With Green Party support, the Government will remove a disincentive to the population growth that experts reckon is the number one contributor to the degradation of the global environment.
Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni announced the removal of the disincentive among changes to the country’s welfare system (but just a few, for now) in response to the report from the Welfare Expert Advisory Group.
The government will remove the benefit sanction which penalised solo mothers who did not name their child’s father, the fellow who should be picking up the tab for raising the child – or his fair share of it – that resulted from a procreative romp in the hay.
Taxpayers – lucky us – will take over this responsibility.
The penalty on solo mothers who remain mute about the father’s identity is $28 a week, or $1456 a year.
Green Party Co-Leader Marama Davidson welcomed the report which recommended the change, saying her party is committed to an inclusive society where everyone is treated with dignity and respect, and supported to participate fully in the community.
This is consistent with what she said in September last year, when she kick-started the party’s plan to “put the heart back into the welfare system”.
“We’re very clear that we cannot address inequality, or climate change, without ensuring that people are able to live with dignity. That’s key. So this is a long-standing position and passion for the Green Party.”
Green MP Jan Logie at that time said the Greens had a responsibility, as part of their confidence and supply agreement with Labour, to transform the welfare system.
Her party aimed to ensure access to entitlements, remove excess sanctions and review Working For Families.
In short – it was committed to heaping more welfare costs on taxpayers while it slowed down the economy with its environmental agenda. At the same time it would put more spending money in the hands of welfare beneficiaries, whose likely response would be to increase pressures on resources to meet their growing consumption.
But as we have reported previously, this is at odds with the advice from a group of Nobel prize-winning scientists who identified overpopulation and destruction of the environment as the two greatest existential threats facing mankind.
In London, The Times reported:
Nuclear war, misinformation, drug-resistant diseases, artificial intelligence and Facebook were among the other phenomena regarded by 50 laureates as the most serious risks.
More than a third cited the strain placed on the planet by our growing numbers.
At wired.com this is reiterated in an article headed THE BIGGEST THREAT TO THE EARTH? WE HAVE TOO MANY KIDS.
The article said that, on each Earth Day for the previous 45 years,
… the secular holiday has brought people—along with their ideas and enthusiasm—together to confront the world’s environmental challenges. There will be speeches about sustainability, discussions about air quality, and pamphlets on how to reduce your carbon footprint. You might even learn how to help save some sub-Saharan elephants, but nobody will be addressing the elephant in the room. That’s the fact that every single environmental solution is addressing the same, ugly problem: The world has to support a lot of hungry, thirsty, fertile people.
“No question, the human population is the core of every single environmental issue that we have,” says Corey Bradshaw, an ecologist at the University of Adelaide in Australia.
“There are seven billion of us and counting. And though people are developing technologies, regulations, and policies to make humanity less of a strain on the Earth, a number of environmentalists believe that these fixes will never catch up to the population as long as it continues to grow.
“The only way to save the world is to stop making more (and more, and more, and more) humans.”
In this country the government is tackling the environmental threat with a suite of environmental policies with dubious implications for economic growth, such as the zero carbon bill.
But its family-friendly programme has a contradictory effect, to the extent it encourages the births of more babies.
The government’s Families Package, which took effect on July 1 last year, included:
Working for Families provides extra financial support to thousands of New Zealand families, making it easier for Kiwis to work and raise a family
Best Start is a payment to help families with costs in a child’s first three years.
Paid parental leave has been extended to 22 weeks, rising to 26 weeks by 2020.
These measure plainly are not intended to be disincentives to population growth.
A strong clue to the link between welfare policies and population growth can be found in an article in The Guardian last month headed When governments withdraw from child-friendly policies, their citizens are, unsurprisingly, more reluctant to procreate.
The UK birth rate jumped in the early years of the 21st century along with legislation to support families.
When a baby is conceived there are usually three parties involved, and one of them is the government.
Without financial and other kinds of support from the state, people are more reluctant to have children, according to official statistics. It’s a phenomenon seen across the developed world since the 1990s, when direct state intervention appears to have taken over from a more general sense of economic wellbeing as the main driver of procreation.
In the UK, the birth rate clearly tracks government support for parents, The Guardian report said.
During the 1990s, the birth rate fell despite rapid GDP growth. More important were austerity measures brought in by John Major, which the incoming Blair government maintained in its first two years in office.
From 2001, the birth rate jumped – not, as many might believe, following a change in immigration policy. Live births to British-born parents were also rising from the beginning of the century, hitting a modern-day peak in 2006-07.
The same trend was seen in France, which, like Britain, passed legislation across a wide range of policy areas to support families, and importantly without much judgment about what “family” meant.
Over the same period, governments in Germany, Italy and Japan saw birth rates fall as they stuck with a more traditional outlook on family life. Even Sweden, a 1980s pioneer of gender equality and state support for family life, has taken a more conservative path of late.
The Guardian acknowledged the rising cost of living plays a big part in people deciding whether to have children, and if so how many. Economic shocks, such as the financial crisis of 2008, are another factor.
But the reaction of the government to rising living costs – especially housing, childcare and, more recently, social care – plays a bigger part.
This is why the welfare cuts waved through by chancellor Philip Hammond last week were not just another hit to the incomes of the disabled, shocking though that is. They undermined the confidence of middle- and low-income families, most of whom are supported by the state in some way, in the affordability of having children.
On the other hand, as the Daily Mail recently reported, Nordic countries are desperate for babies amid fears falling birth rates could see an end to the region’s generous welfare state model.
The Nordic regions have long been a bastion of strong fertility rates on an old continent that is rapidly getting older.
But they are now experiencing a decline that threatens their cherished welfare model, which is funded by taxpayers.
Plainly this creates (or should create) a dilemma for Greens.
What comes first – depopulation measures to reduce the degradation of the global environment? Or population-boosting policies to ensure we have enough taxpayers to fund the generous welfare programmes which the Greens favour?