From eugenics to workfare, the Welfare Working Group report released on Tuesday has the potential to destroy lives, hopes - and our welfare system itself

Right now, I feel a certain reluctance to write about anything except the unfolding tragedy in Christchurch.

As people on facebook and elsewhere keep reminding me, now is not a time for party politics, or for petty factional squabbles which fade into insignificance in the face of Tuesday’s earthquake.

My heart goes out to everyone affected, including the families of the many foreign visitors it now appears may have perished in the disaster. My oldest son lives in Japan, and he says the reaction there is huge, as so many of their citizens are feared lost.

However, I am going to take a risk, and offer some comment on the Rebstock report, as I believe its implications are so dangerous that we collectively ignore them at our peril.

There is no space here to attempt a full analysis – the report is 180 pages long, and contains 43 detailed recommendations - but Gordon Campbell made a good start this morning.

Many organisations provided initial comment and feedback, perhaps the most striking coming from the NZ Council of Christian Social Services, but almost all of this has been lost from public sight, for obvious reasons.

Lost from sight also was virtually any coverage of the only direct action taken against the report, an occupation and picket of Paula Bennett’s office in Henderson, carried out in the early afternoon of 22 February by a local group of which I’m a member, Auckland Action Against Poverty.

The media focused its first reaction very much on the recommendation to impose worktesting on all beneficiaries who dared to have a child while on the benefit, starting from when their baby was 14 weeks old.

I have a strong suspicion that John Key’s ‘queasiness’  about the 14 week proposal may in the end see this stricture changed to one year, the minority position taken by the Working Group.

This would then allow John Key and Paula Bennett to portray themselves as kind and caring, in a bid to deflect criticism – a tried and true National tactic.

But it would be a grave mistake to think this is the worst of it. Just a few of the group’s other recommendations:

  • All parents on welfare should have ‘ready access to free long-acting reversible contraception’ – the beginnings of an eugenics policy worthy of Nazi Germany. I can well believe the next step will be your privately contracted health advisor suggesting termination should your state directed contraception fail.
  • Forced work for the dole for some people unemployed for six months or longer, and used as a sanctioning technique if you’re causing any bother, including failing drug tests. This workfare to be carried out in the private and community sectors - free labour for private companies, anyone?
  • The introduction of ‘income management’ for some beneficiaries, meaning the state takes almost total control of your life – as trialled in Australia’s Northern Territory.
  • As expected, all working age beneficiaries, including sole parents with young children and babies, and the sick, injured and disabled, will be eligible for one benefit only – Jobseeker Support. Health advisers and doctors will increasingly be used as a mechanism of harassment and control. Most invalid beneficiaries will face an effective benefit cut.

A UK expert, Professor Paul Gregg, says the new disability medical testing regime there is a ‘complete mess.’ It would be insane for New Zealand to emulate the UK example, as Paula Rebstock and friends would like us to do.

  • Work & Income would go, replaced by a Crown entity ‘Employment and Support New Zealand’, charged with managing the delivery of welfare focused on work, and with contracting out many functions on a competitive model.
  • Equally serious is the proposal to calculate welfare costs on an actuarial basis, as is now done with ACC, allowing successive Governments to frighten the pants off taxpayers with the prospect of ballooning welfare costs, based on totally unrealistic figures.

If Rebstock and her friends get their way, welfare in this country will never be the same again.

There are no jobs for the 100,000 sole parents, disabled, sick and injured people they want to get off the benefit. Unemployment is rising, not going down, and I don’t think that’s going to change any time soon.

Yes, let’s get more people off welfare – but let’s start with some serious job creation for the unemployed, at decent wages and conditions.

A lot of us out here in the community do have plenty of ideas about solutions to the welfare crisis – for a summary of some of these, take a look at the Welfare Justice report released just before Christmas.

But of course, no one in Government seems a jot interested in a perspective other than that provided by its hired lackeys.

And some of the Working Group members are also contractors providing services to MSD, so I guess it’s no surprise they’re keen on the further corporatisation of welfare and job services.

Paula Bennett, Paula Rebstock, Ann Dupuis, Des Gorman, Catherine Isaac, Kathryn McPherson, Enid Ratahi-Pryor, Adrian Roberts and Sharon Wilson-Davis are responsible for this report. They must be held accountable, and I hope they will be in the months ahead.

