Queen of Thorns is frothing over the announcements today on the subject of contraception for beneficiaries. I'm frothing too. Truth is I'm angry, very angry. Too angry to read what other bloggers have to say on the matter; even bloggers I tend to agree with.
On one hand I am compelled to admire the audacity, and the tactical smarts behind the design and timing. Let's face it, the last attempt National made (saving us from mass alien landings – ummm??) was pretty poor. If you don't think about it, this seems like it could be a good idea. A little bit of thought shows it up for the [ugh, words fail me] that this is. In terms of relieving pressure over the John Banks thing, it's a godsend.
So what's wrong with "offering free contraception"? And when you frame it that way, there's not much wrong with it. So, from last to first:
It's only the fuddy-duddy religious sorts that are against contraception, right? I don't really hang out with the "anti-contraception" sorts, being a self-identifying hopelessly liberal. And as a result of that hopelessly liberal tag, I'm all for contraception. Except when you want to have children, then contraception is kind of counter-productive. Contraception = tick.
Free contraception. Having established that I support contraception, we then proceed to the issue of access. One of the reasons people fail to use contraception is barriers to access. One of those barriers is cost. Make it free, there goes that barrier. Free = tick.
There is a kicker. Some barriers are necessary. Because many forms of contraception have medical related issues and long term impacts, it is essential that the users are aware of the issues and impacts. There are a range of organisations providing this kind of information. It's a very special service that requires skilled and sensitive people.
So that gets us to the "offering" bit.
It's not the role of Work and Income to offer contraception. Their role is to ensure people receive all the support they are entitled to; no less and no more. There's a thin line between being informative and being coercive, and in terms of the balance of power in the relationship between a beneficiary and their case manager [shudders], it's all with the case manager. I'm not knocking Work and Income, generally their staff are conscientious and caring. As the party with the bulk of the power, they are beholden to not abuse that power and step over the line to coercion, for example.
As I noted above, there are some excellent services providing advice on sexual health and contraception. The provision of free contraception fits well with their mandate.
The policy proposed by National is very targeted. It's for women, specifically women on the benefit and their late-teen-aged daughters. This adds a layer of bureaucracy, now a decision must be made when offering free contraception – is the person either a woman, and on a benefit, or the daughter of a woman on the benefit. Actually, that's a question, are the daughters of fathers on the benefit part of the target demographic? But the big question is this – why target a disadvantaged group (please, argue with me that women and the poor are not disadvantaged – anyone) when we could just fund free contraception for whoever wanted it? No ties to income source or targeting by gender. What's the justification?
As it is, it looks like eugenics, and the State interfering in what is considered to be one of the most private aspects of an individual's life. And more bureaucracy. And as proposed, it's a half-measure.
So here's how I see it. In an equal society a child is a child is a child. It doesn't matter who their parents are (gay/bi/straight, together/apart, rich/poor, beneficiary/billionaire), whether they were conceived by accident. This proposal to punish vulnerable children, via their parents and for the perceived sins of their parents, is the vilest of gutter politics. The mask of sensibility used to present it is utterly cynical.
Jane's Addiction - Nothing's Shocking, 1988