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Sunray Says – Grandparents Raising Grandchildren

SUNRAY – commentary on politics and policy
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Read Darel Hall‘s commentary every Tuesday.
Darel has a background in tertiary education policy and politics and was the Deputy Director of the Labour Party Research Unit during the first term of the last Labour-led government. His goal is to provide a thoughtful perspective that causes readers to reflect on their experience, understanding and beliefs.

State support for grandparents that raise children when the parents can’t or won’t is an issue fraught with high policy issues, pragmatic solutions, deep emotional convictions and frankly a few pious platitudes.

The state support is relatively minimal. This Close Up story reports $56,000 to raise 6 children per annum on the unsupported child allowance. The family misses out on some $12,500 a year on top ups because the grandparents are raising the children rather than foster parents.

Geoff Lawson from the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Trust puts the question about equal entitlements for the children irrespective of who does the fostering.

Following the depressing state of New Zealand media’s obsession with creating heat rather than light, former ACT MP Muriel Newman from the NZ Centre for Political Research put in an unctuous performance wasting time mouthing platitudes about the grandparents rather than teasing out the quite reasonable question about what are the limits to state intervention.

As an aside, it’s been a day of unctuous public performance as Sunray had the miserable misfortune to catch Bob McCroskie on TV1 this morning helping the ignorant from the Herald whip up a pseudo man-haying conspiracy form a crock of nothingness.

Petra could barely stop herself from disemboweling the Bob McCroskie. And then she had to adopt her death grin afterwards when clearly she was angry as all hell.

So what should be the limit for state intervention with state funds supporting grandparents acting as foster parents?

Pragmatically the difference is funding is small. The Close Story indicated about $2,000 a year. Geoff Lawson said about $1,000 per year. That’s huge amount for Superannuation-only grandparents.

The problem for policy makers is that once the state funds it incentivizes more people to take it up and creates demands to expand entitlement.

Muriel Newman’s example of the DPB is actually correct, it did expand – to a “natural” equilibrium point of about 4% – 4.5% of the working age population.

Another example might be early childhood education/ child care. Prior to the late 1970s the state wasn’t heavily involved in funding this. Now it is and it is a huge industry. This is not to say it isn’t good; it is to say that once the state gets in, it tends to get in boots and all.

So should these children get equal treatment or not?

I’m going to say no as a starting point unless someone convinces me I am wrong. A small amount of financial discrimination might just be enough to maintain the state as a small part of this solution. Awful as it is to say or admit to thinking it, my fear is that a small but significant number of parents and grandparents would think that placing their kids with the grandparents with good state support was a good option. Yes, this penalizes the 95%+ who aren’t doing that and wouldn’t. But as with all public policy there are difficult decisions at the boundary and the current settings may be about as fair as it gets.

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