I dread an election campaign in which National uses welfare as a vote-catcher for the beneficiary bashing brigade, but I suspect that this is exactly where this report will take us.

Comments (17)

by the sprout on February 24, 2011
the sprout

Agreed - the report really exposes just what extremists Rebstock @ Co really are.

by Alec Morgan on February 25, 2011
Alec Morgan

The unlovely Rebstock and co seem indeed “moral sadists” as one commentor put it. WWG-Where do you start? Two possible initial outcomes....

• Keys not so secret election weapon: the Natz are going to encourage the physcology of ‘if you are doing it hard (eg the working poor) then put the boot into those doing it harder (the undeserving poor, beneficiaries). Demonisation of those on welfare while erroneous in high unemployment times, will likely pay electoral dividends.

• Downward pressure on wages and the minimum wage: With “Employment and Support NZ” and tame co-opted doctors feet on beneficiairies throats, many will be tempted to take any precarious work offered, want some work rights? sure, meet 90 day fire at will. Beneficiaries will again be used to undermine organised workers, two groups that really should be supportive of each other. Minimum wage to $15 now has to be near the top of the list of immediate demands for obvious reasons.

Apart from critiques of the WWG report left groups and unions need to put some real effort into helping organise or at least showing some practical solidarity with beneficiaries. A whole new group of kiwis are about to discover “mean times”.

 

by Ben Wilson on February 25, 2011
Ben Wilson

Christchurch is certainly high on everyone's minds, but we've got to talk about this report at some point. Gordon Campbell hit the nail on the head when he said this is a manufactured crisis. Especially obviously so, when we have a genuine crisis on our hands, and the solution is definitely NOT to put the boot into people who have lost everything.

I especially like the deconstruction many have made of the assault on the DPB in favour of "job seeking". That the DPB is the one benefit that *IS* for doing work - childcare. To be forcing solo mums back to work, forcing their children into childcare that the mums have to pay for, is sick ideological madness.

by Peter on February 25, 2011
Peter

Thanks for picking out those points. Even a radically scaled-back implementation of the WWG's recommendations (which may have been the intention all along) would be cause for real concern. I do take issue with some of your commentary, however:

All parents on welfare should have ‘ready access to free long-acting reversible contraception’ – the beginnings of an eugenics policy worthy of Nazi Germany.

Come on, Sue. That's a hysterical overreaction, and it insults your readers' intelligence. Do you really think the WWG is trying to introduce a eugenics programme by stealth? I would have thought you would be in favour of increased acess to free contraceptives generally?

by the sprout on February 25, 2011
the sprout

Eugenics, by any of its commonly accepted definitions, is precisely what Rebstock & Co are proposing - the WWG really is appallingly extremist in its views. Consider the arguments here:

http://thestandard.org.nz/welfare-working-group-promotes-eugenics/

 

by stuart munro on February 25, 2011
stuart munro

The real problem with the Rebstock report though, is that it fails to come to grips with a national shortfall of between 100 & 200 thousand jobs.

Instead of adopting any of the many strategies available to lift NZ out of its sustained economic problems, the National / Act / Maori party government, like an abusive parent, means to visit their inadequacies on the very people they are tasked to nurture and protect.

The prognosis is no better than for any exercise in flogging dead horses, and - since they are determined to substitute economics for ethical behaviour - whoever commissioned the study should be dismissed for wasting public money.

by Alec Morgan on February 25, 2011
Alec Morgan

@ Peter: In 2008 suspicious right wingers were detecting “nanny statism” in light sockets and showers across the land. Surely influencing citizens fertility with veiled and direct threats is state interference? So where are our brave right wing keyboard warriors now–oh that’s right solo parents are ‘slappers’ etc. not worthy of support. So don’t tell me Sue is being hysterical. I suspect overreaction is what you might see if middle class beneficiaries recieving Working For Families payments were limited to one child at Rebstock’s twisted whim.

 

by Peter on February 25, 2011
Peter

Sprout and Alec, do you seriously think that the WWG are secretly trying to improve the genetic quality of the human species through discouraging certain people from breeding? That sounds mighty similar to Sarah Palin talking about "death panels".

