$60 a start, but welfare reforms must go too

By   /   January 30, 2014  /   32 Comments

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Labour’s new “Best Start” policy of an extra $60 a week would be a welcome reprieve for hungry families. Yet any real improvements for the 600,000 Kiwis living below the poverty line will mean getting rid of National’s welfare reforms.

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Labour’s new “Best Start” policy of an extra $60 a week would be a welcome reprieve for hungry families. Yet any real improvements for the 600,000 Kiwis living below the poverty line will mean getting rid of National’s welfare reforms.

I came across numerous beneficiaries suffering under National’s welfare cuts when I volunteered as a beneficiary advocate last year. One young man had his benefit reduced by 50 per cent for four weeks because he hadn’t shown up to one of the JobSeeker seminars. He actually arrived on time for the workshop, but was told the venue had changed when he arrived. An elderly Pacific Islander and recent migrant had her benefit cut after receiving letters in the mail she couldn’t understand. Another had her benefit cut because she waited for her late case manager for an hour and then had to go home before it was dark because she couldn’t afford a bus or train.

These horror stories are all too common. One aspect of Paula Bennett’s “pull-the-benefit” reforms is cutting or reducing them if strict conditions are not met. Conditions include being available for work preparation even if it means attending the same seminar five times and taking whatever job is going. A person who has their benefit cancelled is stood down for 13 weeks even if they re-comply with their obligations.

Between October 2010 and November 2012, a total of 16,063 parents and their kids were sanctioned. The benefit for a couple with one or more children is $341.60 per week. Sanctions on this family could mean losing half their income. What family can afford to meet their food, rent and other basic expenses on $170.80 a week? This leads to poor health, evictions and kids going to school hungry.

There is currently a trial underway to get sole parents and those with mental health issues off benefits. Specialist providers are paid up to $12,000 to get one person off a benefit and into work. Yet funding is not available to those with mental health issues to get the professional support they may need to get back into work. Training or up-skilling isn’t available either.

Where are these jobs providers will miraculously deliver? A Ministry of Social Development official told a radio host “I think the jobs are there”. Helpful. Even if there were jobs available, employers are unlikely to select someone who has severe mental health requirements, complicated childcare arrangements or drug and alcohol issues over thousands of qualified job-seekers desperately seeking work.

The $12,000 incentive will pressure people into accepting unsuitable jobs. The pressure for the provider to reach their targets will create an ‘any job is better than no job’ mentality . These will be the first jobs to go when the economy falls and these newly placed workers are back at square one.

Many middle and upper class New Zealanders have no idea of how awful and complicated the process of recieving a social welfare benefit can be. This means addressing beneficiaries’ concerns appears to be a no-go area for political parties wooing middle New Zealand.

The Best Start policy is just that – a start. On its own it doesn’t address the key reasons families remain in poverty: punitive and discriminatory welfare legislation. What we need to hear loud and clear from those wanting to be a part of the next Government is a commitment to tackling poverty and to dumping these welfare reforms.

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32 Comments

  1. janine says:

    Exactly right!
    This baby bonus is not going to help the thousands caught in this vicious welfare trap designed by MSD.

    We now have many old, sick, mentally and physically unwell forced to compete for jobs that in many cases are simply not there.
    And if they are there and the above ( old or unwell) person gets this job they are then depriving a young, fit person who is at the beginning of their career and needs the work to develop a future.

    Labour plans to make superannuation eligibility as 67 years. Does this now mean that people in their late fifties and first half of their sixties, who are unemployed, will be forced to spend two more years being humiliated down at the nanny state WINZ office?

    You can bet your last dollar it does!
    Labour are going to have to do a lot better than this to get my vote… even my electorate vote and I am in an extremely marginal seat…

    C’mon Labour are you an alternative to this crap or still National lite.

  2. inanimouse says:

    “I think the jobs are there”
    Really, is that the best she can do?
    Also, giving a third party $12,000 to get someone with mental health issues off a benefit, yet not giving them any support while receiving it just seems, well, bizarre. What kind of logic is that? Actually I know what kind, it’s reduce the numbers so I look efficient logic.

