April 24, 2014

Samuel Blight’s submission

SUBMISSION OF SAMUEL BLIGHT ON THE SOCIAL SECURITY (BENEFIT CATEGORIES AND WORK FOCUS) AMENDMENT BILL TO THE SELECT COMMITTEE

About the Submitter
1. This submission is made by Samuel Blight in a personal capacity. I would like to appear before the Committee to speak to my submission, although I may be
unavailable due to being out of the country.
2. My wife and I home educate our six children. We do so for a wide variety of reasons. While home educated, they have a significant amount of social interaction
with others of all ages, including with children their own age. This year we have had an underlying theme of world cultures and we will be in Europe for two and a
half months over the Christmas period both building on that learning and visiting extended family and friends.
3. We are currently not in receipt of any benefits, including Working for Families.
4. I work for a Tertiary Education Organisation where I have held various roles including as a full time tutor. My wife is a linguist and my parents both had careers
as teachers in both state and private schools.

Background to Bill
5. This bill, along with other government policy, seems to be based on a genuine desire to encourage beneficiaries, in particular long term beneficiaries, to get back
to work.

Support for the Bill
6. It is the opinion of this submitter that large parts of the intent of this bill are valid and desirable. Benefits should be seen as a hand up and not a hand out. They should not be viewed as a lifestyle choice, to live off the taxpayer, but rather a safety net to help those unfortunate enough to need it.

Concerns about the Bill
7. My concerns around this bill centre around the use of the welfare system “to reinforce some important social norms…”.
8. Regardless of what “social norms” the government seeks to impose, the imposition of them sets a dangerous precedent. Wittingly, or unwittingly, this writes into
legislation a list of things by which a parent can be judged as responsible or irresponsible. It is not without irony that these “social norms” are introduced in the
explanatory note between sanctions for illegal use of drugs and having a warrant for arrest.
9. We live in a society which celebrates diversity in many shapes and forms. In particular, New Zealand is known for its wide acceptance of diverse cultures and
religions.
10. While the government has jurisdiction to ensure some things, including that children are not abused, it has no jurisdiction (other than self appointed) to either define or “reinforce” social norms. To attempt to do so is an encroachment on the rights of the citizens it claims to represent. This is especially true when the said “social norms” are defined in terms of participation in government funded and controlled programs. This is not to say that those programs are undesirable, but only that compulsory participation is an encroachment on the rights of individuals and parents.
11. Secondarily, in the opinion of this submitter, this government has no electoral mandate to legislate “social norms”. In 2008 the National Party campaigned heavily on ending what it termed “the nanny state”. In many ways the legislation of “social norms” goes further in that regard than many things which caused that label to stick to the Labour Government of the day. While acknowledging the Government’s manifesto and the Prime Minister’s Key Result Areas, there is a huge gulf between what a Government wants to achieve by way of participation in its social programs and enforcing participation.
12. Further to the overarching concerns already noted, each of the “social obligations” has associated issues.

Early Childhood Education
13. “take all reasonable steps to have their dependent child aged 3 years or over, enrolled in and attending early childhood education until they start school.”
14. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 26, Sentence 3 reads: “Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their
children.” By legislating a “social obligation” which forces a parent to choose between various state decided and registered options, this legislation is inconsistent
with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
15. While in many cases, early childhood education provides much needed learning opportunities, for whanau who embrace active learning as a lifestyle, children
benefit much from this learning in the context of family mentoring. It is violation of the rights of the parents for the Government to force them into a registered
program.

School Attendance
16. “take all reasonable steps to have their dependent child enrolled in and attending school…”
17. I have particular concern for those parents who have made the choice and commitment to home educate their children. I quote from a personal letter from the
Minister to myself on the 18th of October 2012 where she states: “However, it is fair to say that, in general, a beneficiary parent will not be able to home school their
child”.
18. Paragraph 14 regarding the inconsistency with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is relevant in its entirety
19. I accept that it should not be the norm for someone to home educate their child from age 5 through to 18 while in receipt of a benefit when they could be providing for their family through employment.
20. However, for those parents who are not in receipt of a benefit and make the commitment to home educate their children, they already pay twice for their
children’s education. Firstly through their taxes contributing towards Vote Education and secondly through financing the education of their own children.
21. Should someone in this situation find themselves out of a job, it is entirely unreasonable for their Unemployment Benefit to be halved while looking for another
job, just because they are home educating their children.
22. I have provided a copy of the letter mentioned in paragraph 17 as an attachment so the letter can be read in context. While it does provide a range of context, both it and the proposed Bill seem to have the assumption that home educating is undesirable (particularly for families in receipt of a benefit) and will impact on the
ability of the family to provide it’s own income.
23. Overall home education in New Zealand is of a high quality. I have had a number of educators from a range of tertiary institutions in New Zealand indicate that they jump at the chance to enroll home educated students and several say that they will encourage them to enroll a year younger than their state schooled counterparts.
24. Furthermore, the economic argument for putting children into school so that a parent or two can work is often flawed. In many cases, the tax paid by the parent is well outstripped by the cost of a state primary or secondary education.
25. Finally, it is my observation that very few parents whose principle income is a benefit choose to home educate their children. In particular the attitudes which lead to the inter-generational dependence which this Bill seeks to address are usually entirely opposite to those attitudes which leads one to home educate their children.
26. It is more usual that parents decide to home educate their children and then unforeseen changes occur which lead them into receiving state support. In the
case of two parent families home educating is not a barrier to re-employment. In the cases I have observed of a home educating family going from two parents with
one income to a single parent on a benefit, it has enabled the family to work though the situation in a supported way. While I have observed single parents staying on
the benefit until their children were in their late teens, all I have known have always afterwards gone on into employment.

Enrolling with a primary health care provider and up-to-date with the WellChild checks.
27. Firstly, I acknowledge that these programs have a significant range of benefits. However, forcing these “benefits” upon people is not democratic.
28. In my letter to the Minister, I acknowledged that while all of our children had undertaken the WellChild checks with the midwife while under her care, they had
not had them subsequently done with a doctor or other community providers.
29. In social settings, we regularly interact with medical professionals and we utilise the public health service on an as-needed basis. They have also had a range of
medical examinations including ear and eye tests. However, to require that if a parent is in receipt of a benefit that certain programs are completed is dictatorial
and undemocratic.
30. Again, there are two fundamental issues here. This first is the encroachment of Government on what should be family decisions. The second is the government
holding up a standard of that it considers “social norms” as a defacto standard of good parenting.
31. Finally, legislating these “social obligations” will do little to protect those children most at risk from abusive parents and unhealthy lifestyles. Such significant
encroachment on the public to deal with the problems of a minority is neither good policy nor good government.

Summary
32. I propose that the section of the bill which deals with “social norms” be dropped completely.
33. I further propose that if any part of it remains, that all parents are left with the right to home educate their children and choose whether to use an ECE or not.
34. Lastly I propose that the right of parents to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children be formally acknowledged and protected.

Thank you for considering this submission. I would like to make an oral submission also, and look forward to appearing should I be in the country.

Attachment:

Paula Bennett’s letter to Samuel Blight 18 October 2012