Look, undoubtedly the WWG want to discourage people on benefits from having further children. But their expressed reasons for this are to do with (a) reducing benefit costs and (b) a concern for the welfare of children born into families that are dependent on benefits. That is nowhere near eugenics.

Engage with the merits of either of those justifications - because they may well be pretty flimsy - but don't hysterically scream about "the beginnings of an eugenics policy worthy of Nazi Germany". That sort of hyperbole should stay with the Tea Party.

by the sprout on February 25, 2011
the sprout

do you seriously think that the WWG are secretly trying to improve the genetic quality of the human species

no, i don't. i think they're trying to promote their own ideological interests by way of manipulating reproduction, under a very thin veil of supposed public interest

by Matthew Percival on February 26, 2011
Matthew Percival

I was most encouraged by the recommendations of the Working Welfare Group.

In reading summaries of their recommendations genuine beneficiaries who are actively looking for work have nothing to fear. The recommendations will however go some way to weeding out those who bludge the system.

Sue, does the Auckland Anti Poverty Group want to grandstand or actually tackle poverty? Surely the main cause of child poverty by definition is people having children with insufficient financial means to raise them?

Unemployment isn't rising, it's been consistently up and down between 6 and 7% in the last year and a half.

As far as job creation is concerned we are at the whim of the global economy. As it stands NZ has the 12th lowest unemployment rate in the OECD out of 34 nations, an outstanding achievement given our isolation and our lack of willingness to commit to viable mining.

But of course, no one in Government seems a jot interested in a perspective other than that provided by its hired lackeys.

Nor they should be. This government wasn't elected on the principles of the Alliance Party!

by Ruth on February 26, 2011
Ruth

Sue, thanks for your sensitivity and acknowledgement of the quake. You will know that issues of equity become even more critical in times of vulnerability and disaster with those with less social capital disadvantaged. So what you are saying is really really important...

I am doing a PhD about neoliberalism and maternity (drawing a lot on Michel Foucault's ideas) and have tracked the dominant ideologies and disocurses about maternity from the time of the Enlightenment (in a very selective and potted way) and realise that there isn't much new under the sun.

Eugenicists view social problems as technical problems that can be addressed through biological solutions ie management of reproduction. Regulating the reproduction of those considered to be a burden on society, mean that the well being of the population can be secured and is a manifestation of biopower (Foucault) through the subjugation of bodies and the control of populations. This notion of reproduction as a managed process rather than a biological process has led to the construction of women’s bodies as objects of surveillance and management.There's a long history of putting measures in place so that the 'right' people reproduce (pronatalism) and the 'wrong" ones don't (antinatalism) worldwide but our own historical example is Plunket. Truby King was committed to the notion of eugenics and the improvement of the race through selective breeding. He promulgated the view that it was the moral responsibility of some women to bear children in order for the white British Empire to be sustained. Widespread support for the eugenicist endeavour was evident in a New Zealand Medical Journal editorial (1908), where the work of the Plunket Society was lauded as essential to the 'permanence of what we believe to be the finest race that the world has ever produced — we mean the Anglo-Saxon race'.

Pronatalist and anti-natalist ideologies often occurred concurrently, for example, breastfeeding in Nazi Germany was obligatory and women were awarded a medal (called the Mutterkreuz) for rearing four or more children. At the same time extreme anti-natal racial hygiene doctrines were implemented against ‘unfit mothers’ resulting in forced sterilisations and abortions for women with mental or physical handicaps, and women such as Jews, Gypsies and Slavs..

Very alarmig and worrying to see this tenor in our politics..

Ruth

www.ruthdesouza.com

by william blake on February 27, 2011
william blake

Matthew Percival / Hooton makes me want to bring up Paula Bennett's hypocrisy in raising her own child on the DPB and taking a self improvement grant for the very studies that got her into politics and then slamming the door on other women by cutting the grants, but that would be petty.

Does Paula Bennett have issues with other beneficiaries following in her footsteps, or is it just women?  Makes me feel queasy.

by Matthew Percival on February 27, 2011
Matthew Percival

William, I don't necessarily agree with the decision to axe that particular grant.

by peasantpete on February 28, 2011
peasantpete

Actually, this report bears an interesting resemblance to reports about WMD in Iraq.

