Visionless and exclusionary. A good future,​ just for people like Bill

By   /   February 4, 2017  /   33 Comments

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To begin to realise Bill English’s dream the first step must be to restore the value of tax credits for low wage families and give all low income children the benefit of the full Working for Families package

Bill English says in his Rotary speech

“…we have the best oportunity in decades to make positive sustainable choices for our country – choices that deliver better incomes for our families, safer communities, and provide better government services for everyone.”

No quarrel with that but who is the “everyone” he envisages? Does it include those doing the hardest, most demanding tasks of all on behalf of society? Among these, women predominate, caring for the next generation and the rapidly growing aged population. Does it include the children of low income parents who suffer hardship and its longterm ill effects in a land of plenty? ​Does it include the sick or mentally unwell? It clearly does not include any sole parent, or anyone else supported by a benefit for that matter, unless over 65.

In Bill’s world, work at any job is preferable to a welfare benefit with its connotations of evil ‘welfare dependency’. Unpaid work has no value in Bill’s vision. Within his speech there are repeated references to ‘hard work” and by that he means paid work for long hours.

“As Prime Minister, I want people to be rewarded for their hard work and enterprise. Businesses, farms and entrepreneurs across New Zealand are the engines of growth in our country – as are the people who work hard every day in those enterprises. We’ll back hard-working people who get up early in the morning to milk the cows or to catch the bus to work, so they can raise their families.And we’ll back people who bravely leave behind welfare dependency to move into work or who work hard to manage their health issues or disability so they can live independently.”

What does it mean to live independently? Who actually lives independently? No one over 65 for a start. The sickness beneficiary who is pushed off the welfare system onto the streets? Even if this mythical sick person actually gets paid work and becomes ‘independent’ , they still get access to tax-funded healthcare, and education subsidies for his or her children. Moreover they get a higher weekly amount of Working for Families tax credits and at the end of their paid work, a state funded pension will be paid for life. Surely the honest among us can see that none of us do it on our own even if memories of childhood on a cold, backwater farm with multiple siblings, getting up at the crack of dawn to milk the cows (before walking 10 miles to school and sleeping in a cardboard box), have created that illusion for us.

Focusing attention on the small group of beneficiaries deemed to be problematic and costly to the fiscal position in the future, shuts out the thousands of families and children who fall ever further behind but don’t tick all the big data boxes of dysfunction. Systemic policy settings that create poverty, encourage loan sharks, provide easy access to social harms, and foster domestic violence are ignored.

Since 2010 the government has failed miserably to support low income families with mean spirited policies that have allowed real spending on family payments to fall sharply. Even the very families Bill’s wants to encourage have been affected. Low income families earning around $36,000 are getting less in tax credits for their children because of his policies.

The very poorest families have never got the full Working for Families package for their children because of cruel ideologically based work incentive arguments and they are falling even further behind every year. The impact of this on our worst off families is cumulative that with each passing year it is more expensive to address. Low income families become ‘low wealth’ or ‘no wealth’ families, many accumulating frightening levels of debt.

To begin to realise Bill English’s dream the first step must be to restore the value of tax credits for low wage families and give all low income children the benefit of the full Working for Families package. This first step will cost about one and half billion dollars but it only just puts us back to where we should have been with basic indexation and equality of treatment. It would give no compensation for reduced payments over the past decade.​

Is $1.5 billion too much money? It reflects the income the worst-off families have sacrificed to make the budget surpluses Bill is so proud of. If Bill is serious about his vision, big spending is required not just to restore incomes, but also for vastly improved housing, and access to much higher quality education for all children.

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About the author

Co-director retirement policy and Research Centre, CPAG management committee

33 Comments

  1. countryboy says:

    ” To begin to realise Bill English’s dream the first step must be to restore the value of tax credits for low wage families and give all low income children the benefit of the full Working for Families package … ”

    Ah… No. Wrong.
    To begin to realise my dream I’d like to knock stars out of english and Big bennett. Like the ones you see above.
    Bugger the fancy tax fluffery. Bugger all that wanky, wankerie. That just kicks the ball onto their field. ( What do you think of my rugby metaphor? )
    Instead? We should all gather round, sing kumbaya, then chase the bastards into the dirt. Then? We vigorously and repeatedly insist we get our stuff and things back. Like housing, health, dentist, rail, blah, blah, blah.
    Then? Burn the motherfather banks to the ground and deport all foreigners with more than $ 1 mil U$A as all mortgage debt is wiped. Done. Gone. Boo, hoo, fucking, hoo.

