Susan St John accuses me of “visionless pro-work rhetoric” for writing in my blog about Labour’s position on extending the Working For Families tax credit to families not in work.

I’m not sure if Susan St John thinks it would be more visionary to be ‘anti-work’. I’m proud to support the core Labour value of work. The best way out of poverty is a well-paid job. The Labour movement is founded on the entitlement of working people to dignity through work and security when we can’t.

Those of us who have been in and around families needing benefits to live on have experienced the cycle of getting work, getting off the benefit and then getting back into it again. Work is the central security in our lives.

There will always be many who can’t work (or, often, could work but should not have to, such as many mothers of young children and many sick and disabled individuals among others.) Being ‘pro-work’ does not mean giving up on them or failing to represent them.

But my point was that you win the argument about doing more to help families on benefits if you can win the trust of those who are only two pay checks away from being on a benefit themselves.

Susan St John’s position implies the only way to help beneficiaries is by extending the in-work tax credit to beneficiaries. Yet we know that policy is unpopular.

So why don’t we get support to reduce child poverty and inequality? She implies the in-work tax credit for beneficiaries is unpopular because of the way it is framed. Others often say it is because voters don’t care about child poverty and inequality. I disagree.

Most New Zealanders really do care about child poverty. They understand the significance of increasing cash payments to beneficiaries. They’re not sceptical about the goal - they are sceptical about the in-work tax credit being the right tool to use.

It is revealing that, in an extensive quote from my previous column she left out this one:

Only when we do that job properly (representing working people) do we win the trust of people to increase benefit levels; because another Labour principle is compassion.”

Yet that is the main point I was making: we lost trust. We have to ask why.

Susan conflates everyone who doesn’t agree with extending the in-work tax credit, with beneficiary bashers. She says,“What heart would have been taken by those who despair at the crude work focus of current policies for children? Why was it so hard for Labour to devise a means of making work pay that did not damage children?”

There are many ways to skin the cat she is talking about - and realistically they involve some rethinking of the welfare system. Labour should be prepared to do this because we created the welfare system. We believe in it. We should be the ones to propose reform.

We should not be terrified of having a debate about re-thinking our models in case falsely accused of benny-bashing, because then the left will abandon welfare reform to the right - who don’t even believe in it. There are certainly some beneficiary bashers in this debate, and they can be noisy. But their values don’t reflect the attitudes of most.

Maybe one reason people don’t support extending the in-work tax credit is that they don’t believe it will be effective in getting through to the children who need it most; that you actually need to take responsibility as a wider community for the care of our most vulnerable. I think that’s what we mean when we support giving breakfasts to kids in school - we don’t just give their parents the money to buy those breakfasts because we need to make sure the kids actually get fed.

If you think just giving their parents more money is the only answer, then you don’t support giving the kids breakfast in schools because every dollar spent on the breakfast is a dollar not given to their parents and visa versa. It’s either extend an in-work tax credit to people not in work, or pay for the kids breakfast directly. Which is going to do more to reduce child poverty?

We could consider other models that devolve more of the welfare system to community groups working more closely with people in need than WINZ - I’m thinking of aspects of whanau ora.

When National talks about ‘wrap around care’, it is chanelling a community’s desire to help. We will all but abandon the contest of ideas if we can only say in response  “just extend the in-work tax credit to people who aren’t in work.”

Here’s another quote from my blog about what it means to be Labour, that Susan left out:

“We will be there for you when you're down on your luck and lose a job. And we'll make sure you are treated with dignity by having a high enough benefit to live on.”

Comments (16)

by stuart munro on September 28, 2014
stuart munro

Perhaps the problem is that the beneficiary bashers really deserve to be taken to task as the cruel and above all ineffective monsters they are. That however includes the surviving rump of neo-liberal Labour. We still have slave workers in NZ and no-one is working to eliminate the practice. It is shameful.

by John Hurley on September 28, 2014
John Hurley

I remember working at a meat works if someone was a bit slow they would call him (behind his back) "a real tired bastard". They were also a bit down on "solo mums".

But these weren't "solo mums" on the other side of town they were "solo mums" who were friends of their wives, daughters etc. Society has made those judgements since sabre tooth tigers preyed on them.

Those workers aren't necessarily lacking in social intelligence or compassion but they understand human nature and evolutionarily their bones will tell them the plot includes times of plenty and of famine. So when they read about crime and truancy and see kids hanging around malls and when they hear the Kahui whanau between them took home $1800/ week it doesn't square with the rhetoric. The thing is workers want welfare but they want inteligent welfare.

