Sin­gle par­ents strug­gle to es­cape poverty

Matamata Chronicle - - Your Paper, Your Place -

The laun­dry was pil­ing up, and the dish­washer hadn’t been emp­tied. But I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the screen.

Sur­pris­ingly, I wasn’t watch­ing the NBA semi-fi­nal that fea­tured our hairy, 7-foot lad. I’m talk­ing about Fam­ily First’s Child Poverty and Fam­ily Struc­ture re­port by Lind­say Mitchell.

I got ob­ses­sive. I read the whole doc­u­ment from start to fin­ish. Then I read what the crit­ics had to say. Then I re­searched the re­search re­lated to the crit­i­cisms. Then I read other re­ports about poverty in New Zealand.

And I have come to an as­ton­ish­ing con­clu­sion; they’re right. Fam­ily struc­ture is the ele­phant in the room when it comes to the causes of poverty. Also, I ob­vi­ously have too much time on my hands.

But back to Fam­ily First and the end­less pa­rade of pa­pers from the MSD or Su­perU or The Trea­sury re­lat­ing to poverty.

All of them talk about the same ‘‘risk fac­tors’’; like un­em­ploy­ment, be­ing Maori or Pasi­fika, and rent­ing a home. They all also men­tion be­ing a sole par­ent. Strangely, try­ing to sup­port strong, healthy re­la­tion­ships doesn’t come up later among the pol­icy sug­ges­tions.

And our ex­perts seem quite determined to keep it that way. In­equal­ity re­searcher Max Rash­brooke went straight past par­ent­ing and talked about the Scan­di­na­vian wel­fare sys­tem, which he hinted had al­most oblit­er­ated child poverty.

Aca­demic Su­san St John said some very sensible things, like how there’s a lot wrong with Gov­ern­ment pol­icy, em­ploy­ment and hous­ing.

Then she said those things were more im­por­tant than fam­ily struc­ture. But I looked at the re­search di­rectly com­par­ing loss of a re­la­tion­ship to loss of a job (be­cause I thought she was prob­a­bly right) and was quite as­ton­ished. Loss of a re­la­tion­ship is a trig­ger event for far more fam­i­lies fall­ing into poverty than loss of a job.

Over and over again, in gov­ern­ment re­search, of­fi­cial sta­tis­tics and pa­pers pub­lished by other or­gan­i­sa­tions this same pat­tern re­peats.

And here’s why it all makes sense. First, break-ups when you’re the av­er­age adult are a hor­ri­bly ex­pen­sive process. It’s not just the pa­per­work, it’s not just the lawyers, it might be the coun­sel­lors, the psy­chol­o­gists, or sim­ply the change in schools and new uni­forms for the kids.

Next, it means an en­tirely new house­hold has to be set up – another house needs to be rented, another fridge, wash­ing ma­chine, mi­crowave and maybe even a car needs to be bought.

Those two peo­ple whose in­comes were pos­si­bly al­ready stretched, now face a re­mark­able num­ber of costs. Which is why it’s no sur­prise the data shows that sole par­ents have higher lev­els of debt.

And of course, once you’ve got higher debts, and higher house­hold costs as a pro­por­tion of in­come, you’ve got a very dif­fi­cult fi­nan­cial hole to get out of.

But stay mar­ried, or in that de facto re­la­tion­ship, and you get to sail straight past all of those costs and pres­sures.

That’s why it makes sense to en­cour­age strong, healthy, happy mar­riages if we want to keep kids out of poverty. (And I do mean good mar­riages: abu­sive, HAVE YOUR SAY Email news and views to ni­cola.brennan@fair­fax me­dia.co.nz

un­happy mar­riages can lead to un­happy, po­ten­tially abu­sive or abused, chil­dren. Those chil­dren then have less sta­ble re­la­tion­ships when they grow up, and so are more likely to fall into poverty. Bad mar­riages don’t help any­one).

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