Key announces ministerial group to advance welfare reform – welfare to form key part of National's 2011 election campaign – beneficiary bashing to the fore, again

John Key's announcement that a high powered Ministerial group is to be formed to advance the Rebstock welfare reforms confirms that beneficiary bashing will lie at the heart of National’s election campaign this year.

As I said in our Auckland Action Against Poverty media release last night, "John Key is dog whistling to the darkest part of the New Zealand psyche, inviting people to join him in a spot of blood sport with beneficiaries as the prey."

I can already guess the reaction of some readers, who will join all those fine people in a poll currently running on Stuff in thinking that the Key/Bennett reforms will be a good thing.

But I ask, how many ordinary New Zealanders really do support:

  • Forcing mothers on welfare back to work when their baby is one year old. Key has said they won’t take the original 14 week option, but one year is the backstop Welfare Working Group recommendation, and I reckon that’s what National will adopt, in a bid to appear compassionate.
  • Requiring almost all people who would currently be eligible for the Invalids and Sickness benefits to be work-tested in the same way as the unemployed. This will hugely increase stress, fear – and further illness – among an already highly stressed population of people who are injured, sick, and/or suffering from major impairment.
  • State interference in women’s reproductive lives through case managers ‘encouraging’ the use of "free long-acting reversible contraception".
  • Much harsher sanctions on people who don’t meet the latest toughest requirements, with no thought for the impact not only on the adults involved, but also on their children.
  • The introduction of widespread forced 'work for the dole', undermining the jobs and working conditions of those fortunate enough to still have paid employment.
  • Use of widespread alcohol and drug testing as part of the work-testing and sanctions regime.
  • A publicity campaign aimed at beneficiary ‘fraud and abuse’ – just like the ‘dob in a beneficiary campaign’ of the late 90s.

…..and much much more – for full details, see the Summary of the Welfare Working Group report.

In the new world order as laid down by Paula Bennett – and unfortunately instigated by Labour in the 2000s – paid employment is seen as the Holy Grail of our welfare system.

However, there is not a sign, not a button, in either the latest Budget or in the Welfare Working Group report, of any work being done by Government on creating and maintaining jobs for the 271,000 people who the Household Labour Force Survey classify as jobless right now.

And I simply don’t believe Bill English’s twice-repeated prediction – shown up with hilarious accuracy by the Standard blog last week – that 170,000 jobs are going to eventuate from both the 2010 and 2011 Budgets.

On TV last night, John Key said, "The current system is broken and it’s not working. When you have an increase from 2% of the working population in 1970 to 13% today, I think that tells us there are too many New Zealanders of working age on the benefit."

Too right there are John – but it’s not because they’re lazy bludgers, but rather because Labour and National Governments in the 1980s and 1990s deliberately created mass unemployment through their economic policies; and because in 2011 our unemployment rate continues at comparatively high levels, disproportionately impacting Maori, Pasifika and young people.

The LEED (Linked Employer-Employee Data) survey released last week, while slightly behind the times, shows that for the March 2010 quarter filled jobs decreased by 1.4% in that year.

The May 2011 HLFS confirms that our unemployment rate continues at 6.6%, up 0.5% over the year, and that’s excluding Canterbury because of difficulties collecting statistics in the wake of the earthquake.

I am pretty certain that if we’d had a complete survey, including Christchurch, the true unemployment rate would be substantially higher.

And just today we hear that the Government employee subsidy scheme in Christchurch won’t be continued.

That’s rather unfortunate, to put it mildly, for the businesses and workers who have been depending on the subsidy to keep going in the face of one of New Zealand’s biggest ever natural disasters.

I hope some of you will join me in asking National a couple of basic questions during this election campaign.

  • If your goal is to push 100,000 sick, injured and disabled people – and sole parents – off the welfare rolls, where are the jobs going to come from when we don’t have work for over 271,000 jobless people right now?
  • Why are you making ultraconservative welfare reform a key part of your election campaign if it’s not simply to appeal to that old New Zealand love of beneficiary bashing?

