The Prime Minister and baby balancing act

Jacinda Ardern ‘returned to work’ in her role of Prime Minister yesterday. Sort of. She took over prime ministerial responsibilities from acting PM Winston Peters, but remained in Auckland (she will return to parliament next week).

Ardern released selected photos of her, Clarke Gaygord and baby Neve, and gave some media interviews that focussed a lot on the baby and how that would affect her work.

It may have been laid on a bit thick, and it was slammed by some (the types who would slam anything done by Ardern, but I think generally this was a reasonable way to start. There was always going to be a lot of attention given to the mother-baby stuff, so best to give the media something.

As long as it mostly stays at that. That is up to the media to be reasonable, and also up to Jacinda not to exploit it with orchestrated distractions – she pulled a stunt like that on Sunday which appeared to be a deliberate attempt to distract from Simon bridges at the National Party conference.

Ardern is extremely lucky to be able to integrate parenting with her work. Most parents are either not able to do that, or choose to devote work time to work and make arrangements for baby care. I’ve done that (quite a while ago), being responsible for night time feeds with expressed milk while the mother was away working.

Teachers, nurses, police, fire, ambulance, retail, hospitality, court, construction – most parents who work know that it simply isn’t feasible (or professional) to care for a baby during their work hours.

So highly paid prime ministers and MPs are a very privileged minority when it comes to this.

Ardern wants to change attitudes to mothers and work. It may change how mothers can work as politicians, but it is unlikely to change the practicalities and realities for most parents.

It will now be up to Ardern and the media to get the right balance of work versus parent coverage.

I’m fine with Ardern giving occasional stage managed coverage of her family – so long as she doesn’t exploit this for publicity and political purposes.

She still has a very important job to do, a job she volunteered to do and negotiated her way into. As a mother of a baby she should be cut a bit of slack, but she has a challenging balancing act ahead of her.

There is no way she can escape the spotlight. She may well shine as a working mother, but she risks a voter backlash if she abuses her family situation politically.

A pointless poll on pregnancy and politics

1 News got Colmar Brunton to do a pointless poll on Jacindas Ardern’s performance as PM while being a mother. It is likely to be a month or two before she becomes a mother, so how does anyone know?

1 News: Becoming a mum won’t have an effect on Jacinda Ardern’s performance as PM – 1 NEWS Colmar Brunton poll

Political commentator Jennifer Lees-Marshment says in an ideal world it would not be a topic for discussion.

Media commissioning polls to create populist ‘news’ is not ideal either, but it has become normal click-bait creating practice.

Experts say that the Prime Minister is a role model for working women.

Global Women board member Felicity Evans says “seeing her adequately and brilliantly doing her job whilst being a mum and being pregnant. It’s perfect.”

That sounds like just one ‘expert’. Using terms like ‘brilliantly ‘ and ‘perfectly’ doesn’t sound like objective expert assessment.

In response to that Ms Ardern says, “I’m no superwoman and I wouldn’t want to give that impression.”

“The fact that I am able to do what I’m doing and be a mother at the same time is because I have a huge amount of support around me.”

Support is very important, and it will be particularly important once Ardern has her baby. It will still be a big challenge for her – she may take it in her political stride, but there is no way of knowing how it will go until it happens.

By then 1 News will have probably moved on the more important polls, like what the baby’s name should be.

Green hero now a liability?

A week or two Metiria Turei was riding on a surge of Green support after she admitted lying in relation to getting a benefit in the 1990s. She says it was necessary “to feed my child”, and also to enable her to study for a law degree. She later said she should also have been able to have some fun after asked about standing for Parliament in 1993 and 1996.

With Labour languishing it seems that the Greens poached a chunk of their support, and all was looking great for the Greens, with hopes they would get ahead of NZ First and possibly even challenge Labour for the second biggest party prize.

That bubble of ambition appeared to have been burst when Jacinda Ardern took over the Labour leadership and sucked up all the media attention. And Ardern threatens to compete with a similar demographic that Turei appeals to.

