Childcare disputed as beneficiaries forced to find jobs

KATE CHAPMAN
Last updated 05:00 10/03/2012

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Beneficiaries' children could be looked after by babysitting clubs if planned welfare reforms go ahead, Opposition MPs say.

The Government recently unveiled changes to the welfare system which would mean solo parents on the domestic purposes, widows and women alone benefits would have to look for part-time work when their youngest child is 5 years old and fulltime work when that child is 14.

Those who have an additional child while already on a benefit would have to look for work after 12 months.

A Cabinet paper by Social Development Minister Paula Bennett shows the Government is considering how it can help beneficiaries organise the care of their children while they are at work.

Options include improving the timing and location of the before and after-school Oscar (out-of-school care and recreation) programme.

"I propose refocusing the Oscar funding system in order to target specific locations and settings to fill these service gaps," Ms Bennett said.

That included areas where low-income parents needed affordable out-of-school care to allow them to work.

"We will consider home-based care, or babysitting networks, which are more responsive for care outside standard hours and are able to cater for smaller groups of children."

Ms Bennett said formal early childcare education was not always the best way for children to be looked after.

"I agree that we need more childcare centres in the right place so that we are particularly giving access to those that don't have it now." In some smaller communities, centres were not viable, she said.

"We just constantly have this, that only fully qualified people can look after children and it's not the reality of what happens for families on a day-to-day basis.

"Parents aren't always fully qualified, neither are grandparents."

The Government was still grappling with how it could help fund more informal childcare, Ms Bennett said.

Labour social development spokeswoman Jacinda Ardern said unqualified, unvetted babysitters were not the answer and not in the best interests of the children.

"The minister who would have us believe she wants to wrap support around these parents appears not to have thought through the process at all, given Cabinet papers which float the idea of babysitting clubs."

Fellow Labour MP Sue Moroney was also concerned, particularly after last year's funding cuts to early childhood education centres employing the most qualified staff, she said.

Changes to the Oscar programme will be put before Cabinet in December with implementation expected in July next year.

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The targets:

Changes to work obligations will affect an estimated:

6300 solo parents and 700 partners whose youngest child is 5 years old; 11,300 solo parents and 2100 partners whose youngest child is 14;

700 widows whose youngest child is older than 5 and younger than 13;

8800 widows and women alone whose youngest child is 14 or older.

- Wellington

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