Destroying lives to win votes: National’s anti-beneficiary rampage continues



This week the second big piece of legislation advancing Paula Bennett’s welfare reforms passes its final stages in Parliament.

While on the surface of it the Social Security (Benefit Categories and Work Focus) Amendment Bill sounds mind numbingly boring, its content is neither boring nor innocuous.

Some will remember the Welfare Working Group set up in 2010 under the leadership of National’s hatchet-woman-in-chief, Paula Rebstock.

When Rebstock reported back on 22 February 2011 – a date which will go down in New Zealand history for entirely different reasons – the Working Group’s 180 pages of recommendations laid out a blueprint for the destruction of welfare as we know it, a blueprint which is now being enacted step by careful step.
The first major bill reflecting these recommendations – the Social Security (Youth Support and Work Focus) Amendment Act – passed last year. Among other things, it:
• introduced compulsory income management for young people on benefits, stripping them of autonomy and self respect at a highly vulnerable time in their lives;

• subjected any woman on a benefit who goes on to have another child to work testing from the time her baby turns one year old;

• allowed Work & Income a role in encouraging women beneficiaries and their daughters to undergo long lasting contraception;

• set the stage for contracting yet more core parts of Work and Income’s activities to private and NGO providers.

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The second bill going through this week adds to this by (among other things):
• Replacing a number of current benefits, including the Sickness Benefit, with one ‘Job Seeker Support’ category, subject to a wide range of compulsory work tests and sanctions if tests aren’t fulfilled to Work & Income’s satisfaction.

• Introducing a Work Ability Assessment which will mean most, except the terminally ill, will be subject to a medical assessment which determines what kind of benefit they should be on, what sort of work is suitable for them and so forth. This puts huge power into the hands of designated health professionals, with very limited ability to challenge decisions.

• Adding even further sanctions to those who don’t meet Work & Income requirements, including drug testing. The first sanction means your benefit is cut by 50% for 4 weeks, the second that it’s cut until you ‘meet your obligation’, the third, that your benefit is cancelled for 13 weeks.
While Paula Bennett defends these reforms as part of the Government’s focus on getting people into work, how much sense does this truly make at a time when more jobs are being cut every day – the 140 jobs going at DOC being just the latest in a long string of such announcements – and at a time when there are over 284,000 people officially jobless in this country?

To add insult to injury, there is zero Government commitment to job creation either – decent jobs at decent wages being the best solution to unemployment and poverty.

What sense is there in forcing the sick, injured and disabled – and the mothers of babies as young as one year old – out to work when we have this level of unemployment?

This is not about helping people into better, more fulfilling lives.

Instead, it is all about helping keep the wages and conditions of employed workers as low as possible by enforcing a race to the bottom for insecure, low paid work.

It’s also about meeting the target originally set by Paula Bennett and Paula Rebstock in the WWG report –
to get 100,000 working age beneficiaries off income support in the next ten years.

National and its supporters don’t give a damn about the collateral damage.

I feel sick every time I hear a National Party MP lamenting child poverty. Their welfare policies condemn ever increasing numbers of adults and children to stressful, demeaning penury, with consequences that can last a lifetime.

This week the Guardian put out a short video interview which demonstrates the human side of what the UK Government is inflicting via its own set of welfare reforms – it’s well worth a look. Our Government is doing much the same things here, with increasing ferocity.

The decision last week to cut the annual CPI adjusted benefit increase to a measly 0.61% from the minimum 0.9% increase it should have been – to just an extra $2.08 a week for a couple – shows how insidiously inhumane this Government is becoming in its war on beneficiaries.

For anyone out there reading this who thinks none of this will ever be relevant to you – just remember, unemployment, sickness and injury can happen to anyone, and not all relationships last.

If we’re working age adults, we’re all one step away from facing the effects of this onslaught unless we’re so well cushioned by wealth and property that it’s an irrelevance.

And of course, that’s who the Nats represent – the comfortable rich and those who are fooled into thinking that the interests of the rich match their own.

These changes to our welfare system are all about making extra profits for big business while shoring up National’s vote at the next election from people who just need to have a section of society to hate and despise. I hope you will join me and groups like Auckland Action Against Poverty in exposing and opposing this for the vicious game it is.


  1. Hey, I have anecdotal evidence that I heard from someone else that all single mums on the DPB drive new cars and eat KFC every night, and they all drink P.

    You can’t say I’m wrong any more than I can prove that I’m not making my post up.

    And that, is the problem. Because I’m louder than you.