A shaken looking Turei had a meeting with MSD yesterday to discuss her benefit transgressions – she had already said she will pay back any money she fiddled out of the system.

And then a double whammy last night when a reality check Newshub poll showed that 73.9% of people responded yes to ‘Was it wrong for Metiria Turei to lie to get a bigger benefit?’, including 51% of Green supporters.

Newshub also asked questions about Turei’s living arrangements while she was claiming a benefit. She had already admitted lying about having flatmates, but has now conceded that for two years one of those flatmates was her mother.

“I also wish to confirm that my mother was my flatmate for a period during the mid-1990s.

“We were financially independent while living together in the same home.”

Newshub also showed that she shared an address for two years with the father of her child,

“I did not live at the same address as the father of my child.

“I was, however, enrolled to vote at the same address as him, which was in the Mt Albert electorate. A friend of mine was running as a candidate in Mt Albert in 1993, and I wished to vote for them.

Technically that appears to be an offence under the Electoral Act.

“That was a mistake – one of many I, like many other people, made as a young person”.

It is now apparent that Turei was making a number of deliberate’ legal mistakes, at the same time she was studying for a law degree.

Two weeks ago Turei even went international with her story. In The Guardian: I told a lie to claim benefits. Now I am an MP and I want to tell you why

‘A lie’ seems to be somewhat understating what she did over several years.

Over five years, I received a training incentive allowance (a benefit that has since been ditched by our current government), as well as a payment for single parents. I also had help from my family, and my daughter’s father’s family.

Despite all that support, which is much more than many people in similar circumstances have, I did not have enough money to pay the rent and put food on the table. And so, like many – but not all – people faced with that choice, I lied to survive.

I lived in a few flats over the years with a few different flatmates. I didn’t tell the government department in charge of my benefit about some of those flatmates. If I had, my benefit would have been reduced, and I would not have had enough money to get by.

Many sole parents do get by – with financial difficulty for sure, but they manage.

Still not clarified is what her daughter’s father was doing to provide for and support his child, if anything.

Turei is now claiming that this examination of her past and her ‘private life’ (that was publicly funded) is a reason why benefits have to be much higher and no questions should be asked.

But she has been a politician for 15 years, and should have known that if she used her personal story for political purposes, in an election campaign, it would likely attract some scrutiny.

The Greens have promoted their integrity. In June Turei posted on Facebook:

Todd Barclay’s actions damage the relationship between the public and the politicians elected to represent them. The Green Party wants to be part of a government you can trust and already have policies in place to show we are more than just talk.

She has deliberately revealed aspects of her past that she should have known had risks, and it now threatens the relationship between the Greens and the public.

So far co-leader James Shaw has supported her beneficiary campaign…

Turei’s co-leader James Shaw said he was proud of Turei for coming forwards.

“We actually treat poor people in this country terribly, and the law is an ass, in this case,” Shaw said.

…but there must be growing concerns in the Green camp after yesterdays developments.

 

Poll on Turei’s benefit fraud, and some awkward information

Newshub-Reid Research poll tonight:

Was it wrong for Metiria Turei to lie to get a bigger benefit?

  • Yes 73.9%
  • No 18.3%
  • Don’t know 7.8%

Even half of Green supporters thought it was wrong – by party:

  • National 85%
  • NZ First 77%
  • Labour 67%
  • Green 51%

Newshub has uncovered more questions: More questions raised about Metiria Turei’s living situation

Ms Turei says she claimed a benefit between 1993 and 1998. The habitation index – that’s an official public record of addresses collated from the electoral roll – shows Ms Turei listed at the same address as her daughter’s father, Paul Hartley, in both 1993 and 1994.

That’s significant – if she was living at the same address as her baby’s father she would not have been eligible for the benefit she claimed, the Domestic Purposes Benefit.

We showed the evidence to Ms Turei on Tuesday, and asked whether the electoral roll had not been updated or whether the father was living with Ms Turei.

“I’m not sure”, “I’d have to have a look”, “I was living in Mt Eden at the time”, she told Newshub.

“I’m not talking about the personal relationships or other people.”