A helluva lot of appeal for gung ho attacks on an apparent. threat.

No real reference to actual facts.

It is so easy to relax in Hawaii, while the serfs struggle to survive in nz.

by on March 06, 2011
Anonymous

Nowhere is the report does it address that some of the case managers are corrupt and that they directly cause some of the dependency problems.

Myself I was on invalids last year, winz told me my health has improved, I told them that it had not changed, winz forced me sign a privacy waiver, so they could get my docttor records,I told them my heath had not changed, they would not listen

I was sent to a work assessment doctor 200k from my home for him to tell me that I have arthritis in my hands, this directly conflicts with my specalist that who says the damage is permanent from nerve damage, so this designated doctor had no medical records and he told me that he does not need them.  The Privacy wavier winz did not even contact my GP  WOW now according to winz  I'm cured  , but my Gp says he cant agrue with another doctor opinion, he knows the struggle I go thou but his hands are tied he made out a 12month certificate, when I took that in winz says oh we don't take and notice of that. we'll just send for another one that says 3 months, I know have to pay extra GP fees on my $194 benefit.

I am on temporary Sickness now not invalids with intractable nerve pain and IBS bowel /bladder problems, fibromyalgia, chronic Myofascial Pain syndrome, they want me on UB soon, what a load of crock this document is when winz are a law unto themselves different case worker tell you to do different things and you cannot change a medical opinion that winz have sought?  Something has always been wrong in the way clients are handled, this reform will do nothing but make some peoples lives more miserable. You cannot agrue with  a winz medical assessment Their decision is final , this to me  is against the law, and I have decided to approach anyone I can to make people see that the answer to this problem is not alwalys solely the beneficiaries fault !!!

by Graham-Michoel Wills on February 28, 2012
Graham-Michoel Wills

Paula Bennett, the Minister for Social Development, appears to be unable to understand the fundamental meaning of her ministerial title, that of social development.  Her latest statements give a perception that any job will work for anyone  -  that any job is better than being a beneficiary.  In part she may be right, but I would suggest that the person who can put his or her mind to just any job represents just a tiny minority of those seeking employment.

I suffer with both a mild form of Parkinsons, ( euphemistically labelled ‘controlled Parkinsons’ ), and also Chronic Pain Disease.  These two conditions combined severely limit not only the sort of work that is an option for me but also the number of hours in a day that I have the maximum energy  to operate equipment of any kind, ( including the use of this home PC keyboard ). My medical practitioners stipulate a maximum of 4-5 hours a day.  On a good day that is OK, but even the best of days come one at a time, perhaps resulting in ten good hours within the working week.

In December 2010 I was found a place in the Mainstream programme with a local college of technology.  At first sight this looked good and my doctor approved an absolute maximum of 20-25 hours a week.  Three factors resulted in the termination of a two year contract only nine months into the programme …

  • A failure on the part of Work and Income New Zealand to comply with the agreed financial support to enable me to get to work.
  • An almost non-existent support network on the part of the employer.
  • A resulting tension that made for a rapid deterioration in my health and well-bing.

I would love to be able to take any job that is available, simply because I should like to work and reap the benefits of a reasonable income.  As a sickness beneficiary such opportunities are extremely limited.

Ms Bennett and the present Government appear to live with the notion that the jobs are there just for the picking.  Appreciating it is now a couple of years ago, but prior to entering the Mainstream programme I had applied for almost 400 positions in the space of one year.  There may well have been a slight improvement over the past twelve months or so, but for a person of my age and condition there is simply next to nothing.  I sincerely hope that when the next round of ‘beneficiary bashing’ comes along, those who have a greater understanding of the overall situation than Ms Bennett will speak out against that kind of nonsense and the inability of this present Government to fully understand the really understand the fuller picture of social development.

As has been illustrated on the TV news this evening, regardless of the obsession this Government has with young people getting into work and/or training, their a great many older and very sick people who are not receiving the support that is theirs by right after decades of paying taxes that were to benefit them in old age.

G-M Wills

28 February 2012

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