Any pretence that these reforms are about fairness or compassion is nonsense.

As Gordon Campbell says in an excellent summary on Scoop this morning, ‘If John Key is the face of moderation, there’s not much left on the margins for the extremism of Don Brash.’

I sincerely hope that over the next few months the majority of New Zealanders won’t continue to be fooled by John Key’s crocodile smile.  Underneath, sadly, he has the soul and aspirations of an investment banker – a heart of darkness.

 

Comments (22)

by dave on May 31, 2011
dave

<i> where are the jobs going to come from when we don’t have work for over 271,000 jobless people right now?</i>

Bill English and John Key told us this week: somewhere other than the Government or public sector.

by Matthew Percival on May 31, 2011
Matthew Percival

but it’s not because they’re lazy bludgers, but rather because Labour and National Governments in the 1980s and 1990s deliberately created mass unemployment through their economic policies

Even by your lofty standards Sue this has to be one of your best conspiracy theories!

And wow what harsh policies. You're all about the rich paying their "fair share" of tax but when it comes to beneficiaries working their "fair share" you change your tune rather quickly.

And requiring employees to uphold their end of a contract by turning up sober, a campaign to dob in those who abuse and rip-off the system. Man, that's really harsh stuff!!! Might make a Tui billboard on the Southern Motorway.

Signs are pointing to economic recovery this year. Business confidence is up and the New Zealand dollar is in high demand. As an accountant I'm very much at the coal face of business and almost all of our clients are positive about this year and are experiencing better conditions. The jobs will come (provided there are no further increases to the minimum wage).

And I see you're still running this myth about high unemployment. Of course New Zealand is well below the OECD average of 8.2% but don't let that get in the way of your argument.

by william blake on June 01, 2011
william blake

"The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much."
- Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness, Part 1


“What are they gonna say about him? What are they gonna say? That he was a kind man? That he was a wise man? That he had plans, man? That he had wisdom? Bullshit, man!”
Willard, Apocalypse Now.

by Todd on June 01, 2011
Todd

I thought you were very restrained in your interview with Muriel Newman the other night Sue. The Jackal however is not so respectful of such dogma as that being expressed by the far right:

http://thejackalman.blogspot.com/2011/06/asshole-of-week-award-muriel-newman.html

Muriel Newman is a sad example of the privileged being completely disassociated from reality. Her divisive preaching attempts to further subjugate the already impoverished. There’s nothing so contemptuous as those with wealth arguing that those with nothing should have even less. Her vexation towards Maori is particularly sickening, not so much in that it’s blatant racism, but in that she effectively utilizes many common misconceptions to further her racially divisive argument.

by Richard Aston on June 01, 2011
Richard Aston

If cost reduction is the major driver behind these reforms I don't understand why no one is looking at the rather large elephant in the room - NZ Superannuation.

Loking at the 2011 budget NZ Super take 60% of the main welfare budget, 15.8 Billion/yr where unemployment takes 6%, DPB 12% and Invalids 8% . Is no politician brave enough to look at the huge cost of Super? Why has no politician put forward means testing for Super, everyone one over 65 gets it and surely there are plenty that don't need it .

 

by Richard Aston on June 01, 2011
Richard Aston

Sue - while I support you being critical of govt policy and action I am not sure how helpful it is to polerise it so strongly. You seem to be suggesting everything in the Rebstock is wrong and John Key and Paula Bennet are part of some axis of evil. Thats just too black and white for me.

Is there anything in the Rebstock report you think is worthwhile?

I am working my way through right now and frankly some of it seems pretty reasonable.

eg Solo parents will be encouraged ( and supported) to look for a job when their youngest is 3 yrs ( not 1yr) .
I think most working parents would be looking for work by this time , many well before, the days of single income families are well gone.

The idea for a new crown entity - NZ Employment and Support seems good , WINZ has an appalling record in case management , perhaps an agency more removed from govt will do a better and more humane job of working with beneficiarie.

by Sue Bradford on June 01, 2011
Sue Bradford

Thanks for the feedback everyone.

