Maintaining Sole Parent Families in New Zealand: An Historical Review
Recent decades have seen a rapid growth in the uptake of the Domestic Purpose Benefit. The fiscal impact of this growth, and recent government concerns about benefit dependence and outcomes for children, have prompted renewed research into the support of sole-parent families.
This paper reviews the development of policy responses to sole parenthood in New Zealand, and describes the social and demographic changes that have increased the pressure on existing provisions.
The paper draws attention to our two cultural traditions, whereby a community responsibility for sole parents has been accepted only gradually among non-Māori. It also looks at the effects of the emphasis on men as breadwinners, the dramatic post-war rise in the rate of ex-nuptial births and divorce, and how changing attitudes toward fault in divorce and maintenance law were carried over into benefit reform with the creation of a relatively generous sole-parent benefit.
I look at the evidence for claims about the influence of the DPB on behaviour, and note that in the thirty years since the the DPB’s inception there has been little research on the effectiveness of New Zealand’s sole-parent policy, either in meeting its original aim of preventing child poverty or in addressing more recent concerns about benefit dependence and adverse child outcomes.