The index also shows that in 1996 and 1998 Ms Turei was listed at the same address as her mother, Janice.

“I’m not talking about my flatmates,” she said.

These facts wouldn’t have been known by those who were polled.

The Newshub-Reid Research poll was conducted July 20-28. 1000 people were surveyed, 750 by telephone and 250 by internet panel. It has a margin of error of 3.1 percent.

 

Today Turei visited the Ministry of Social Development:  Turei shaken after grilling by MSD investigators

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei has been grilled about her benefit history at a meeting with investigators from the Ministry of Social Development.

The ministry is investigating after Mrs Turei revealed last month she lied to Work and Income as a young solo mother in the early 1990s so her benefit would not be reduced.

She had gone into the meeting saying she was nervous, and had emerged appearing a little shaken.

“That’s part of what we’re trying to show people, that it’s very hard to deal with the agency. They were very good to me, but I don’t think that’s the experience of most people who have to deal with MSD.”

She reiterated she will pay back any money she owed, although that amount was still unknown. The ministry would send her a list of questions to answer before another meeting was set up, but there was no indication of whether that would happen before the September election.

Turei was still intent on making points about what she feels is an inadequate system.

UPDATE: Statement from Metiria Turei

“I was the sole provider for my daughter. I was fully financially responsible for us both.

“I did not live at the same address as the father of my child.

“I was, however, enrolled to vote at the same address as him, which was in the Mt Albert electorate. A friend of mine was running as a candidate in Mt Albert in 1993, and I wished to vote for them.

“That was a mistake – one of many I, like many other people, made as a young person.

“I also wish to confirm that my mother was my flatmate for a period during the mid-1990s.

“We were financially independent while living together in the same home,” said Mrs Turei.

Gender equality for post-natal depression?

I’m sure that many men suffer from post-natal depression of sorts, but I question calling it post-natal depression alongside the common female condition.

I consider having children was easily the biggest and best achievement of my life, but it was also brought about the biggest change in my life. And over the next 25 years it wasn’t always easy.

Men have to adjust to possibly the love of their life transforming from mutual devotion to their focus shifted substantially on a new person in their lives. A first baby especially forces huge changes on lifestyles and relationships. Sleep deprivation on it’s own can cause problems.

The pluses far outweigh the minuses for me, but there were challenges for sure.

However men have nothing like the challenges of carrying a growing human being for about nine months, the physical trauma of giving birth, the hormonal changes during and afterwards, and the maternal instinct that demands a shift in attention to a new dependant person at their most needy and vulnerable.

But despite the differences Stuff labels father’s struggles alongside those that mothers face.

New fathers can also struggle with post-natal depression

Research from the Growing Up in New Zealand longitudinal study released in February reported 6.2 per cent of men experienced depression symptoms from the third trimester of pregnancy to nine months after birth.

That doesn’t surprise me, but I wonder how that compares to overall rates of male depression.

“It was a good eight or nine weeks of almost running out of the house to go to work in the morning so I didn’t have to be with this attention seeking little human.”

It was the midwife who joined the dots.

“I told her the baby was crying for no reason at all and she said, ‘Neil, your child is four weeks old. She is crying because she needs something.’

“She said, ‘Have you thought about the fact you might have the baby blues? What you’re experiencing are the typical signs for the dad, but it never gets spoken about'”

It was the first he had heard of it, but identifying what was going on helped him take a step back, and tackle the same feelings when they arrived after the birth his son, three years later.

“But without that chat with the midwife, I would have had myself down as not being the fathering type.”

This sounds like having difficulties adjusting to fatherhood. It’s common for people to struggle at times with major changes in their lives.

Antoinette Ben, executive director at Post and Ante-Natal Distress Support Wellington, estimated for every 10 women who asked her organisation for help, one father would come forward – and most were first-time dads.

Not surprising considering the often huge lifestyle change, relationship change, sex life change, responsibility change and change in sleeping opportunities and patterns and length.

Dr Dougal Sutherland of Victoria University School of Psychology said some dads were unable to recognise they were struggling with their mental health.

