In her shoes, or some thoughts about welfare


A short “putting human face to a political debate” article appeared in “The Australian” this morning that bears quoting almost in full:

Melbourne mother of eight Helen Liumaihetau thinks Scott Morrison has his priorities wrong by ­attacking the culture of welfare ­dependency in Australia.

Like many, she has been doing it hard and could not survive without government help. Half her government payments go towards feeding her children.

Ms Liumaihetau, 31, who ­receives more than $1000 a week in benefits to raise her large family, says it is barely enough to make ends meet. Her children, aged three to 13, use the public school and health systems. She gets $1500 worth of child payments a fortnight, and a $600 pension…

She said the Treasurer was out of line for targeting the “handout generation” and highlighting a ­future divide between “the taxed and the taxed nots”, noting things were tough for many. “He should put himself in other people’s shoes and live their life for a week and see how things are,” she said.

She had her first daughter when she was 18 and has been out of the workforce since. She is in a de facto relationship. She said some took advantage of welfare, but most used it wisely. “They should be using it for their kids. I think 10 per cent should go to the parents but the rest should go to the kids. Parents need petrol and other essentials, but other than that it should be spent on children,” she said.

“People might think because I’ve got eight kids that I’m loaded with money — I’m not. I’ve still got to pay rent … do the shopping, and on top of that, these eight kids want things.’’ There should be better pathways to employment than “just doing courses”.

Where does one even start?

1) I have no doubt that Ms Liumaihetau has a tough life raising eight young children on what would roughly be the equivalent of an average income in Australia. I also have no doubt that she uses the money wisely, providing for almost limitless needs of her young brood.

2) Conversely – and I know this is a rather extreme example chosen by “The Australian”, quite possibly on purpose knowing the paper’s commitment to fiscal rectitude – having eight children by the age of 31 strikes me as rather odd. We all have choices in life (some more than others, sure) and we all have responsibilities. Ms Liumaihetau is not a speck of flotsam tossed randomly by the waves of fate; having eight children in circumstances where she could not afford them and had to largely rely on the government (i.e. other people, with or without children, paying taxes) to support them was not something that simply happened to her, some act of God. She made her choices, she was a co-agent in making it all happen. In life, actions have consequences.

3) So while if I put myself in Ms Liumaihetau’s shoes I no doubt would find the experience tough and unenviable, this is almost beyond the point. Without resorting to terms like deserving and undeserving poor, I have a lot more sympathy for someone who finds themselves in need of government assistance on account of a disability, or other circumstances largely beyond their control.

4) I believe there is too much welfare in Australia, but I’m not talking just about the proverbial dole bludgers; there is too much middle-class welfare and too much business welfare. We cannot have a culture where everyone expects something from the government; we can’t all suck on a tit because the milk is not actually produced by the mother – it’s produced by us, or at least some of us. A society where a majority receive more in government benefits than they pay in taxes is not sustainable. It is doubly unsustainable because the taxes paid are proving to be insufficient to pay for all the benefits being dished out; the government being forced to borrow tens of billions of dollars a year to satisfy everyone’s expectations. Effectively, we are borrowing from, and taxing our children and grandchildren to pay for our lifestyles today. This is not just unsustainable; it is also deeply unfair and immoral.

4) I believe that some form of welfare system is necessary but it shouldn’t provide an alternative lifestyle and there should be other ways to assist the underprivileged to lift themselves up from their situation. I also believe that people and businesses should be taxed less, but in return expect less benefits, payments, subsidies, bailouts. I’ve never described myself as a libertarian or a hard-nosed rationalist, but I’m saying all this as a realist who knows that a political and economic system where more and more people expect more and more from a bigger and bigger government, which relatively has less and less capacity and fewer and fewer resources is crazy and crazy. Something eventually has to give, as it’s starting to give all over Europe at the moment. Australia, don’t be like Europe.