable lives the parents of abused children live.  There's no suggestion that the important decisions in their lives involve rational thinking.  And acknowledgement that there is a disconnect, at a fundamental level, of the link between cause and effect.  All of which I have seen personally, and I agree.
But the opinion-piece has a few other note-worthy features:

  • The cringe-inducing use of what Coddington sees as the lingua franca of the stereotypical abusive parent.
  • The dog-whistling use of rhetorical questions, and
  • The inability to see beyond the ideological straitjacket that requires:
  • the mother of an abused child to carry all the responsibility, and
  • the only valid family structure is the nuclear (dad, mum and two point five children) family.


Another couple of cowardly attacks on the defenseless - what next.  Oh yeah, more of the same until at least 2014.

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