“Particularly with a first child, you’re so deeply in it with the first baby, it’s very hard to see out over the edge of the parapet, so to speak, because you’re up to your neck in nappies and bottles,” Sutherland said.

“I have certainly spoken to guys who’ve felt jealous towards the baby, they’ve felt unloved and unwanted by their partners because all the attention is focused on the baby and they’re saying ‘what about me?'”

Fathers can face real problems but I think they are different to some (not all) of the bigger changes mothers have to contend with.

Sutherland said socialising with other dads can help, as well as ensuring there was a wider support network behind them.

Boothby wanted new dads who were having a tough time to know they weren’t alone, and hoped they would have the courage to talk to someone.

“There is such a macho-ism around being a new father and being the protector –  but it is natural and there is people out there who are aware of it.”

The role of (many) fathers has changed a lot over the last half century. It is far more common now for fathers to be much more involved in the pregnancy, birth and raising of children.

It figures that that will bring with it different pressures and challenges, and that will affect mental health of some.

Fathers do have something different to contend with though – if the mother has post-natal depression that can exacerbate the pressures and stresses of being a father

Real issues, but not the same as female post natal depression.


I became a father with zero experience, but looked forward to the chance to become a dad. I encouraged an early exit from the maternity home – in those days a week was still the norm and less had to be fought for.

I just wanted to get the newly formed family home so we could do things ourselves without the interference of nurses – they meant well and were a help but also in those days tended to dismiss the input of fathers.

Having a very capable mother helped quite a bit, but for the biggest job of my life I learned on the job. that seems remarkable in a way, given the responsibilities. But humans, like any animals, have parented like this forever, using instinct and common sense.

I came through it all pretty well I think – when I see the resulting kids (now adults) and grand kids I’m very happy, and I’m grateful that the pressures and problems didn’t weigh down too heavily on me.

I was fortunate not to have to deal with  serious child health or behavioural issues, some parents have to cope with far more than I ever did.

All dads have difficulties adjusting and ongoing challenges raising a family. For whatever reason some have more serious difficulties I hope they seek and get the support they need.

“Plunket’s message to mums and dads is that it is never too early or too late to ask for help.”

Blenheim mother of three

Stuff posted an article this morning on Blenheim mother-of-three struggling to survive since coming off the benefit.

There’s been a lot of comment and some corrections.

A low wage worker says there is no incentive to get off the benefit.

A number of people pointed out that wanting to earn a living and be self-sufficient is a good incentive to get off the benefit.

A struggling solo mum in Blenheim is only $34 better off a week since she came off the benefit and got a job.

The 48-year-old said Marlborough’s low wage economy meant it was harder for people to enter the workforce.

But this isn’t about being harder to enter the workforce, she asks…

“When you weigh it up, is it worth going to work?

If you weight it up on purely financial criteria then some more money with the prospects of quite a bit more is still worth it for many people.

The early childhood teacher, who worked 29 hours a week, earned $21.90 an hour, just more than the living wage set at $19.25.

There is no set living wage. The minimum wage is $14.75.

She received $580 a week when she was on benefits looking after her three dependent children aged 10, 15 and 17.

Her new job, which she also juggled with studying for a bachelor in early childhood education, paid $614 a week after her student fees were taken out.

And less if PAYE tax and ACC Earner Premium are taken out:

Gross pay: 635.10
PAYE: 92.30
ACC: 9.21
Student Loan: 32.17
Take home pay: 501.42

She missed qualifying for a working for family support benefit by one working hour.

But it’s been pointed out that that is incorrect. A comment at Stuff:

Based on the information supplied she qualifies for both the working for families tax credit weekly as well as the “In work tax credit”

– Copied and pasted from the IRD website = “In-work tax credit Paid to families with dependent children18 or younger who work the required hours each week”” “To get this payment, couples must work at least 30 hours a week between them, and single parents must work at least 20 hours a week.” – by working 29 hours she qualifies.

