When the government is your breadwinner
Most families make decisions every day about how their household will run. Some decide to have a parent stay home full-time with their children. Others decide to send their children to early childhood education (ECE). Still others decide to miss a Well Child appointment or two. Their decisions are made based on what they perceive to be in the best interests of their family.
One group of families in our society, however, are not free to make these types of decisions. Since September 2010, the government has introduced new demands on families that rely on benefits. These families must now enrol their children with a doctor, take their children to all of their Well Child appointments, and send their children to ECE for at least 15 hours a week from the age of three. The parents in these families also must begin looking for part-time work once their children turn five and for full-time work once their children are 14. Families that fail to accede to any of these demands face sanctions up to their benefits being cut by 50 percent.
A paper out last week from the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) contends that this new regime of demands and sanctions is unfair. In the past two and a half years, they found, sanctions were applied to 623 beneficiaries with children: 520 of them for up to four weeks, 78 of them for four to eight weeks, and 25 of them for over eight weeks. According to CPAG, the government’s demands of beneficiaries are unreasonable, and the ones who are suffering the most from these unreasonable demands are the children in these families.
Resolving whether or not the government is being reasonable in making such demands of beneficiaries is tricky.
On the one hand, in beneficiary families the government is the breadwinner; it is the government who supplies them with the income they need to buy those things that they need and want. In any family, the breadwinner will naturally hold some sway. As they are the ones bringing in the money, they get a lot of over say how that money is spent and what happens in the household. When the government’s your breadwinner, it’s going to need and to want to make some demands, such as that you take those steps necessary to being free of the government and becoming your own breadwinner.
On the other hand, no breadwinner should act as a dictator of his/her domain, ignoring the best interests and opinions of his/her family. Truly unreasonable demands will most likely be, and should be, challenged. With the government as breadwinner, demands that overreach into areas that are most properly the domain of the family regardless of who their breadwinner is—such as whether or not to send a child to ECE—would fall into this category.
As the breadwinner in beneficiary families, it is not unreasonable for the government to make demands, but these demands must maintain the dignity and integrity of the family.