    An Angry White Guy

    • Those angry white guys with their talk-back radio style certainly do make a lot of noise about subjects that they only experience through hearsay or mainstream media.
      All the ranting tends to drown out the quiet sensible words of others.

  2. It’s getting to the point with this government where people are seriously are asking who is behind them. I’ve had two conversations over the last two nights with two neighbours who are pretty much run of the mill working class people. One thinks the government is just out to look after its own mates. The other thinks John Key is in with the “illuminati” or “free masons” or some other conspiratorial group. Whatever, the theory one holds, there are a lot of people who feel “something is rotten in the state of Denmark” (to loosely quote Hamlet).

    • I don’t think its even that secret and doesn’t require the secret society smokescreen which, I’ll be honest, I think is a bit silly and ignores the real power: big business. They don’t need funny cloaks and secret rituals – they are just right there.

      National promised its backers labour market reform, welfare reform (to drive down wages) and privatisations. They are actually under-delivering as far as these interests are concerned.

    • Google “Birth Certificates/Human Collateral” and you will understand why every person is in debt, even if you actually have no personal debt.
      You will understand that this system became a reality even before you were born and your body and everything it produces is part of the deal that was made to ensure that a debt created which can never be paid (because of usury and consumerism) effectively meant that governments sold the people – not just the people of that time, but every preceding generation thereafter…to whatever it was (and still is) which loaned the $$
      This is why public assets can be sold regardless of ‘majority voices’ saying they don’t want it. This is also why, it does not matter what political party gets voted in, they have to tow the line.

  3. Well written Sue. Jacinda said it all too well in her speech, every stupid thing the NACTzies are doing to ruin this country is given the smoke screen of Paula Benefit to try and cover it up…it is very worrying for the people of this country and our future. Very sad and scary, especially looking at some of those polls that still see JK as preferred PM.

    “The Hunger Games”, “Avatar”…all with meanings of greedy rich people raping the country and making poor people slave labour to the rich. Let alone no protection for our wonderful wildlife that are nearing extinction.

    I see the teachers are finally marching and criticizing the incompetent government and it’s policies etc.

  4. IF it isn’t one party it would be another one. The problem is bigger than NZ – it involves the whole world.
    Poor unproductive people will always be a target and that is base human nature.
    The truth is, most people prefer complaining than to actually get up and do something positive for the community they live within – that is why governments exist. Ultimately there is no ‘out’ from this, because…ya know…laziness, lack of genuine good will, ripping neighbors off – having babies just cause ya can…and the kind of behavior that ‘poor’ people exhibit – even toward one another, is no different than the behavior they complain about in the ‘rich’ and furthermore they would be taking advantage of the less fortunate if they were in more fortunate positions. Somewhere in all this must be a lesson to learn, but darned if you know what that is…

    • Just because those and the top and bottom of the economic pile exhibit “base human nature” is no reason for individuals to stop trying to improve the behaviour of humans in general.

      If someone such as you, William, could look through more humane eyes you might notice that some people are suffering as a result of some base behaviour in the finance markets.

      Your preconceived ideas of those needing monetary support in the form of a benefit are extremely narrow-minded considering these current times.

      • So you claim – but what about the evidence?

        These ‘ideas’ are not preconceived. I offered one idea which would help the situation. (see below post).

        What is your suggestion to help? Proclaim lives are being ‘destroyed’?

        We don’t know how fortunate we are to have windows of opportunity to improve our situation while we still clamber for the breast of government and complain that the milk is drying up.

    • Poor unproductive people will always be a target and that is base human nature.
      The truth is, most people prefer complaining than to actually get up and do something positive for the community they live within

      William. Does it feel satisfying to make judgemental statements like that based on nothing but heresay, anecdotes, talkback BS, and other fairy tales?

      Does it mean you can waffle on ad nauseum (and it is nauseating), without really having to look closer at the issues?

      If so, end of story. Feel comfortable bathing in your ignorance.

      But if you want a glimpse at something that might just challenge those awfully simplistic view you hold, check this out;

  5. One way to contradict the rules is to put yourself out there in the community as a volunteer and challenge social development who demand that you look for jobs that are not there by aiming for the tasks that are there but don’t pay yet still contribute to the welfare of the community, be that working to help the elderly, mums, each other – etc… this way there is no moralized ground from which the dept. can criticize you and punish you by docking you welfare support – because you are effectively contributing to the very thing that the dept. was created to look after. Look after each other. Enough people doing this will ensure that fingers can’t be pointed and while all press is ‘good’ press – to punish that behavior would be a very bad look for the one doing the punishing. Think With Your Heart.

