Friday, January 16, 2009

Airbus ditches in Hudson

In the last couple of hours an Airbus ditched in the Hudson after taking off from La Guardia and hitting birds. Miraculously it appears there is no loss of life or serious injuries. Stunning.

Mental health - or lack of it

In 2007, 6425 people spent time in adult mental health units according to the latest report from the Director of Mental Health, David Chaplow. That's around 153 per 100,000 mean population.

40 years ago, 12,096 people or 443 per 100,000 mean population spent time in a psychiatric hospital. That means the rate of institutionalised treatment has dropped by two thirds.

In the same year that over twelve thousand people were treated in a psychiatric hospital, only 2,000 were in jail.

Well-meaning attempts to keep people out of mental institutions has partially resulted in institutionalising them elsewhere.

Suicide rates, also mentioned in the report, have increased over a similar forty year period (although are now trending down).

1971 238 8.0 per 100,000

2006 524 12.2 per 100,000

Incidentally the suicide rate for Maori in 1971 was very, very low - 1.7 for males and 2.6 for females. In 2006 it was 17.2 per 100,000 population - higher than for non-Maori.

Finally we can measure mental health from a social security perspective.

At the end of the 1970 financial year, 14,218 people relied on an invalid or sickness benefit. Only 10 percent of sickness beneficiaries suffered from mental, psychoneurotic and personality disorders. Today over 130,000 people rely on these benefits and 40 percent of sickness beneficiaries have psychological or psychiatric conditions.

So things are not flash in the area of mental health - and particularly not for Maori.

(Caution; statistics keeping for Maori may not have been as reliable forty years ago as it is today).

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Pregnancy prevents prison sentence

Reading about this court case I was reminded about the proposal for "large scale" state intervention regarding parenting which I commented on earlier this week. A Judge takes into account a heavily pregnant soon-to-be-mother's condition and refrains from sending her to jail. This paragon of virtue should be a prime suspect for state intervention when it comes to parenting.

Last time I was heavily pregnant the only occasion it caused comment was when I waddled into a music exam and perched myself behind the piano. I had been practising upwards of an hour a day to pass what was really a level beyond me. The examiner peered up, obviously surprised to see an adult appear after a string of school children, removed her glasses and said, "You are going to have a very musical child." And she was right.

There is no doubt that children are affected by what is happening around them even when they are still in the womb. Without some form of intervention, I don't fancy this one's chances much.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Increased welfare payments impact on fertility

New British research, from the Institute of Fiscal Studies, has shown that increased welfare payments have coincided with a boost in births and drop in contraceptive use among the group most affected by the higher payments. New Zealand fertility trends reflect those in Britain and it is entirely possible that the same trend is occurring here.

New Zealand’s birth rate grew from an average of 2.00 births per woman in 2004 to 2.11 in 2007; the UK rate over the same period increased from 1.68 to 1.79. In both countries, efforts to reduce child poverty have included increased income support payments. In New Zealand, Family Support (now renamed Family Support Tax Credit), available to working and non-working low income families, increased in 2005 and 2007. Similar increases were introduced in the UK, albeit earlier than here.

The UK research also found that the increase in government support coincided with a rise in births among the low-education group relative to the high-education group. In the absence of comparable New Zealand information, those mothers who predominate amongst the poorly-educated and low income – teenage, Maori and Pacific – have all experienced increased representation in welfare dependence statistics. New Zealand’s teenage birth rate has been rising steadily since 2003, as has the number of teenage mothers claiming a benefit. In 2006, almost forty percent of all births were to mothers who live in the three most deprived deciles.

The UK researchers also found evidence from the UK General Household Surveys that there was an increase in the proportion of women in the low-education group reporting that they were not using contraception because they were trying to get – or already were – pregnant. In 2006, the New Zealand Medical Association deputy chairman, Don Simmers, told a conference that too many women are contemplating pregnancy on a benefit.

This research raises an important question for all developed nations with generous income support regimes. Do efforts to ensure income adequacy simply increase fertility rates among low-income and poorly educated women, thereby counter-productively increasing the size of the poverty problem?