I think.

 

by John Hurley on September 28, 2014
John Hurley

Ideology apperas to influence judgements overall but not at the individual level (that cuts both ways).

The second approach to explaining the dependence of welfare opinion on the perceived effort of recipients has focused on individual-level explanations that link the judgments to higher-order reasoning structures such as ideology. Indeed, several studies have documented that people on the political right wing (i.e., conservatives) are more likely to attribute welfare recipients’ need to laziness, while liberals are more likely to view recipients’ need as the product of external circumstances (see Skitka & Tetlock, 1993; Skitka, Mullen, Griffin, Hutchinson, & Chamberlin,
2002). Based on such findings, researchers have argued that deservingness judgments are somewhat effortful cognitive processes undertaken to support preexisting ideological commitments (e.g., Skitka et al., 2002). While this proposal is highly plausible, several observations suggest that the preoccupation with the effort of needy individuals is grounded in psychological processes that preexist ideology. First, if people engage in deservingness judgments from some culturally specific
ideology, then people who have different or opposing ideologies ought not to provide parallel judgments. Yet they do. In a recent study, Petersen et al. (2011) demonstrated that while egalitarians and nonegalitarians might disagree in the abstract about welfare recipient deservingness, ideological differences vanish when asked to judge the deservingness of specific welfare recipients. In achieving this effect, deservingness judgments were shown to operate in an automated
fashion, picking up cues and informing welfare opinions effortlessly (Petersen et al., 2011). Moreover, research in psychology on deservingness judgments show that individuals across cultures spontaneously judge the motivations of needy individuals in all kinds of everyday interactions— from lending exam notes to fellow students to helping a drunken person in the subway (Weiner, 1995). The importance of deservingness judgments, then, is not confined to issues (such as welfare) drawn from the domain of political ideology (see also Petersen, 2012). Such results cast
doubt on claims that such judgments are solely the products of culturally learned ideologies.
Indeed, they raise the question of whether elements of an underlying human universal psychology might be participating as well.

 

by barry on September 28, 2014
barry

"In work tax credit" is an employer subsidy.  If we could get employers to pay living wages then it wouldn't be needed.  Arguing that it is alright to give additional money to feed children of the working poor but let those of beneficiaries starve, is not pro-work, it is pro-slavery.

The way to get people off benefits is not to punish them, but to create jobs (and living wage jobs).  Anything else is a distraction.

by Ross on September 28, 2014
Ross

<em>The best way out of poverty is a well-paid job.</em>

Straw man. Susan hasn't said otherwise. There are tens of thousands of unemployed and many of these are on welfare. Speaking about well-paid jobs is great but then it doesn't put food on the table and certainly doesn't help kids. Believe it or not, but there were thousands of unemployed under the last Labour government.

by Ross on September 28, 2014
Ross

At the end of last year it was reported that 1 in 6 kids dont have access to the basic necessities. That doesnt include just food. Schools providing meals is great and worthwhile. But clearly it is not sufficient. Why not a tax credit as well?

by Katharine Moody on September 28, 2014
Katharine Moody

What Labour should be working at and planning for is forcing by-elections in the Papakura, Pakuranga and Hellensville electorates. Surely the restoration of democracy is far more important than the Labour party;

http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PO1409/S00537/hate-merchants-at-it-again-...

You folks are in opposition - start acting like it.

by Wayne Mapp on September 28, 2014
Wayne Mapp

Katherine,

Byelections in Helensville, Papakura, Pakuranga, are you serious? You may not have noticed, but John Key has just increased the Nats vote share. 

by Katharine Moody on September 28, 2014
Katharine Moody

Absolutely serious. Sure the Nats might win them again in a by-election but that's not the point.

