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Welfare reform: its impact on women as mothers and workers

Introduced in 1973, the Domestic Purposes Benefit was designed to give single mothers the opportunity available to partnered mothers, to provide full time care to their dependent children. However, families headed by lone mothers soon became a major social policy problem, both internationally and in New Zealand. Mimicking changes seen internationally, New Zealand’s fifth National Government introduced dramatic welfare reforms in 2012 and 2013, with the stated aim of reducing long-term welfare dependency. Single mothers have been identified as a ‘priority group’, and have consequently been the focus of much of the reforms including stricter workfare policies, so called ‘social obligations’ and a punitive sanction regime. This thesis explores the impact recent welfare reforms have had on single mothers, as mothers and as workers, and the resulting conflict between these roles. The theoretical framework for this research is informed by feminist social constructionism. Using discourse analysis, Work and Income publications and Amendment Bill reading speeches, were collected and analysed. These were then compared to analysed transcripts from semi-structured interviews with nine single mothers and seven key informants. Findings reveal that despite the numerous barriers single mothers face to entering paid employment, within Work and Income publications and ministerial speeches they are constructed as androcentric ideal workers. Single mothers’ caregiving responsibilities are rendered invisible, and are addressed only as they serve to restrict their ability to be in paid work. Although single mothers echoed much of this discursive construction, they ultimately rejected it by concluding that their caregiving responsibilities were more important than paid work. Reforms have also attacked the character of women raising children on welfare, deploying discourses that construct single mothers as lazy non-contributors, who are happy to live a supposedly lavish lifestyle at the expense of the hardworking New Zealand taxpayer. Although single mothers believed that the stereotypical mother on welfare existed, they deployed a number of tactics to resist these, and show how their circumstances and characters differed. This study contributes to a growing body of research in the wake of recent reforms in New Zealand, offering women’s experiences as a legitimate source of knowledge.
Type of thesis
Scott, B. (2014). Welfare reform: its impact on women as mothers and workers (Thesis, Master of Applied Psychology (MAppPsy)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/8719
University of Waikato
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