  3. Janine says:

    Here’s some ideas Labour People
    1. support our youth in training with career paths so they can get real jobs in NZ when they graduate not nothing jobs or be trapped in continual ( expensive) training that leads nowhere.
    2. Allow our older people who can not get jobs to work part time without WINZ losing their rag (and they do because it not the mythical fulltime work). Also allow them to use their skills to enhance our community with volunteer work rather than compete with youth for work.
    3. Decriminalize marijuana so the cops can focus on real crime.
    4. Treat the greens as a partner not an enemy that has to be pacified and same for Mana.

  4. Marc says:

    “The Best Start policy is just that – a start. On its own it doesn’t address the key reasons families remain in poverty: punitive and discriminatory welfare legislation. What we need to hear loud and clear from those wanting to be a part of the next Government is a commitment to tackling poverty and to dumping these welfare reforms.”

    That is exactly what I expect as a commitment from Labour, to DUMP these policies, and I made it bluntly clear, to Stuart Nash and others, if you want my vote, potentially those of over 300 thousands on benefits, come and face the reality, come and join the party, and take a firm stand to reverse these hideous, draconian, yes inhumane and punitive welfare reforms, and bring back partnership between MSD and the “clients” they so often talk about!

    As long as Labour sit on the fence, or maybe even support Bennett’s drive, I tell the to take a fucking hike, get stuffed, I will NOT vote for you, nor will many others. Try to catch votes from Nats and Greens, that will NOT get you into goverment, dear Labour.

    WE want to be part of the damned future of this country, not a damned “side show”, or even irrelevant. Got the damned message!!!???

  5. Phil Toms says:

    Labour giveth and Labour taketh away. $60 per week to compensate for the fact that elderly people will be forced out to work and will no longer be able to help with grandparenting duties. This is mean and very neo-liberal. Scrap the elder abuse.

  6. Intrinsicvalue says:

    The welfare reforms are designed to get people out of long term welfare dependency and into work. They help people who have been turned into dependents by our welfare system become motivated to secure work where possible, by justifying why they can’t where it is not. I realise this is anathema to the left, but it is nothing more than god old fashioned individual responsibility. The state is there to help people do the best they can, not do the best they can for them.

    • Janine says:

      Well they have their work cut out for them then. Dealing with 60 year old women who have lost their jobs due to earthquakes in an industry that hasn’t yet recovered….And who are just not build

      • Intrinsicvalue says:

        Yes they do. But the Govt. didn’t cause the earthquake. All they can do is put in place the conditions for everyone to recover from it as best as possible. And that is exactly what they are doing.

    • The welfare reforms are designed to get people out of long term welfare dependency and into work.

      That is simply another parroted cliche – right wing rhetoric masquerading as intellectual debate (and failing miserably).

      How can welfare “reforms” get people into work when the jobs aren’t there?

      Or are you suggesting that welfare “reforms” are creating jobs?! How does work? Do you even know? (Quick, IV, go check Kiwiblog or Whaleoil for answers!)

      And how many are “welfare dependent”? What percentage? What are the numbers?

      Or are you saying that 95,000 New Zealanders gave up their jobs voluntarily, post-GFC, to “enjoy” life on the dole?

      The welfare “reforms” weren’t designed to get people into work. They were designed to get people of the government’s WINZ books, as Bennett admitted here, on the MSD website, on 15 January this year,

      “Of the $10.3 billion reduction in liability, $4.4 billion is due to Work and Income actively exceeding expectations by getting more people off benefit for longer, and less people coming onto benefit.”

      http://www.msd.govt.nz/about-msd-and-our-work/newsroom/media-releases/2014/taylor-fry-welfare-valuation.html

      So there you have it. Your precious welfare “reforms” revealed for what they are.

      By the way, even Bennett was forced to concede, on 29 April 2012;

      “There’s not a job for everyone that would want one right now, or else we wouldn’t have the unemployment figures that we do.”

      TVNZ Q+A: Transcript of Paula Bennett interview
      http://tvnz.co.nz/q-and-a-news/transcript-paula-bennett-interview-4856860

      Or is Bennett lying? Maybe there are plenty of jobs and she just put her foot-in-her-mouth for the hell of it?