    • You have a point. Voluntary labour to assist the community is great but would WINZ take it seriously? As long as you collect a benefit I doubt they’ll be satisfied with however hard you work as long as you’re collecting income elsewhere and they can cease your payments.

      Many signs suggest this Government is focussed on reducing beneficiaries regardless of their situation by using creative ways of invalidating the eligibility of beneficiaries. I heard cases of those on the Unemployment Benefit being put in courses/classes of no real value of improving their chances of employment, but if they don’t attend or when the course ends during a holiday, their benefits are cut.

      With a bad job market and with this Government’s attitude towards job creation, I think the most likely way jobs would be created and beneficiaries find work is if they advertise themselves as free labour working 18 hour days 7 days a week, 365 days a year. We’ll probably find manufacturing move here from China. Alternatively there’s prostitution, will WINZ be recommending it to make the stats look good?

      • WINZ already insist on many Bennies doing volunteer work to keep their benefits! (at least in Taranaki!) Trouble is, there are often only so many volunteer positions available…….

    • One way to contradict the rules is to put yourself out there in the community as a volunteer and challenge social development who demand that you look for jobs that are not there by aiming for the tasks that are there but don’t pay yet still contribute to the welfare of the community, be that working to help the elderly, mums, each other…

      William, there is already a billion-dollar (in value) industry using volunteer work. It’s been estimated that if all volunyeers stropped their work, the economy and society would grind to a halt.

      So voluntary work already exists.

      I find your call for more such voluntary work disquieting.

      For one thing, the more voluntary work is carried out, the less demand there is for paid jobs. Why pay when it’s free?

      It also absolves government of funding community organisations, because of the availability of voluntary work.

      And voluntary work does not pay the bills, rent/mortgage, etc.

      Like Food Banks which, while a good idea in many respects, let’s the government off the hook.

      We need paid jobs, not free labour that can be exploited; displaced paid staff; and gives the government an excuse to avoid it’s responsibilities.

      Libertarian ideas sound nice – until you start digging beneath them and discover something exploitative.

  6. John Key, Paula Bennett et al channel Bill O’Rielly on social policy.
    See economics Professor Richard Wolf school Bill O”Reilly on the economic value of social welfare in this video.

  7. I have been unemployed. Its not fun. Its not meant to be. It is not meant to be a life style. I am not 100% on board with the new changes, but the new standards can be complied with. Sue, Let go of your hate and work to change the law instead of just blindly opposing national party policy because it is national party policy.

    • Andrew, re your comment, “Sue, Let go of your hate and work to change the law instead of just blindly opposing national party policy because it is national party policy.”

      Pray tell us, how should she “work to change the law instead of just blindly opposing national party policy “?

      You forgot to mention that bit to us.

      And telling Sue to “Let go of your hate” works fine in Star Wars where Luke and Obi-Wan are having a heart-to-heart, but The Force will not create any jobs here in Reality Land.

  8. Designated health professionals such as those with ACC, well paid, being flown across the country to conduct assessments due to their performance in cutting people off, all for the desire of “less spending”.

    The approach by this Government of leaving job creation to “market forces” along with other issues important to society, suggests this is an extremist government focused on a blinkered economic doctrine, the consequences to the disadvantaged are an afterthought. Indeed how they can manage and exploit them is probably the only consideration they get.

    The National Party is marketed to the public as “centre-right” although the longer they remain in government they appear more “right” of “centre”.

    This Government would be all too pleased to do away with the welfare system it’s incompatible with their doctrine. Probably doing so gradually with a profit motive, diverting public funds to the private sector to wrap up the system, they have little or no intention of using tax revenue to assist those in need. Corporate welfare for profit is a priority while the Government desperately searches around to extort more tax from those of modest standing.

    Recent survey by the HRC found 74% of people surveyed thought beneficiaries face discrimination. It’s apparent in many places and the Government is responsible for playing on and fuelling this prejudice. There needs to be more momentum against this discrimination, the unemployed, solo-parents et cetera are entitled to their dignity just as anyone else. With the rising gap between rich and poor, those disadvantaged shouldn’t have to put up with ignorant, hateful stereotyping.

    Keep up the good work Sue.

  9. Great write up Sue, should be prescribed reading for anyone wanting a real analysis of the current situation beneficiaries now find themselves in.
    Keep up the good work!