    To complexerise a simple thing is playing the game by their rules and how’s that working out for us?
    Bill English has one job and one job only. To keep the lid on The Great New Zealand Institutionalised Lie and if it means the poor die in big city gutters? So be it.

    Now. Pin this comment to your toilet door and tell me if I’m wrong in, say, twelve months time.

    • Susan St John says:

      Our left out children can’t wait for the revolution. The biggest problem is that even on the left there is a reluctance to see the value of the welfare state or ay collective arrangements bar Nz Super. Everything coming from Labour says work first- they seem to agree that WFF is a subsidy to employers and higher wages will solve everything. I don’t hear any complaints from them that National have shafted the working poor by reducing the threshold for abatement and upping the clawback.

      • Grant says:

        Or the fact that Key and English increased G.S.T to 15% which had a profound affect on the poorest who have to spend all of their income just to survive.
        It was a disgraceful lazy way of trying to collect more income.
        Give the wealthiest tax cuts and rake it back off the poor…. Nice one Bill…very smart….not!
        Anyone who thinks English is a good guy with good intentions is kidding themselves !!
        English is lazy and absolutely bloody hopeless. An expression he himself used recently to describe N.Z workers to justify the reason for allowing such ridiculously high levels of immigration….another lazy way of collecting short term income with bad long term consequences !!

        • Susan St John says:

          So true. One of the reasons we must have a comprehensive and generous tax credits system for families is that our PAYE is very hard on low incomes because of our flat tax structure and GST at 15% on nearly EVERYTHING is very very hard on low income people. Any one who says that WFF is just a subsidy for employers doesn’t understand tax

  2. Afewknowthetruth says:

    ‘we have the best oportunity in decades to make positive sustainable choices for our country’

    It is now blatantly obvious that no politician in the current system will EVER ‘make positive sustainable choices’.

    The entire economic-financial-political system is geared to extracting fossil fuels and burning them until it is no longer possible to do so, and allowing the system to ‘crash and burn’ when fossil fuels become unavailable. The entire system is also geared to destroying the habitability of the Earth via emissions.

    National party policies are focused on acquiring MORE fossil fuels(mostly via imports) and burning them faster, and increasing emissions. And ensuring there is NO MOVEMENT towards sustainability.

    Bill English will continue to do what he does best, which is lie, because lying keeps him in power, just as has been the case with most previous PMs.

    • Blake says:

      Totally agree. Most all politicians have already been bought and are dictated to. Why TDB does not focus more of the forces behind our fossil fuel nightmare and the group that owns most governments, I do not know.

      We keep spinning and spinning stories about this party and that politician and rarely focus on the secret agendas and the secret govt. behind the scenes. I sound like a broken record and have put up endless links about all this but the spin keeps on going. It keeps people in a renzy and fearful and not moving towards exposing and prosecuting those really in charge and the real criminals behind the curtains worldwide.*

  3. saveNZ says:

    Personally think National have check mated the left by migrating in as many workers in as possible with their dependants like aged parents who will need additional assistance to live here, such as working for families and accommodation benefit and super and education and health needs.

    In short overloading the social system so that NZ’s welfare needs are so stretched that it will seriously weaken or destroy the social welfare system – their plan all along.

    At the same time, give citizenship to far right thinkers like Peter Thiel who supply funds and ‘ideas’ to shape the new ‘welfare’ system.

    No matter what, an ugly situation has developed that there is no easy solution for.

    While working for families has become necessary and really should be for beneficiaries too, the social welfare system has become a bureaucratic mess that denies welfare to the most vulnerable and is not working.

    I’m all for a UBI – a level of income nobody can go below – but we live in a country that has everything geared to commodities, tourism and building – increasingly not owned by Kiwis but offshore corporations – I’m not seeing how NZ can create the wealth needed to have one.

