Arrested for the first time in over a decade in protest against welfare reforms - a response to the critics - and I also stage a return to Pundit

Yesterday I was arrested on a protest action for the first time since before I was elected to Parliament in 1999. It’s been a while.

There has been heaps of support coming in from people  all over the country who understand why  Auckland Action Against Poverty mounted an occupation of the regional Ministry of Social Development office in the wake of Paula Bennett’s latest welfare announcement.

At the same time, there have, of course, been complaints arriving as well, particularly via social media. I’m going to respond to a few of these, for the benefit of those who don’t quite understand why some of us chose to protest yesterday, even at the almost certain risk of arrest and prosecution.

‘I don’t get how tying yourself to a desk at MSD does any good.’

Five of us chained ourselves around a pillar in the middle of the MSD office, two others scaled the roof and draped a banner from it, while the rest of our group held a rowdy picket outside.

The reason for this action was to highlight the anger and desperation so many people feel about the National Government’s ongoing welfare changes  and the impact they are having on hundreds of thousands of unemployed people and beneficiaries – and their children.

On Monday night Campbell Live screened a segment comparing school lunches in two different parts of Auckland. Many people, including, I believe, hardened journos, were saddened by what this revealed.

The current tragedy is that the changes being so enthusiastically promoted by Paula Bennett will only lead to even more children going without lunch – or dinner, or decent clothing – or even a home at all.

By using sanctions that cut people’s benefits by 50% or 100% for not following all sorts of new rules, the outcome will be that even more children will go without.

Many people on income support are in too vulnerable a position to speak up or protest, especially in the climate of fear generated by the Natasha Fuller case

I believe that it is vital that those of us who care and who are in a position to take action do so.

These reforms in their totality are brutal and pointless, aimed simply at cutting beneficiary numbers as fast as possible, rather than taking any account (apart from the human costs) of what the taxpayer will have to pay downstream – see this recent calculation that current child poverty levels already cost us $10b a year.

Non-violent direct action which highlights and confronts Government policies which endanger peoples’ wellbeing is as valid a tool of political action as becoming an MP,  possibly even more so, given the current Parliament’s inability to deal with the endemic and deepening poverty, unemployment and housing crises.

'How many people were denied help yesterday because WINZ staffers couldn’t do their jobs?'

Our group is well aware of the risk of disrupting Work & Income offices. We had no intention of making life harder for people coming in for assistance. This is why we chose to occupy the regional head office of MSD which is not a place where members of the public come for help.

‘Sue, grow up … get real and stop being a victim.’

Actually, I rather think I grew up quite a long time ago, when I realised in my early teens that we live in a world where the only way to channel sheer anger at injustice, war and oppression was to organise with others to fight back and change our economic and political system to one in which every child that’s born has a chance of a decent life, not just some of us.

I don’t see myself as a victim in any way whatsoever, nor do I pretend to be one for some unfathomable reason.

While we’ve got a Government which delights in waging war on its most vulnerable citizens I think the most mature, un-victim like response is indeed to work with others to expose and oppose what’s going on.

And to those who might say that our actions are all about oppositional politics and not about solutions – in fact, I have since 1983 done a lot of work, with others, on putting up alternative solutions to unemployment and poverty, and even went to Parliament for 10 years in the hope I‘d get a chance to implement them.

Failing that, I've returned to the streets… and the cells… and to university, where I’m  a full-time doctoral candidate in public policy.

'Having an iPad on a protest?"

Well, fancy – yes, you WhaleOil.  Yes, I took an iPad into yesterday’s occupation so I could communicate via facebook and twitter about what was happening – at least until the police seized all our belongings.

I can’t quite see the problem here – after all,  we live in a world where right and left alike have lauded the Arab Spring protesters for their use of  social media.

Seems as though in some people’s eyes such lauding only applies when it’s in someone else’s country.  

Some of you may have noticed that it’s over a year since I last posted a blog for Pundit.

I took time out when I was selected to stand for the Mana Movement in last year’s general election, as this forum certainly isn’t a suitable vehicle for political party platforms.

We are now well out of the election zone, so I’m back.

It’s good to be here, and I look forward to re engaging with all you Pundit crew and readers.

