Baby bonus rise bad for babies
IPA REVIEW ARTICLE
Sometimes a policy is so irredeemably bad that nothing short of abolition is the appropriate course. Unfortunately, sometimes the awful policy is a political superstar, beloved by all but the worst curmudgeon. The baby bonus is such a policy.
Set to rise to a hefty $5,000 from 1 July 2008, it was a Howard government initiative in 2004 and initially set at $3,000.
Since its introduction, successive governments have discovered a very basic law of money; one dollar looks very much like another. What is to stop the baby bonus being spent on rich families' holidays, teenage mothers' plasma TVs or drugs for drug addicts? Nothing, apparently. So, since its introduction governments have progressively tightened the screws on the payments. Teenage mothers must receive it as fortnightly payments, as do many aboriginal mothers in remote communities. Now the Rudd government will withhold the payment from ‘irresponsible' mothers who fail to spend it on the child's welfare. Problem gamblers, alcoholics and drug addicts will now get vouchers for nappies instead of the cash. These mothers, deemed unfit to decide how to spend the money, are branded problem parents from the start-even though there has never been a requirement to spend the baby bonus on the child. As a result, families on $250,000 a year can still choose to spend theirs on a pre-birth holiday to Queensland.
While the government is very keen to prescribe some mothers' spending habits, it has been markedly less keen to address the serious medical concerns caused by women delaying giving birth for up to two weeks so they qualify for the higher payments. Researchers Andrew Leigh and Joshua Gans found hundreds of women delayed their birth by more than a week. Yet when dismissing the request for government to phase in the higher amount to stop this occurring this year, Minister Roxon said ‘it's obviously not sensible for people to make decisions based on financial arrangements rather than what's in the best interests of the child.' Too true Minister. It is just a shame there is hard evidence that at least some women are delaying childbirth, not by a day or two, but by over a week. Perhaps these are the irresponsible ones who need the $5,000 withheld.