    • Susan St John says:

      so lets demand policies that use the principles of unconditional income. For children this means first remove all conditions of paid work hours from WFF. For those on benefits remove all distinctions that are relationship based. But if we just ask for the nirvana of the UBI and nothing will change

  4. Richard Christie says:

    Susan, why is it always about families?.

    Singles at the bottom of the pile haven’t seen anything but viscous cuts to benefits etc since 1991 – they fall outside Working for Families and recent benefit increases.
    They’re always overlooked, even in your article.

    • Kaye says:

      Ditto Richard. It’s important that the children being punished by default get a voice of course, and Susan does a great job, but you’re right, there’s noone speaking out for the rest of us. Try being a single, no dependents very disabled adult with no other option than to be benefit-reliant to pay the bills. We’ve been completely forgotten by everyone.

      And also too scared to speak out publicly for ourselves because of the very justifiable fear we could be targeted by MSD for daring to criticise them and we can’t afford to lose the pittance we now get.

      • Sam Sam says:

        Susan’s work in this area is with out question. Just click on her name and note the headlines of her blogs as addressing both of your concerns

      • Susan St John says:

        But try partnering and the rotten system will make it even =worse for you!!! You are right- a complete overhaul of the welfare system is required. What does Labour say about this?

        • Mike in Auckland says:

          Labour started the work focused drive to also get sick and disabled off benefits, under their watch this man, Dr David Bratt, Principal Health Advisor, was appointed to work for MSD in 2007:
          http://www.gpcme.co.nz/pdf/GP%20CME/Friday/C1%201515%20Bratt-Hawker.pdf

          Quote:
          “• the “benefit” –
          an addictive debilitating drug
          with significant adverse effects to both the
          patient and their family (whānau)
          – not dissimilar to smoking
          • and NZ GPs write 350,000 scripts for it every
          year!”

          See slide 35 of the presentation (just one with such bizarre comments or claims).

          In 1997 National had already appointed that man to sit on the ACC Board, to do his nasty work there:
          https://www.beehive.govt.nz/release/minister-announces-appointments-acc-board

          Labour followed developments in the UK, and we know what they were doing there, following advice by such selected “experts” as Mansel Aylward, there once Advisor to the Department of Work and Pensions, then suddenly rewarded with a Director post for the ‘Unum Provident Centre’ responsible for some bizarre research that is used to justify pushing sick and disabled off benefits and into work:
          http://www.whywaitforever.com/dwpatosbusinessunum.html

          Read under ‘May 2006’:
          “In 2004 Professor Mansel Aylward was appointed to be the first director of the UnumProvident Centre for Psychosocial and Disability Research at Cardiff University.”

          Before the announcement of major welfare reforms, affecting also sick and disabled, Paula Bennett gloated about Aylward and his “findings” in Sept. 2012:
          https://www.beehive.govt.nz/speech/speech-medical-professionals

          Quote:
          “We currently have 142,262 people on the Sickness and Invalid’s benefits.

          If we left the system as it was and let past trends in Invalid’s and Sickness Benefit continue, 16 per cent of the working age population could be on a benefit by 2050.

          However UK research tells us that many of these people have what shouldbe manageable health problems.

          Research also says only one per cent of sickness absences associated with common health problems, result in long-term incapacity.

          Provided people are given proper advice and support, recovery is normally to be expected and long-term incapacity is not inevitable.”

          And:
          “This was an important point made by the experts on the Health and Disability panel which I established to review our proposed welfare changes.

          It also echoes the UK’s assessment processes and the “Pathways to Work” initiative for vocational rehabilitation designed by Professor Sir Mansel Aylward.

          When I sat down with Sir Mansel earlier this year he told me that health conditions account for just 10 to 15 per cent of barriers to work for people on disability benefits.

          He said that many health conditions or disabilities can be well managed in work but addressing other barriers are just as important.”

          So Labour set the ball rolling, and the Nats picked it up and shot it further than Labour may have intended, also tying up to where they let off with their former “reforms” in the late 1990s.

        • Kaye says:

          Labour says nothing, absoulutely silent on the matter, and their alleged Welfare Spokeperson refuses outright to even acknowledge receipt of lettesr sent to her on the subject, yet alone reply. They only surface on any welfare topic when there’s political points to score otherwise they hate us as much as the Nats.