 

Comments (13)

by Eleanor Black on September 19, 2012
Eleanor Black

Great to have you back, Sue!

by Pete Sime on September 20, 2012
Pete Sime

Sue I have to say back in the 90s, I was just an apathetic teen. I viewed you as a trouble-maker then. Sorry. But I've  come to realise not only the scale of poverty that exists in New Zealand society today, but also the degradation that those who live with it have to suffer. A freezing works or a paper mill or a mine shuts down somewhere and not only do the workers lose their jobs, they're made to lose their dignity.

I have a lot of advantages - educated, professional, male, caucasian (John Scalzi once wrote that being a straight white male is the lowest difficulty setting in the game of life), what worries me is that those who share my advantages (and more) have such a blinkered view to what's going on in NZ society. A wake-up call is needed. I think you're acting on Gandhi's advice and being the change you want to see in this world. Kia kaha.

by Richard Aston on September 20, 2012
Richard Aston

Good to see you back in this blog context Sue. Good on ya for the protest and I hope it keeps the debate over the benefit changes alive and kicking. They just don't make economic or social senses at all , they are just politics . The scary thing for me is its working. Looking at the vitriol pouring out in places like Whale Oil and Paula Bennett's facebook I am alarmed at the number of people strongly in support of these harsh revisions of the social contract . The reasons are lightweight in the extreme but more than that . There is a punishing retributive thread in this support, like rabid dogs who on smelling blood start a pack mauling.

Its the old  we are getting tough on .... criminals, maori, asian immigrants, boat people, youth and today.. beneficiaries. Isolate out a group , dehumanise them then blame them for some such woe and watch the rabid dogs come out baying.

I depair sometimes.

 

 

 

by Sue Bradford on September 20, 2012
Sue Bradford

Kia ora Eleanor for your kind words of welcome, & to Pete & Richard for your support.  The new Social Security (Benefit Categories and Work Focus) Amendment bill has just sped through its first reading in Parliament with the shameful backing of NZ First.  Makes it look even more likely that Winston & co are readying themselves to prop up a National Govt next time around in 2014, while joining in the chorus of self righteous right wingers who just love any legislation which punishes, condemns and harasses  unemployed people and beneficiaries.

Hope I'll see some of you Pundit readers on the streets next time we take action!

by DeepRed on September 22, 2012
DeepRed

If you need to adopt a stark symbol of protest, I can't think of a better example than the black triangle badge. It's being done in Britain by the disabled rights movement, in response to things like being tipped out of wheelchairs upon suspicion of faking disabilities.

As for me, I'd be more a red triangle type.

by stuart munro on September 23, 2012
stuart munro

It will be a fine day when NZ's unemployed get to Winz interview John Key.

UB: Did you look for work?

JK: Ah... yeah sure, but there's not much about eh...

UB: We don't pay you just to sit on your bum you know - what did you do?

JL: I had lunch with some merchant bankers...

UB: I'm afraid that's just not good enough. I'm halving your benefit, and we'll look at

       sending you on a time-wasting course unless...

JK: Look, I'm really trying, unless what?

UB: Unless you come up with the 170 000 jobs you lied about to get elected.

by Rab McDowell on September 23, 2012
Rab McDowell

Sue,
You feel your actions are justified. Presumably, you think they were worth it and will make a difference, but what is the difference you wish to make? What would you do if you had the power to fix the problems?

Many governments have tried and all have failed to one degree or another.

I would assume you would strongly disagree with Rodney Hide in his Herald column but I would like you to comment on his statement “The lack of breakfast is not caused by a lack of money. It's caused by a lack of care. That lack of care can't be fixed by giving parents more money. Handing parents more money doesn't make them care more.”

Is he wrong? Will giving parents more money make them care more? What should we give them?

by Raymond A Francis on September 23, 2012
Raymond A Francis

All that protest plus time in Parliment and we still have poverty and the police shooting workers in South Africa. The only inprovement is that it is black policemen doing the shooting can't see that I see that as an improvement and your time well spent

by stuart munro on September 23, 2012
stuart munro

@ Rab McDowel

“The lack of breakfast is not caused by a lack of money. It's caused by a lack of care."

Perhaps you need to spend a little time on a benefit to understand. It is inadequate to retain any degree of self-respect. There is little or no provision for contingencies. Being unemployed means giving up on insurance, often no phone, sometimes sporadic electricity. It may mean walking instead of catching a bus, and stocking less and less variety in your cupboards. The end state leaves a person vulnerable to any unexpected expense - and with user pays and gst there are many of these.

The oft-cited lazy bludgers are those who have reached a realistic assessment of their chances of getting a job in an economy with 400,000 out of work. Even photocopying CVs and travelling to interviews become unaffordable after a while, if they show no signs of paying off.