In light of recent local political developments here, the release of this research is very timely. In New Zealand, lobbyists are currently making submissions to government to increase payments to beneficiaries with children. The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) recently took a case to the Human Rights Tribunal claiming that not paying the In-Work tax credit to parents who are beneficiaries was discriminatory. The Tribunal has ruled that while there is an element of discrimination operating , it is justified in order to achieve the government's goal off getting people off welfare and into jobs. The Tribunal accepted that work has long-term benefits for families and is the best way out of poverty for parents and their children.

Undeterred, CPAG are now making submissions directly to the new government to achieve their goal. This is understandable given there is a new Associate Minister for Social Development, Tariana Turia, who had previously been very supportive of their case.

The implications of this new research, in the absence of our own, should, however, be carefully weighed by policy makers before responding to these calls.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Calling for large scale state intervention

An Auckland University Professor writes in today's NZ Herald;

Good parenting is a critical public health issue. Raising children is the greatest challenge we face in a lifetime.

It's a job most tackle with the best will in the world but with virtually no preparation or education for the role.

Just the opening sentences have raised my hackles.

As soon as someone evokes 'critical' and 'public health' in the same sentence you know their proposals will involve collectivism and inevitably, compulsion. Individuals will disappear to be replaced by an amorphous mass.

And sure enough. That's next.

It would be wrong to assume that all parenting problems rest with the most socially disadvantaged. Research shows that families right across the social spectrum suffer stress and anxiety over the many issues that arise - and in some cases escalate - between children and parents who wish they could find effective solutions.

But it would be right to assume that the most severe parenting problems lie with the most socially disadvantaged. The reason why is completely missed by this writer because, going back to his opening , he believes parenting is "...a job most tackle with the best will in the world but with virtually no preparation or education for the role."

That is rubbish. We learn how to be parents from our own. If we were raised with love and care we will almost always repeat the lessons. But if the family is decimated or dysfunctional, the lessons are not worth having.

So based on his faulty summation of the current state of affairs he proposes parenting courses for everyone.

A whole-of-community approach to supporting parenting can be contrasted with the traditional "clinical" approach of targeting only the most troubled parents with the most difficult children. We stand a better chance of reducing child abuse and preventing behavioural or emotional problems if parenting programmes known to work are available to all parents.

And he is quite open about why he wants parenting courses universally available (or required if the Children's Commissioner gets in on the act). So those who are the most lacking are not stigmatised.

Political correctness is frequently misunderstood and used as a battering ram by the rude and the rednecks. If you really want to understand it, the above proposed approach is a perfect example.

Now we get to what the Professor, also a director of the Queensland Parenting and Family Support Centre, really wants here;

Every Family was Australia's largest public health trial and the positive findings were numerous. The exercise identified a need for widespread intervention in parenting and showed it was feasible to deliver an intervention on a large scale.

Not to put too fine a point on it, there is probably a buck to be made by Mr Academic.

He finishes,

It's only through communities coming together and working to help ordinary families become confident and competent in dealing with common behavioural, emotional and developmental problems of children that we will see a reduction in major mental health problems in children - and an increase in functional, happy families.

It would come as a shock to the writer, no doubt, that advocacy of 'public' solutions and state intervention has, over the past few decades, torn apart families by replacing the support members traditionally gave each other, with state support. Or perhaps he is slightly more sophisticated and believes that what the state broke, the state must fix.

Forget it. The state cannot deliver " increase in functional, happy families." The best hope for that eventuality is for it to get out of the way and allow the redevelopment of individual responsibility.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Crisis of confidence - no wonder

According to Matt McCarten today,

There is no doubt capitalism is having a crisis of confidence.

Is it any wonder?

Like a battered wife, capitalism has been treated abominably. Ruling governments have no faith in it. While making public pretences to, in reality, they shun the free market, preferring to flex their own redistributive and regulatory muscles. Then, like the pathetic confused creature the battered wife becomes, capitalism is blamed for every problem ever created. Like her, capitalism is a punching bag, a object of derision, taunting and paranoia. Eventually even outsiders start to join in the fray and side with the bully, not understanding that the abused now has no power or confidence, physical or psychological, to deflect the blows.

Yet, in truth, it is he who is totally dependent on her and his abuse of her. As governments are on capitalism. And just like spousal abusers, they too are cowards.