          Unfortunately the Greens are starting to follow suit and have become very quiet in the last couple of years. Seems we’ve become such a toxic brand that even they won’t speak up for us anymore- too scared of losing votes I suppose? No bloody wonder we’re giving up on the voting process, if there’s nooone in the main parties out there who are going to represent us.

        • Chris says:

          Labour tore a whole bunch of the social welfare system to bits during the Clark years, and even voted with the government in 2014 to criminalised partners of beneficiaries found to have committed “benefit fraud” if the “partner” ought to have known about the fraud. Without getting into how problematic all of those terms are, it was unbelievable you get get done criminally like that for something you didn’t even have to know about. And the same Bill that Labour voted for also got rid of Social Welfare’s power not to recover debts off beneficiaries. Now all debt that wasn’t paid in error has to be repaid regardless of whether it’s unfair or if the person’s really poor. If you’re talking about what Labour did the benefits this barely scratches the surface.

      • Andrea says:

        Totally agree, Kaye.

        That gut-sick sense of terror whenever That Logo arrives on an envelope… (It never goes away, that fear.)

        After Shipley and Co it was such a relief to feel some easing of the nightmare – but that’s all it was.

        Remember how the pittance we were allowed to earn without loss didn’t change? Everything else went up just, not that. Punished for thriftiness and contribution. You couldn’t make it up.

    • Susan St John says:

      They are part of those excluded. In Bill’s world it is not only ‘get a job’ it is also get married like him. Bill supports the traditional nuclear family- it has worked for him

    • Richard Christie says:

      viscous = vicious

      duh, I ought to better scrutinise suggestions thrown at me by the spell checker.

  5. saveNZ says:

    An example of my concerns about NZ ability to continue to have a social welfare system…

    “A scheme funded by New Zealand taxpayers netted billionaire Peter Thiel tens of millions of dollars while his publicly funded investment partner barely broke even.

    The partnering of Thiel’s Valar Ventures and the Government-owned New Zealand Venture Investment Fund (NZVIF) was launched by minister Steven Joyce in March 2012, nine months after Thiel took his oath of citizenship at the New Zealand consulate in Santa Monica.

    Joyce said at the time the venture was “part of the Government’s comprehensive business growth agenda”, but a Herald investigation has discovered the arrangement was quietly ended in October when Thiel activated a generous buyback option allowing him and his private partners to claim all profits from the venture by cheaply buying out his public co-investor.”

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=11794020

    Then there is Scenic hotels and donating millions to the Clinton fund.

  6. Blake says:

    Sad days with two elitist liars at the NATZ helm much like their predecessor. Sad Sad for New Zealand but all part of the world agenda plan.

    Nice piece Susan.

    I agree with you – Visionless and exclusionary ! ! !

  7. Chris says:

    The government seems to think it’s okay to discriminate on the basis of employment status because it managed to stave off the human rights claim. But they forget that this was solely because the courts didn’t want to encroach on a government’s ability to make “policy”. It wasn’t because that policy is successful. To the contrary, the tribunal pretty much said there wasn’t much evidence of the policy being successful at all. Families who’re excluded aren’t “incentivised” into finding work and probably wouldn’t be even if the work was there. This is what the government should really be taking notice of, not that it happened to have fought off the claim on a technical point, and only with all the resources available to it from their big fancy crown law office.

    • Susan St John says:

      Spot on Chris
      It is an indictment of the justice system and the democratic process that government has been permitted to continue what the courts judged to be harmful discrimination. You are right there is no evidence that the discrimination could be justified because it worked in some or indeed any sense. Treasury has shown it did not work a a work incentive and the MSD have shown it did not work as a poverty reduction measure for 230,000 of the poorest children. But the work ideology is so strong that these facts are not acknowledged.

      • Sam Sam says:

        Something decides the point is the welfare state was also used to prevent communist revolution in the west. But after 5 years after the wall came down communism collapse. With out the threat of communism the welfare state must surely collapse. It’s taken 30 years for the empirical data to show up and it turns out superpowers precipitously collapse.