      I repeat, you are parroting mindless rhetoric and if that’s all you’ve got, then the Right Wing has little to offer as an intellectual argument, and you’ve lost the debate.

      But then… *yawn*… I’ve come to expect nothing more from you.

      • Intrinsicvalue says:

        “How can welfare “reforms” get people into work when the jobs aren’t there?”

        “There’s not a job for everyone that would want one right now, or else we wouldn’t have the unemployment figures that we do.”

        But some jobs are there Frank. How can an unemployed person find a job if they aren’t looking?

        The objectives of the welfare reforms are very public knowledge Frank, look up the cite I posted elsewhere. Unemployment is dropping, economic confidence is up. People getting paid to do nothing need to get out and do something.

        • But some jobs are there Frank. How can an unemployed person find a job if they aren’t looking?

          Ok, let’s boil this down;

          Question 1: How. Do. You. Know. They. Aren’t. Looking?

          • Intrinsicvalue says:

            Because I know of many such people.

            Two such people live a rental property I own. They have two children, neither work, neither are in any way incapacitated. The family receives substantial support from the taxpayer, including an accommodation supplement to contribute towards their housing costs.

            For the past twelve months I have been working with them to help them get back on track after they got behind in their rent. During that time the man of the house has not, to my knowledge, attended a single job interview. When I organised some labouring work for him, he failed to show up.

            On Thursday of last week, this delightful couple did a runner, leaving behind most of their earthly belongings, and thousands of dollars in debt.

            I can’t even enter my own property until I get the eviction notice that I have applied for, likely to be this Tuesday.

            These people are bludgers, living off the taxes you and I pay. How many more examples would you like?

        • “There’s not a job for everyone that would want one right now, or else we wouldn’t have the unemployment figures that we do.”

          That statement you attribute to me was actually made by Paula Bennett,

          TVNZ Q+A: Transcript of Paula Bennett interview
          http://tvnz.co.nz/q-and-a-news/transcript-paula-bennett-interview-4856860

          Question2 : Do you think the Minister is correct or was she wrong?

          • Intrinsicvalue says:

            Oh she was absolutely correct. But that doesn’t stop people looking. How does anyone know if there is a job for THEM if they don’t look?

        • January 31, 2014 at 12:47 pm

          The welfare reforms are designed to get people out of long term welfare dependency and into work.

          Question 3: How many people on welfare are on “long term welfare dependency”?

        • January 31, 2014 at 12:47 pm

          The welfare reforms are designed to get people out of long term welfare dependency and into work.

          Question 4: What is your definition of “long term welfare dependency”, in terms of time period involved?

          • Intrinsicvalue says:

            Based on the Governments definition of 12 months or more.

            I’ve already answered this Frank…asking again won’t get you off the hook.

        • January 31, 2014 at 12:47 pm

          The welfare reforms are designed to get people out of long term welfare dependency and into work.

          Question 5: Do you what is the length of time most people are on unemployment benefit, before finding work?

          • Intrinsicvalue says:

            The latest data I have is that around 80% of people on the unemployment benefit have been on for less than 12 months.

        • But some jobs are there Frank.

          Question 6: When 2,700 people apply for 150 vacancies (http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/industries/4032012/2700-applicants-for-150-jobs), what is your interpretation of the number of job vacancies as compared to the numbers of unemployed to fill those vacancies?

          Six simple questions, IV. I challenge you to answer them factually, without being evasive.

          • So. No attempts to answer the questions I posed?

            So much for your sources of information, IV.

            As with (nearly) all right-wingers, when push-comes-to-shove, and your so-called “facts” are challenged, you people have nothing except mindlessly parroting prejudice and rhetoric.

          • Intrinsicvalue says:

            And now here’s a question for you.

            If there are no new jobs being created, and if everyone out of work were looking for work prior to the welfare reforms, then why have the numbers on JSS decreased by 3,595 since June 2012?

            • Intrinsicvalue says:

              And you didn’t answer this question previously:

              Name one person who qualifies for a benefit and isn’t getting one.