Richard - just to respond briefly:

* Not everything in the Rebstock report is 'wrong' - for example, I totally support recommendations that funding and access be improved for addiction treatment, and for early childhood education services.

* However, the overall drive of the report does mark the biggest shift in welfare policy since the 1930s when our current system was established, and - as is very obvious from my column and other comment -  does so in an extremely negative way.  I've given some reasons above - but overall, it's because, if implemented, the reforms will serve to deepen the punitive, sanctioning, surveillance, and harassment approach to beneficiaries without necessarily helping them improve their lives at all (eg with better health and employment outcomes); and because it would open the way for increased contracting out and privatisation of welfare add employment services.

* This 'paid work above all else' approach is also the antithesis to any sense that the work of bringing up babies and children on your own is actually worthy work in its own right, or that, for example,  trying to survive with dignity, health and happiness while suffering from lifelong psychotic illness is actually also a fulltime occupation for some.

* Re sole parents and age of worktesting - the recommendation is that for parents on welfare whose children are born when they are NOT on welfare, the age at which they'd be tested would be 3 years; for parents who have another baby while on welfare, the Welfare Working Group came up with a split recommendation - that the parent(s) should be worktested from the time the baby was either 14 weeks or 1 year old.

Because John Key has rejected the 14 week option, I am suggesting that it's likely Cabinet will pick up the alternative 1 year suggestion.  This is aimed at trying to stop people having babies while on the benefit - doesn't matter whether they're sole parents, or receiving income support for other reasons.

* Work & Income does have an appalling record, and it's getting worse - but I don't think the solution necessarily lies in setting up an arms-length Crown entity whose goal is likely to  be the maximising of contracting out of welfare/employment services to the private sector, especially if it's created under a National/ACT/Maori Party government.

by Draco T Bastard on June 01, 2011
Draco T Bastard

Even by your lofty standards Sue this has to be one of your best conspiracy theories!

Not a conspiracy theory - the delusional economic theory that both Labour and Nact have been working under since the 1980s tells them that 6% unemployment is required. That's why Bill English stated that getting unemployment below that was a hoax. With unemployment presently running at 6.6% it's well within their comfort zone because it's in the ideal place to lower wages - just as John Key said he wanted.

Solo parents will be encouraged ( and supported) to look for a job when their youngest is 3 yrs ( not 1yr) .

They already do as they can - they don't need any further encouragement. Ergo, that part is actually meaningless but, as it comes with more "stick" pushes it over into psychopathic realms.

The idea for a new crown entity - NZ Employment and Support seems good , WINZ has an appalling record in case management , perhaps an agency more removed from govt will do a better and more humane job of working with beneficiarie.

Changing the name won't change the face. Changing the policies could work but only if the policies themselves encourage WINZ to do their job (Looking after people) rather than making them the strong-arm of the government.

by Richard Aston on June 01, 2011
Richard Aston

THanks Sue for the clarification - I agree with you "bringing up babies and children on your own is actually worthy work in its own right," but extend that to all parents bringing up children. I have huge doubts about the push to get kids into day care faster and for longer so parents can work. In a humane society raising children would be valued highly and parents would get help to do this. The long term costs of scrimping on this are high.

But what about NZ Super ? Why aren't the politicians even looking at this, the cost far out weights any other social welfare benefits

 

 

by Olwyn Stewart on June 01, 2011
Olwyn Stewart

There are a set of right wing claims that are seldom said in the same breath, but when you put them together they add up to a brutal attitude, and a dangerous flirtation with outright evil. They are directed at people who are not well-off and who are in various ways at the mercy of others. Sometimes they are called the "underclass", sometimes just "these people" or "bludgers."

1. We don't want to rent houses to them
2. We don't want the state to house them using our taxes.
3. We don't want the state to waste our money educating them.
4. We don't want to employ them since they are not educated.
5. We don't want the state to keep them on our dime.

