Let’s see all mums get a fair go

This crisis has taught us a lot about ourselves and our collective strength as a community. 

One of the most important lessons is that we wouldn’t have been as successful in our effort to combat Covid-19 so far, if not for the feats of essential workers providing us with the food, care and services we needed to get through. 

Just as important has been the work of unpaid caregivers. The people looking after children, or sick or elderly relatives. The everyday people who have checked in on their neighbours, and picked up medication and groceries for elderly and medically-vulnerable people. 

The crisis is continuing to show us just how reliant we are on each other to be well. And how our community is only strong if everybody has what they need to keep well. Likewise, it has shown us that when we are united we can achieve rapid change.

For many, this crisis has been the first time they have had to think about how one unforeseeable event can be enough to completely alter your life and mean you need government assistance to survive. 

The lockdown has challenged different people in different ways. For some people with small kids, the lockdown has felt like being plunged back into the immediate postpartum phase again, but this time in a globally uncertain time, and even more physically isolated from societal support. 

As hard as it has been for all of us, imagine how stressful it would have been for those already facing isolation everyday due to medical or socio-economic reasons; For the parents struggling to keep their children fed and warm, because they aren’t paid enough; For those single mums (and dads) who have just lost their job and are contemplating how they’ll keep up with their bills and their childrens’ essentials.

This is why together with ActionStation (and many volunteers) we made this video (see above) to give thanks to the caregivers who care for our tamariki, who do everything they can to put their kids’ needs first, and provide them with every opportunity that they humanly can. 

As we say in the video, we acknowledge the mums who have been forced into poverty and isolation and who are parenting under conditions that until recently, most of us couldn’t imagine. But the fact remains, even before this economic crisis, our society was profoundly unequal. 

Already founded on colonisation and the transfer of wealth from Māori to Pākehā, inequality massively accelerated over the last thirty years. During this period, people in power made deliberate policy decisions that resulted in housing costs skyrocketing, wages stagnating and our social welfare, health and disability services struggling to provide adequate services. 

The way that successive governments have neglected our welfare system means that long before the lockdown, many people who received welfare support (and their children) were leading isolated lives. 

A concrete example of this neglect is how the Ministry for Social Development police the personal relationships of those on a benefit. Under MSD guidelines, people can be deemed in a relationship “in the nature of marriage” if they have been seeing each other for six weeks, rely on each other emotionally, or share any level of financial interdependence (such as paying each other back for groceries). According to these guidelines many of us could be considered “married” to our flatmates. 

In practice this forces many people into further isolation because they are wary of accepting the support of friends or family in case their entitlements are removed and they (and any children) are made financially dependent on someone else. Likewise, it can also make leaving unhealthy or violent relationships extremely difficult because of that same financial dependence. 

Last year, Dr Jess Berenston-Shaw rightly highlighted that politicians have created a system that fails to recognise the value of work that so many do with little or no monetary reward, especially caregiving roles. She said, people in power have ‘emboldened an economic track that values the individual over the collective, the market over the role of Government, and money over other issues like equity, well-being and environmental health.’ 

With our response to this crisis, those same people in power have an opportunity to lay the tracks in a fundamentally different direction. We can build towards a new world with a more compassionate and inclusive society. One where everybody can live with dignity, and all children have the opportunities to pursue their talents and dreams. 

As I said, the crisis has shown us the power of our collective unity to create rapid change. The social changes we have committed to remove Covid-19 from our community is impressive. What else do we value enough to enact change? 

According to the Ipsos NZ Issues Monitor inequality, poverty, and access to housing are the top social issues that New Zealanders are concerned about. Now that we are faced with the very real possibility of recreating our world, what do we want that world to look like? 

What about a world with better income support so that parents can spend more quality time with their children without the toxic stress of poverty? A world with more laughter, joy and play. A world where a mother can retain financial independence for herself and her children so they are less at risk of family violence. A world with healthier relationships, better educational attainment, and more opportunities for children to pursue their talents and fully partake in our society.