I am writing today, on International Women’s Day, about an issue that I feel deeply passionate about. It affects thousands of women around New Zealand who are on a benefit. This group includes some of the women from refugee backgrounds that I employ, so I see the toll that it takes on a daily basis.
People who are on the benefit are not supported if they want to work part-time. Their benefit is deducted according to the amount of hours they’re employed, so that, in some cases, if things like transport costs are high, people actually lose money by working part-time. It is hard to find full-time employment, and part-time work is often the only option they have. Surely we should be encouraging people into part-time work. For my employees, it’s increased their confidence with speaking English and given them life skills such as learning to use public transport. It gets them out of the house and into the community, which they feel a more active part of. And it helps them gain the skills they need to get a full-time position.
This system disproportionately negatively impacts mothers. These women are often raising young children and want to be there for them as they grow up - to collect them from school, to make them an afternoon snack, to chat with the about their days, to help them with homework. The costs of child-care make it even harder for them to even consider taking full-time employment - they end up spending the same or more on childcare than they actually make on the job. Part-time work is the only real option for many mums with kids, and women and their families should be supported if they make this choice.
The benefits of supporting mothers who want to work part-time are obvious. Part-time work provides them with workplace skills to makes it easier for them to find full-time work later on when their children are grown. It increases their confidence and gives them the status of ‘bread-winner’ and financial contributor. It also makes them awesome role models for their daughters and the wider community. Research has shown that women whose mothers worked outside the home are more likely to have jobs themselves, are more likely to hold supervisory roles, and earn higher wages than women whose mothers stayed at home full time. In other words, working part-time helps address gender inequality.
I have seen the benefits of mothers working part-time in my own business, Nisa, an underwear label that employs women from refugee backgrounds. For some of my employees, this is their first job outside the home. I have seen first-hand the improvement in their language skills and confidence. Work means catching public transport and negotiating a whole series of challenges independently. Work means valuable interaction with other employees and community members, and feeling competent and self-reliant as they contribute a crucial part of a greater whole. For them, work means pride and independence.
The thing that moves me the most is how much they want to work and how devastated they are when they realise they can work only around 5 hours a week before it can start to negatively affect their family’s financial position. This has to change, as the fate of these women and their families is paramount to building a fair and prosperous New Zealand.
If you want to do something about this issue, please write to the Minister of Social Development, Carmel Sepuloni, and urge her to make it a priority. Her email address is email@example.com