by Eliza on September 28, 2014
Eliza
  • The name "in work tax credit" misleads. You don't get it just because you're in paid employment, you have to work more than 30 hours as a couple or 20 hours as a sole parent. The thresholds apply no matter what age the child or what the reason is for not working more. If you work 15 hours a week as a sole parent of a preschooler, you don't get it. But if you and your partner are living together and each work 15 hours a week, you do get it. This makes absolutely no sense.
  • Gross income is used to calculate eligibility for working for families (except the minimum family tax credit, which goes by net). Assets are not taken into account. Parents on a high hourly rate who chose to cut back on hours (e.g. to a combined 40) will receive as much of an income top-up as parents on half the hourly rate, working double the hours. Middle-income parents with student loans can end up no better off cash-in-hand than low-income parents who didn't study. Families living in homes they own freehold can get the credits, while families earning above the threshold but paying half their income in rent will miss out, even if they end up with a lower-quartile income once housing costs are deducted. Also, the effective marginal tax rates significantly reduce the impetus for mothers to return to work after maternity leave, provided their partners are employed - the opposite of providing incentives for work.
  • If your working hours vary week to week, you only get the in work tax credit in the weeks you work more than the hours threshold -  which is very harsh on  seasonal workers, contractors, and casual workers.
It's a mess, Susan St John has spent a decade examining how it could be improved to address the perverse incentives and various unfair results. It's not just about giving more money to beneficiaries with children (though that's a reasonable suggestion), it's about devising a form of financial support for families that actually works. 

 

 

by Josie Pagani on September 29, 2014
Josie Pagani

Eliza - yes there are fairness issues with WFF, which is one reason why there might be better models to deliver help for families. The point I'm making is  - why isn't there any support to do something about this? We don't have enough trust to extend the scheme and we have to engage with why that is. We need to focus on the argument we can win - which is getting help to people who need it and reducing child poverty - rather than taking an entrenched position on one tool. I wouldn't be too cynical about WFF. It helped alot of families over the last few years when wage increases were non-existence for many. Labour's contribution to getting us through the last 5 years has not receive the recognition it deserves.

by Brendon Mills on September 29, 2014
Brendon Mills

You write articles like this and you wonder why you get accused of being a "Fox News Democrat" and "National-lite".

You claim to be left, and then you speak in support of privatisation of the welfare system by supporting whanau ora - which seems to be about iwi social workers coming in and telling families how to live their lives. I read about one of them telling one mother to ditch her landline. I am sure that she would appreciate standing in a cold phone box with a bunch of kids begging the power company to keep their power on.

If the way out of poverty is work, then we need to relook at the current methods of finding work i.e. spending hours writing CV's and application letters and sending them out, hoping that you would be 'chosen' by an employer (rather like winning the lottery).

 

by Brendon Mills on September 29, 2014
Brendon Mills

You write articles like this and you wonder why you get accused of being a "Fox News Democrat" and "National-lite".

You claim to be left, and then you speak in support of privatisation of the welfare system by supporting whanau ora - which seems to be about iwi social workers coming in and telling families how to live their lives. I read about one of them telling one mother to ditch her landline. I am sure that she would appreciate standing in a cold phone box with a bunch of kids begging the power company to keep their power on.

If the way out of poverty is work, then we need to relook at the current methods of finding work i.e. spending hours writing CV's and application letters and sending them out, hoping that you would be 'chosen' by an employer (rather like winning the lottery).

 

by Brendon Mills on September 29, 2014
Brendon Mills

And Josie - what would your welfare system look like. Imagine that you became PM, and you had a full mandate to build the welfare and state housing system from the ground up.

Prove to the people at The Standard that you are not a right wing Fox News Democrat.

by Josie Pagani on September 30, 2014
Josie Pagani

Brendon. The left has always has a problem devolving real power to Maori community groups because we mistakenly see it as a negative move to privatisation. There's a reason why Maori walked away from Labour. They think we don't get this. We have to have the courage to see past some of our own knee-jerk assumptions about public versus private. I am not advocating privatisation of welfare. I am advocating sharing decision making in more than a token way. Unless you think having Maori names on government department letter heads is sufficient.

 

by Brendon Mills on September 30, 2014
Brendon Mills

In case you didnt notice Josie, but in the past 9 years, Labour has recaptured all but one of the 7 Maori seats. And depending how things go over the next 3 years, I reckon they will probably capture that one too. Its because when you hand control over the welfare budget to iwi, all you end up is with a Maori aristocracy trying to lord it over those at the bottom. In fact, that is pretty much what the Maori party stands for.

You have iwi groups wanting to have all the state houses in Whakatane and Gisborne for example. Leading too, at best, uncertanty for tenants, who if nothing else, have a affordable place for a relatively secure amount of time, with a landlord that actually fixes things. Do you support the handing over of the state housing system to iwi?

 

History has shown that the 'pakeha' welfare system lifted more Maori out of poverty than iwi ever will (We handed iwi half the fishing quota and they simply cannot be bothered using their own vessels and employing their own people to catch them - crying poor every time). We had Maori Affairs loans that helped Maori into home ownership, a big step up from the dirt floors that Apriana Ngata expected them to live on,

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