        Translation: if the Soviet Union jumped out of a 5 story building and collapsed on the street, the west jumped out of the 35 floor and is still falling into collapse ever since.

        I think if you want to fast forward your debate Susan you could propose a welfare system that fights gangs or some other invented threat.

  8. Mike in Auckland says:

    “And we’ll back people who bravely leave behind welfare dependency to move into work or who work hard to manage their health issues or disability so they can live independently.”

    FFS, “who work hard to manage their health issues or disability”, does that mean those who cannot manage their conditions are not making a good enough effort to get on with their lives??? Oh these lazy sick and disabled on benefits, he seems to mean, those that do not manage.

    I must point to my comment under this post:
    http://thedailyblog.co.nz/2017/02/02/meet-carol-from-winz-the-horror-of-the-neoliberal-state-and-who-will-fight-it/

    The agenda followed by this government even includes manufacturing fake evidence, they use incorrectly interpreted evidence to off-load sick and disabled from welfare support, often into marginal, insecure and low paid jobs, that many may not be able to cope with, so they will get back and knock at the doors of WINZ again, sicker and more incapacitated before, especially those with mental health issues.

    This comment by English speaks volumes about his attitude, he is a hard liner, he supports the drive to force sick and disabled, like also sole parents, off benefits, no matter what:
    http://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.wordpress.com/2014/10/19/nz-finance-minister-bill-english-insults-beneficiaries-with-mansel-aylwards-work-will-set-you-free-approach/

    Fake evidence, i.e. misinterpreted statistical reports:
    https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.wordpress.com/2016/08/16/senior-scientist-and-legal-experts-discredit-evidence-used-by-msd-and-dr-bratt-when-claiming-the-health-benefits-of-work/

    https://www.nzma.org.nz/journal/read-the-journal/all-issues/2010-2019/2015/vol-128-no-1425-20-november-2015/6729

    https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.wordpress.com/2015/08/09/msd-and-dr-david-bratt-present-misleading-evidence-claiming-worklessness-causes-poor-health/

    Abused “science”:
    https://www.scribd.com/doc/308613502/In-the-Expectation-of-Recovery

    No wonder Bill English hesitates to criticise Donald Trump, he is convenient with the truth himself.

  9. English and his adoring wife next to him.

    Looking straight into his eyes.

    Like she worships the ground he walks upon.
    Grrrrrrrrr.

  10. Andrea says:

    Could someone please tell Bill English – if you’re working ‘hard’ – you’re not working smart.

    Could he also be informed that it’s time he put in the hard yards and actually got the economy moving in the direction of the 21st century.

    He may not have noticed that the traditional sponges for surplus labour – other people’s wars, factories, public works gangs with picks, shovels, and barrows – are as out of date as his attitudes.

    Has he got the wit to see that rationing education and retraining through putting punishing prices on material that is already out of date is Not Helping?

    Could he remember that government is there for ALL people – not the favoured few – and needs to make things fairer for people without money, clout, or high status, instead of backing the several who lie, cheat, bully, and leave the little people holding the debts they didn’t agree to?

    He’s not even a decent conservative. Just a reactionary playing god-on-earth and failing dismally.

  11. Vanessa King says:

    As the parent of a 28 year old disabled woman i find Bill English’s comment about working hard to live independently infuriating. My daughter would like nothing better than to live independently. Small problem…she can’t really work beyond a few hours per week due to her condition and she’s been on a waiting list for a wheelchair friendly house for around 18 months. If she looks for a private rental she will get bumped off the list. Try living independently in a private rental with hardly any money, a severe disability and no security. This government destroys people.

    • Susan St John says:

      Vanessa
      That is so bad for a developed country. How low can we go? I hate his use of the term bravery in this context.

      • Sam Sam says:

        Am I right to say that blinglish assumption is based on the wrong theory of labour, that surplus can be generated from labour?

        Obviously there is a point of diminishimg returns. Or as Sir Arthur Eddington once said “surplus is generated by exploiting the free energy stored in either stars, fossil fuels or fissile material.

        If your theory clashes with the second law of thermodynamics, there is no hope for it, but the deepest humiliation.”

        Add blinglish and socialisms theory of labour and it’s humiliating also



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