NZ is not a market economy. There is no competition to speak of in the food sector, and little in provision of rental housing. The much touted economic growth that was the excuse for looting the public sector has proven to be illusory.

But you're right about the lack of care. Key dug deep for foreign investors in SFC, they didn't lose a cent, in fact they made a profit - one and a half billion forked over without so much as blinking. But when it comes to a few million for starving New Zealand children he's suddenly got to be careful.

Get it straight - the behavorial problems of NZ's unemployed are best cured by stable, meaningful, properly rewarded work. 95% percent of them don't need anything else.

by Sue Bradford on September 24, 2012
Sue Bradford

@Rab McDowell - Stuart has already admirably answered your question, but I"ll offer the courtesy of a short response of my own to your questions: 'What is the difference you wish to make?  What would you do if you had the power to fix the problems?.. What should we give parents?'

These questions are worthy of a manifesto, but just a few ideas to begin with - if I was in Government (which I spent four elections attempting) I would propose - in the area of unemployment and welfare:

* Throwing out the existing Social Security Act (1964) and starting again with a much simplified welfare system based on principles of simplicity, efficiency, sufficiency- ie enough for people to live on with dignity; - and universality - eg the immediate application of the Working For Families 'in work tax credit' to all families within the income limits, not just some of them.

* Commit Government resources to some serious work on how a Universal Basic Income/Citizens' Income could be implemented in NZ, replacing our current welfare and tax regime altogether.  Note that Gareth Morgan, from a different part of the political spectrum from where I sit, advocates something very similar - how we'd pay for it is where we'd differ, I suspect.

* Make job creation an underlying priority of Government's fiscal, economic and social priorities, eg through local procurement programmes; a commitment to supporting the job creation potential of the community sector; and through direct job creation by government and local government.  One good first step - build 20,000 state houses each year for the next two years with the goal of providing decent housing for those who desperately need it at the same time as creating jobs and offering more training opportunities for some of our many unemployed people.

* Immediately reverse the whole punitive shame and blame attitude of Work & Income and MSD which underpins the current approach to income support in this country.  Treat people who are unemployed, sole parents, sick, injured and/or disabled with decent respect and humanity, not as people who are somehow less worthy than everyone else. 

I could go on.   But this will give you some sense of where I'm coming from on this. 

 

 

 

 

 

by stuart munro on September 24, 2012
stuart munro

Nice Sue - & I want to see that manifesto one day.

by Fiona on September 29, 2012
Fiona

Sue why don't more advocacy groups make complaints to the UN? I mean they gave Canada a rark up over their food security record. So surely NZ fall into the same category.

UN Food Envoy Oliver De Schutter blasted Canada for its widespread problem of food insecurity, stating that the country needs to drop its “self-righteous” attitude about how great a country it is.

http://thecanadianpoliticalscene.blogspot.co.nz/2012/05/un-slams-canadas-appallingly-poor-food.html

by Elana Maree on October 10, 2012
Elana Maree

Hon Sue Bradford           the  most outstanding MP this country ever had....miss you in the House of the People representing the people.   but keep up the good work outside for the people of Aotearoa...........MPs are people ordinary people from all walks of life that present themselves every 3 years for our scrutany and hope we will give them a Pass ...and our vote.........this means we consider this person suitable to represent us in Our House the House of the People built on the people's money (taxes) over many years............we will then pay these people to represent us in our Parliament and to administer our tax purse.........that means we want honest people in there.....like Sue Bradford............to provide the services the people need and are paying for through their taxes  - hard earned money from their working for wages/salaries over 50 hours a week or more............we cant say that this present Government MPs are providing all the services ALL the people need at this present time.........WHY??? all taxpaying citizens are entitled to share in the tax purse.........to provide for whatever they may need at the present moment..........NZ Super basic retirement tax funded state pension is no exception............SO we agree GOVERNMENTS HAVE NO MONEY..........they only have THE PEOPLE'S MONEY (their taxmonies taken from their hard earned incomes          savings     via GST  on their foods etc          )   when are we going to get good HONEST PEOPLE TO REPRESENT US IN OUR PARLIAMENT?????????  with integrity, honesty, truthfulness, with a sense of justice for all the people of Aotearoa.......first and foremost.......then go out to the rest of the world     when our own backyard is cleaned up and looked after FIRST.....

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