David Farrar works out how much that is at Kiwiblog:

According to the IRD calculator if she is working more than 20 hours a week she should receive $239 a week in family tax credits and $60 a week for in-work tax credits which is $299 a week on top of the $614 from her job.

No, I think it will be on top of her take home pay of 501.42, which comes to $800 per week.

“There is that stigma attached to being on the benefit and many believe that you are just a bludger,” she said.

If weighing up whether earning money is worth it then yes, that’s a risk.

“Children are my passion. I wanted to better myself and get a job in early childhood education.

“I was shocked I was only $34 better off a week. I thought I would be $100 better off. That’s huge when you are only earning $600 a week.

“We make do with what we have got. My children don’t go without. We don’t eat the flashest of foods but they get fresh fruit and vegetables.

“I am too proud to ask for help. It’s really hard to say I don’t have any money.”

Except that she has apparently volunteered her story to a journalist.

“We don’t have many treats. We are lucky if we have a takeaway every three months. It’s not part of our budget.

“It’s quite depressing, you just have to deal with it.

“The kids pick up on it. They are sick of being poor and having no money.”

Striving to work and earn money for yourself is something kids can pick up on too. If the seventeen year old is sick of being poor they could at least try to find holiday work. Many seventeen year olds earn money for themselves.

She would not give up her job to go back on the benefit.

“I love my job. It makes me feel rewarded.”

So why does she ask if it is worth it?

It’s hard to work out what the motive for this story is.

I hope she considers checking out her eligibility for family tax credits and in work tax credits.

And I hope the journalist who wrote this checks things out a bit better.

Not mother of my nation

Hillary Barry is away and not appearing on the Paul Henry Show this week, She’s away to meet Oprah Winfrey apparently. More reason to avoid TV3 in the mornings when she gets back (I like Barry but can’t stand celebrity worshipping crap).

Stuff reported the big news – Hilary Barry off to meet Oprah

That trivia was bad enough, but this annoys me even more:

Luckily, one of the pantheon was available. Veteran news anchor Judy Bailey, commonly called the mother of the nation, is subbing in until Barry’s return.

Lucky for whom? It may be lucky that I avoid Henry’s show most of the time.

I’ve never been a fan of Bailey’s bland presentation and less of a fan of her attempts to de-age herself, but that’s her business.

But I find it very irritating when celebrity marketers label her a “mother of the nation”.

To me and perhaps most of us New Zealanders she is just party of a dysfunctional family of so-called celebrity self worshippers.

I see nothing that justifies one of them being labelled as the mother of my nation.

Silence on the Sepuloni case

Last week (25 February) it was announced that charges had been laid against the mother Labour’ spokesperson for social development Carmel Sepuloni. Carmel was stood down from the role.

The Labour Party has stood down its social development spokesperson Carmel Sepuloni – following charges of benefit fraud being laid against her mother.

Labour Party leader Andrew Little said the charges against her mother meant Ms Sepuloni had a conflict of interest in the social development portfolio.

Mr Little said she would remain Junior Whip and remain at number seven on his front bench.

Ms Sepuloni had assured him she did not know her mother was facing charges until today, he said.

Yesterday the court case was reported, which included guilty please from Sepuloni (senior) and her partner.

Mother of Labour MP Carmel Sepuloni admits $100K benefit fraud

The mother of Labour MP Carmel Sepuloni and her partner have admitted 23 benefit fraud charges totalling nearly $100,000.

Beverley Anne Sepuloni and partner Michael Charles Rangi entered guilty pleas to the charges, committed over more than a decade until last year, when they appeared before Judge Allan Roberts in the New Plymouth District Court today.

The charges arose from neither defendant informing government agencies that they commenced a relationship in October, 2003.

The court heard that Rangi was on the dole and also getting an accommodation supplement, while Sepuloni was on a sickness benefit and getting an income-related rental rate for her Housing NZ house.

Sepuloni faced 19 charges of defrauding the State for a total of $33,856 and Rangi four charges totalling $62,351.

Carmel Sepuloni will remain stood down from the social development role until after sentencing but is expected to be reappointed.