What these claims add up to is the wish to subject a large proportion of the population to absolute exclusion, and no amount of blather about personal responsibility alters that: if you are to be responsible you must have some sort of foothold that  these claims, put together, rule out.

by Tom Gould on June 01, 2011
Tom Gould

@ Richard Aston, you know the answer so why ask it? We have been down the track of income testing the pension, and the resultant political corpses lay in some mass grave somewhere. Ironically, the Tories are against the notion of universality in every respect except the pension. Is this Key's famed pragmatism or the exception that proves the rule, the born to rule rule. What is it in the crippled ego of the average Tory that makes them need to punish others in order for them to feel good about themselves?

by animalspirit on June 01, 2011
animalspirit

Key's a currency speculator rather than a "merchant banker" and was involved in the "best trade ever" according to the judgement of magazine The Economist; working with Bankers Trust against the NZ currency in 1987*.  Current National policy is very much aligned with the UK where, for example, it is to become illegal to feed homeless people in the streets of London - to change their idle behaviour!   (The best trade ever is now awarded to John Paulson shorting the US housing market etc. and making about $19 billion in a year  - a record trade- which continues to cause unemployment, misery and homelessness). 

*Article by Tett and Laugesen in the Sunday Star Times Feb 8 2008

by animalspirit on June 01, 2011
animalspirit

"Who is John Key?" title of article.  Date taken from printout.

by Richard Aston on June 01, 2011
Richard Aston

@ Tom , no I genuinely do not know the answer.  But I am finding out more.
NZ Super ( old age pension) was started in 1898 and was driven by an assistance approach ie assisting older people who did not have the means to survive. As it was targeted at those in need it was naturally means tested.   We are one of the few countries who don’t have a mandatory pension contribution scheme – kiwisaver is not mandatory. That is, we still pay for pensions out of current tax income.  Most people I have talked to say “ I’ve paid taxes all my life so now I deserve the pension” but it’s everyone else who is paying for it.
I really struggle when I hear of wealthy people collecting NZ Super it just doesn’t seem right.

by stuart munro on June 03, 2011
stuart munro

I suspect that the government are counting on a race based cleavage in New Zealand society when it comes to eroding welfare. The unemployed and solo mums are to be considered 'others', rather than family members when it comes to cutting their living standards. But as the unemployment rate climbs through the 8-10% level, it gets deep into the voting classes, which can become politically expensive.

As an economic policy, cheeseparing on the small and miserable % of New Zealanders struggling to survive on benefits in a failing economy plumbs new depths of incompetence. Even supposing savings could be made, this group has somuch less fat than any other. If a healthy country found itself short of money, it would be looking for more work.

So what's it all about? It's the Bored of the Rings strategy: any group of Gnats "are ready to take on creatures fully half their own size" and "any small stupid creature that turns its back on a group of them is bound to get a thumping." Characterizing Don Brash as having "Long sinewy fingers that spend a lot of time in other people's pockets" also seems apt.

by Matthew Percival on June 03, 2011
Matthew Percival

It didn't take long for a benefit case to come to light. Ol SBW's boxing partner seems to have a great sense of entitlement and how to rip off the system.

Richard, I too struggle with NZ Super in it's current form and can't understand why it isn't being changed.

by Andrew R on June 04, 2011
Andrew R

@Matthew Percival -- it doesn't take long for corporate welfare, tax cheating and finance company rip offs to come to light, but that doesn't seem to carry the same right wing loathing as individual welfare fraud.

Perhaps the "great sense of entitlement and how to rip the system off"  is only bad if you are poor?

Or perhaps we should conclue that all through the layers of society there are going to be bad eggs?

by on June 06, 2011
Anonymous

<i>1. We don't want to rent houses to them

2. We don't want the state to house them using our taxes.
3. We don't want the state to waste our money educating them.
4. We don't want to employ them since they are not educated.
5. We don't want the state to keep them on our dime. </i>

 

Olwyn it's not unusual but is always distressing to see such profound misunderstanding as you display, in those 5 points. For anyone to really draw those conclusions from what conservatives say and do indicates fundamental misunderstanding of who conservatives are as people, what they think and why they say and do the things they do.