          • Intrinsicvalue says:

            “what is your interpretation of the number of job vacancies as compared to the numbers of unemployed to fill those vacancies?”

            As long as there are jobs, the unemployed should be required to look for one. Your example was 4 years old Frank, yet that supermarket, at the height of the GFC, was still employing 150 people.

  7. jenese says:

    You are right there is so much suffering and its all illegal under the rights of the child the bill of rights and the IDHRights – but no one is looking from this angle – i have sent a request to the commissionaire for children about the bill of rights and winz punitive actions – they will said they will seek legal advice from their lawyers – the UN monitors this bill and NZzz has signed it and is bound by international law but who is policing it ?

    an how come i am acting on this as a private person when none of the advocacy groups are ? if they are its not public knowledge yet

    good on you for being an advocate – the thing is most of what you have said here relates to staff error – i have had this happen from personal experience there is no apologies nothing

    it really is time for advocacy groups to unite and start a class action suit against this department and it won’t matter want colour gets in red is now light blue – and blue is black – green/mana are the only parties that have the balls enough to unsign us from the agreements that bind us to such draconian laws/rules/regulations – any think else is just more of the same and voting is a joke any how so use it as protest

    one more thing – you have fallen into the same trap as most others with this new hand out – its only looking at the symptom not addressing the cause – and until that is addressed nothing will change

    i urge you – all of you to look up the rights of the child and also email the childrens commissionere and ask some serious questions and don’t be fobbed off with a statement – or just go to the UN with your case stories if it involves children or human rights if it involves breaches of rights

    because what we just might find is that signing up for a benefit in this country means you loose your human rights

    not many know this but the international labour laws state quite clearly that no one is to be forced or coerced into work they do not choose willingly – this is to guard against slavery – look it up

    this is an article i wrote in 2008 it still applies

    National and Welfare Reform
    http://www.infonews.co.nz/news.cfm?l=1&t=0&id=25927

    this is an article i wrote last year

    Child rights abuses in WINZ policies
    http://www.infonews.co.nz/news.cfm?l=1&t=0&id=25927

  8. C. H. says:

    Any serious political solution to unemployment would begin with the demand for full employment. But nobody is suggesting that, because that would increase wages – and we can’t have poor Johnny Billionaire suffering a few less millions in profits, can we?

    One might address our falling wages by strengthening collective bargaining rights for workers, reversing weak capital investment through new state enterprises, and raising labour productivity through free tertiary education. But we can’t afford all that – tax cuts and bailouts for the rich are more important.

    Except we used to do all those things. The country became a chart-topper on living standards, unemployment was negligible and income differentials were so low it was known as a nearly classless society.

    But alas, Labour dumps the tax-free zone and GST relief and replaces it with a little middle-class welfare. Better than nothing, yes, but hardly an inspirational programme to reverse years of attacks on economic democracy and the people’s standard of living.

  9. Janine says:

    I don’t believe there are enough jobs for everybody in this country and there never have been.

    We once had “full employment” but that was because (among other reasons) many or most married women did not go out to work….now they do. Child rearing is now considered a spare time activity ideally contracted out to child carers.

    So if there are not enough jobs do we

    1.Make everybody unemployed run around like chickens with their heads cut off to fight over job crumbs in a Nanny state WINZ nightmare or

    2.Do we allow some people to not have to look for full time work and use their talents in the voluntary sector, at home with their kids etc.

    Well seems like National and Labour would prefer option one as would a large group of NZers .
    Why is this?

  10. Janine says:

    I think we allow this situation to occur because people think that most everybody on benefits are somehow “bad” people (as in some version of the family described above). A few visits to WINZ will show that the people, there as clients, are just ordinary each with individual stories that led them to the position they are currently in.

    Another stereotype is that these “benes” are described weak, failed and incapable people who have to be helped i.e. made to LOOK for work… Not necessarily to actually work because most of them are not working for very good reasons. One of the good reasons is the lack of jobs available, another is prejudice against certain groups by many employers.

    As long is there is no honesty about who the ‘benes’ are and how they got to be in that position there will be no solutions and a lot more abuse of ordinary New Zealanders by other ordinary New Zealanders.