A planned reform to the welfare system which would see single parents on the domestic purposes benefit who have an additional child be required to look for paid work when their youngest turns 12 months is being challenged by Opposition MPs who say there is not enough licensed childcare available and parents will be forced to use unprofessional, unqualified babysitters.
Social Development Minister Paula Bennett says the government is considering home-based care or other options which can be responsive for care outside of standard work hours.
It is reported that a Cabinet paper from Ms Bennett suggests establishing babysitting networks as a way of helping beneficiaries with children back into work. Ms Bennett also says that formal early childhood education is not always the best way for children to be looked after outside of standard hours and so the government is looking at ways to fund informal childcare.
In the coming months political debate looks likely to heat up over the type of childcare the government will support beneficiaries to access and what will be seen by Opposition MPs and many in the early childhood education sector as undermining the profession.
The policy reform gives a strong message to single parents on a benefit to use basic family planning by timing the arrival of children and anticipating their economic circumstances.
The vital component of the policy reform is to make people believe that childcare might not be available. It tells single parents who are already on a benefit that they are unlikely to get suitable childcare and therefore not to have another baby. And, if a parent is already on a benefit it tells the parent not to plan any more children unless they expect to be going into paid work.
But waiting times in licensed early childhood education centres are not always long and most parents can expect to get a place as soon as they need it or within one or two months.
What the Government has realised is that childcare for out of standard work hours must be provided for. Overnight and weekend childcare is not something that is well-provided for by the early childhood education sector.
The message Opposition MPs need to be giving single parents then is that until they are in government and reverse this change (if this is what they intend to do) early childhood education services are not likely to be available during the hours that the single parents might be working. And if a parent does want more children, the problem is not childcare but an ability to get work during normal work hours.
Getting extra education and skills in order to increase eligibility for work during normal hours is key advice that could be given to single parents on benefits facing a choice between having another baby and not receiving financial support from the State.