Rethinking ‘Domestic Purposes’: Do we need a new approach?

November 10, 2012

Byron Clark

As the government ramps up attacks on welfare recipients defensive actions have happened across the country as those on welfare and their supporters advocate for their right to dignity and a living income (not that benefits can really be called that). The status quo we are defending, however, is a much less than ideal situation, what we need is to change the way our society defines and values ‘work’.

The Domestic Purposes Benefit (DPB), which is one of several to be merged into a new ‘job seeker benefit’, was  formed through the Social Security Amendment Act in 1973 with the first payments starting in May of 1974. It was originally set at a level that would enable single mothers to care for their children as a full time job without having to enter the work-force. A year before the Social Security Amendment Act, American feminist Selma James launched the wages for house work campaign, arguing that the work done in the home should be financially compensated.

While the DPB only applies to single parents, New Zealand must have looked somewhat progressive in the early 70s. Several decades later however, there is an enormous stigma in being a ‘DPB mum’. Back in 2002, six years before he would become prime minister, John Key described women receiving the DPB as “breeding for a business”. Work done outside of the wage-labour system- and being a parent is a huge amount of work- is not recognised by the likes of Key as having value. Even from a purely economic perspective, the reproduction of the next generation of the workforce is a service capitalism is getting on the cheap.

One nation has taken steps to ensure that this work is valued. In 2006 Venezuela began paying the nation’s poorest housewives 80% of the minimum wage for work done in the home. “The world is beginning to recognise and value women’s hidden contribution to society but Venezuela goes further” wrote James at the time. “This is finally a wage for housework, something we have demanded since 1972!”  Read the rest of this entry »


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