10 May 2012
Our government is to introduce a programme whereby young mothers, teen mums, can get long lasting but reversible contraception at no cost.
This prophylactic response is provoking some discussion – is it one state intervention too far? One commentator has termed it a “eugenic meddling”, others have been shocked, horrified and indignant while the moderate response has been to cast doubt on its value and effectiveness in bringing about the social and economic benefits that the policy claims.
I suspect that the red-neck response is out there but is remarkably quiet on this one.
Anything that removes complication from the lives of young parents could be a good thing if this is backed up with real opportunity to use the space created in a less complicated life positively. And that means some connection between such an initiative and education and training.
Teen parents number about 25,000 in New Zealand and I would guess that most of them are struggling young women. Moving on and up is critical if they are to face a future that enables them to actually give their young children any sort of chance. Many of these parents are both on their own and, I guess, alone.
If they can be helped with free contraception why cannot they be helped with free education and training that would be of great benefit to both the parent and the child? Spending money on getting people up to speed with a qualification that results in a job is the soundest expenditure because it results in a return on investment through taxes and the savings from money not spent on welfare interventions, in court and penal systems, increased healthcare costs and housing issues.
Education and training is to ignorance and helplessness what contraception is to unplanned pregnancies.
Reluctance among governments to accept that the cost of provision for education is the cheap option compared to doing nothing and seeing the cycles of educational failure repeat themselves in families defies understanding. Breaking the cycle is the only way that long term economic benefits accrue. Governments accept all kinds of spurious economic impacts related to major sporting events, new sports stadiums and other glamorous activities. What about accepting that the economic impact of expenditure on the education of those who are likely to be unemployable brings the greatest returns of any expenditure? And the gains from such expenditure are not just to the individual, we all benefit.
That is why a programme to get “First Generation Students”, “First in Family” (call them what you like) into through and out of education and training deserves both closer attention and action. We know that when that “First Generation Student” gets through a family is transformed and new educational aspirations infuse families both vertically and horizontally. It is like a cluster bomb of opportunity exploding in the lives of a family and they are changed as a group forever.
I wonder how many of these young mothers who they want to stop having babies are “first in family” when it comes to education and training.
In addition to a focus on the young and the fertile, we could well add a focus on those young people who can act as family circuit breakers with regard to education and training. I already hear rumblings about how difficult it would be to decide what a family is, who is really the first-in-family to take the pathway to qualifications and so on. It might be but sensible people can make sensible decisions about this.
Devising a set of selection criteria for this First in Family Guarantee, a name that would reflects a connection to the Youth Guarantee policy, would be relatively simple. “Has anyone in your immediate family got a post secondary qualification? No? Well you are the “first-in family” so here is a hand up.” That doesn’t seem too hard.
You see spending money in ways that get a return is simpler than continuing to throw money at students through loans and allowances and wondering not only if you are getting a return but also whether you will get the money back. The simple schemes such as that proposed here for first-in-family look elegant by contrast.
A year ago it was reported that 50 student borrowers in New Zealand were responsible for debt of $11 million – the economic impact report on that would be interesting! Student loans in New Zealand now make up a total debt in excess of $11 billion ($NZ)! Don’t tell me that we do not have the money for sound interventions.
If the government can spend $1million on the contraceptive scheme, I challenge them to spend $1 million on a First-in-Family scheme. Both sums of money would work on fertile land; I know which one I would back for a return.