Like I said it's not uncommon, however, which is a shame. What is a shame, is the political leadership on the left who have influence and who should know better, clearly don't actually know better, for they're the ones who push this false perspective more than anyone. I'm talking about people like Sue, McCarten, Hone, etc. It's sad and also disgraceful, the media just lets lies like this slip into the debate, without challenge. It just propagates a myth of hatred and anger which, while useful as a motivational force to those who propagate it, isn't really useful as a human dynamic, since it's false and it's negative, whichever way one looks at it.

 

by on June 06, 2011
Anonymous

Further to my previous, have a look at this interview with Hayek, the economist behind Rogernomics, if you want to know why conservatives think as they do, that is.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dV7-2Aua4_4&feature=player_embedded

 

by on June 07, 2011
Anonymous

What's wrong with this conversation? And not just here but in the NZ political arena in general.

It all about them, isn't it? Those others. And whatever are we (who are normal, good, nice, regular people) going to do about them, who are such a problem.

Time to wake up. They are us. I am on Invalids Benefit myself and before that was on Domestic Purposes so I am sure I have a different perspective to John Key. Paula Bennet makes a big deal of her pulling herself up by her bootstraps. But by my reckoning, her  one child was 5 by 1991, when welfare benefits, particularly those for single parents, were cut to the point where it was hard to live on them. It has got harder ever since. See http://www.caritas.org.nz/?sid=1117  Social Welfare 'Safety Net' Unravelling.

Paula Bennet sems to have come from a stable, employed business-owning family. She seems to have no experience of mental illness or serious physical health problems. I don't know whether her daughter had good physical health but some beneficiaries struggle with a number of children with chronic ill health and disabilities. Yes,  in a sense, she is a 'success story' but the "I did it so everyone else can" line is not a valid argument. People's circumstances are as varied as people are. One size does not fit all. Until NZ  politicians and govt admin gets into a respectful dialogue with all NZer's  who need income support, the 'welfare problem' will remain. Because needing income support is perceived that way by self-righteous ignorant people who have never experienced the need for it themselves. NZ is blessed to have Sue Bradford who talks  far and away the most sense on this topic.
by Olwyn Stewart on June 07, 2011
Olwyn Stewart

Reid: I'm afraid I have all of those comments from right wing mouths, even if not always at the same time, and sometimes in implicit form. I do not have time at the moment to look at your Hayek clip, though I will look at it when I do have time.But please do not imagine that I am unaware of what people like Hayek think, and the arguments with which they support their position.

On both left and right one must look beyond the philosophers to the attitudes they inspire in their fans.  And quite a few adherents of right wing philosophers and politicians are in fact given to opinions of the abovementioned kind.

No political philosophy should cloud the fact that treating the vulnerable like society's whipping boys is profoundly unjust and unworthy. No amount of big sigmas containing important-looking formulae, no amount of earnest propounding, changes that.

by Robin Warnes on March 29, 2013
Robin Warnes

by Matthew Percival on May 31, 2011

(Quote)

but it’s not because they’re lazy bludgers, but rather because Labour and National Governments in the 1980s and 1990s deliberately created mass unemployment through their economic policies

Even by your lofty standards Sue this has to be one of your best conspiracy theories!

And wow what harsh policies. You're all about the rich paying their "fair share" of tax but when it comes to beneficiaries working their "fair share" you change your tune rather quickly. … Continued

(Unquote)

Matthew,

I hope your smugness does not catch up with you!! I just wonder how long your job lasts before you become redundant and enter the real world of being one of Paula Bennett's beneficiaries. You will then be able to experience the real world of those non-harsh policies you have proclaimed. I look forward you seeing people like you losing your job proving your claim:

“And I see you're still running this myth about high unemployment. Of course New Zealand is well below the OECD average of 8.2% but don't let that get in the way of your argument”.

After all there so no high unemployment is there! I sure look forward to seeing you experience the real world and how long you remain a bludger. It will the likes of you the world of good!!

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