When last week’s news broke there was a post at The Standard – Carmel stood down for possible conflict of interest.

The prompt action of Andrew Little in standing Carmel down was mentioned, and I agree that that was a refreshingly good look.

However many comments were trying to blame Paula Bennett for making the charges public – but they would obviously have come out at last week’s and this week’s court appearances anyway. Sepuloni is not a common name.

Ed:

Pete got the wrong end of the stick. Obviously the thought was that perhaps Paula Bennett had been advised of an upcoming prosecution, and seeing a fairly unusual name made further enquiries. If that is the case (and it may of course not be), I hope the reporter does let Carmel know where the information came from . . .

DoublePlusGood:

I think it’s also possible that Bennett ordered some digging on the Sepuloni name, and went after the mother.

They went to the extent of talking of using OIA’s to try and find blame. lprent:

Of more interest, as pointed out above, will be when the political arm of the National party became aware of it from the WINZ staff, and who they told. After all we have the horrible Paula Bennett and her attitudes to spreading private information from WINZ to reporters as an example.

OIA time…

There were many comments on themes of National and Bennett being to blame for something.

And there were also assumptions of innocence. Murray Rawshark:

Standing down is the right thing to do in these circumstances, even though her mum is most likely innocent. Many cases of so-called benefit fraud arise because WINZ are so useless and incompetent.

But yesterday since the guilty verdicts were announced what has been talked about on this at The Standard?

Nothing. Nada. Funkstille. Silence.

Children’s rights, fathers and war

For the record I’d like to make it clear what I think about a topic that was raised on Kiwiblog yesterday and some comments I made that were misinterpreted by some and blatantly misrepresented by others, leading to yet another string of attacks on me.

In relation to gay marriage ‘mandk’ referred to “the right of kids to have and know a father”. I responded:

There is no such right. Obviously every kid has a biological father, but that doesn’t guarantee any rights for the child (or father).

WW I and WW II are prime examples of the prority many fathers put on fighting for their country over being a father for their children.

There was a mixed reaction, with some agreeing and some disagreeing. It wasn’t worded as clearly as it could be, with some people taking it as a criticism of fathers who went to war. It wasn’t intended as such, I was simply pointing out an example of the need to defend a country overrode any so called “right” of children to have a father in their lives.

But for a very long time men have left children at home and have gone off to war. Many fathers were not able to return to their families. and some chose not to return, and otherwes returned to find family circumstances had changed, and they were no longer wanted – that would have been a very bitter return to civilian life for some.

The simple fact is that children don’t have a right to have both parents at home, it’s an advantage but not always possible – nor chosen by one or both parents.

nasska added:

You bring up a good point. Whereas the ‘ideal’ situation is for a kid to be brought up with their biological mother & father for various reasons heaps haven’t yet have still turned out good well adjusted citizens. There is no shortage of Kiwis who because of (for instance) war, road fatalities, cancer or industrial accidents have been brought up by one parent or had a step parent involved in their lives.

Sub optimum is not necessarily sub standard.

Sub optimum is very common, not just regrding parental involvement, but also with things like money.

John Key is a very good example of someone who had a sub-optimal parental and financial childhood but who managed to be very successful in his career and very popular as a Prime Minister.

And Judith said:

You are right, there are fathers and indeed mothers who abandon their children for all types of reasons, some which seem totally bizarre to us. I personally could not conceive of any reason that would make me abandon my children, or my grandchildren, but then I’ve never been put in a position where I would have to decide.

Whilst it is easy to sit and judge, and we all do, including myself, I also believe that until one is put in the same situation, we do not know what our limit would be. Some parents abandon their children because they believe they are doing the best thing for them, that their child’s life would be better without them in it.

There are also may men and a growing number of women who have work and career priorities conflicting with the needs of their children.

Absentee fathers in particular, for a variety of reasons, has long been a part of family lives.

There’s no doubt the vast majority of children are better of growing up with both own parentsSometimes that’s not possible, sometimes one or both parents decide they don’t want to be a part of the child’s life, and a small minority of parents are best kept seperated from their children.