  10. “Decent jobs at decent wages being the best solution to unemployment and poverty.” This quote sticks out to me in this article, I think it sums up Sue Bradford’s idea of government, that the solutions to the problems of unemployment and poverty are for the government to wave it’s magic wand and make them go away. Where do jobs come from? What causes wages to rise? These things can only come from productivity and innovation. Government mandates achieve nothing, in fact they cause unemployment and poverty. I agree with Bradford that it’s wrong to force beneficiaries to work, no one should be forced to work. I also believe it’s wrong to force other people to give them money. The biggest victims of social welfare are the people who are on it, they are degraded by having money handed to them instead of having the opportunity to earn it for themselves.

    • So if your employer pays you, or a customer pays you, you are ‘degraded’? I think not.

      The degradation is built into the system being operated. It is deliberately punishing and there is nothing, nothing, a person can do to avoid that punishment for punishment’s sake. For every obedient compliance there is a further rule change and humiliation.

      There used to be many ways to rise through effort and industry in this country. Many of them humble and grubby.

      Can you imagine, Michael, if some enterprising soul in NZ, now, was to clamber into the sewer line beside a manufacturing jeweller’s to strain the muck for the recovery of gold flakes? They do that in India. Try it here and a dozen library shelves’ worth of laws and by-laws would rapidly descend upon your entrepreneurial spirit. Because those who went that route before wanted no competition to follow them.

      Do you still doubt? Whatever happened to night classes? And second-chance training opportunities? And on-the-job training? Those avenues used to be free or low-cost. Remember?
      Until further education/training was put out of reach of prudent folk who wisely saw the millstone that is student loan debt when there are currently no income-making opportunities for beginners in their chosen fields. (Which is another sub-story of this dreary saga of unavoidable punishment for the ‘sin of being out of the In group’. Bullying, to give it its real name.)

      There is no degradation in being financially assisted while regrouping and rethinking, whether the money comes from family or the larger population.

      The degradation comes from being hounded and hassled and doubted and being stripped of privacy and being shoved toward work that leaves you worse off in too many ways.

      And, should you feel inclined to insist, ‘They should take what they’re given!’ just think of the unfortunate employer who will have to cope with the less-than-productive square peg in the round hole…

    • “The biggest victims of social welfare are the people who are on it, they are degraded by having money handed to them instead of having the opportunity to earn it for themselves.”

      Libertarian bullshit.

      People were earning money for themselves up until the 2007/08 global financial crisis. Or haven’t you heard about that little event, Andrew? You should have – every country in the world was invited to attend that economy-wrecking party.

      I don’t know if you’re a troll or deluded. But seriously, your bullshit is astounding.

      “Government mandates achieve nothing, in fact they cause unemployment and poverty. “

      The frightening thing is that you actually believe that weird nonsense. Honestly, you Libertarians live in a very strange world. One that involves ignoring history, reality, and cause-and-effect.

  11. Sue – FULL SUPPORT!

    A great comment this piece by you here is, absolutely onto the spot of truth. I am shocked and dismayed myself, and for years now, I have lived in distress, seeing how this NZ society, I once came to as a hopeful, but also desperate immigrant, that was once offering at least in some ways a fair go for everyone, is being turned into a real NASTY society.

    I am angry, very angry, at many that are “middle class”, as they voted Key and this government in, and they did it for selfish reasons, to get tax cuts, to have more available for themselves. But the truth is, that had to be paid, especially during a global recession. So the ones who pay for it now are the beneficiaries, the youth workers that have their minimum pay cut, the low income workers, who get insulting “increases” each year, leaving them in working poverty.

    NZ is being turned into a nasty society, divided thoroughly, manipulated into hatred between groups of society, by this damned National led government, supported by a total liar called Banks, and where we learned today, that the PM himself, Key, has been mates with the head of security agency GCSB since school age.

    So tell us more about not knowing anything about the Dotcom spysaga!?

    But back to welfare, I have relied on it repeatedly, due to serious ill health, I am suffering from complex issues, but I have experienced, how WINZ has for years now tried all, under a totally biased regime, overseen by a radically right wing, mean spirited, Dr David Bratt as their Principal Health Advisor, to off-load sick and disabled off the benefit.

    Since Future Focus was put into place, many sick and invalids have been culled off benefits. The only reason invalids and sickness benefits are still stable or increase at times is due to the culling of ACC claimants from their benefits.

    Truth is, beneficiaries for health reasons are amongst the lowest, or at best at average, when compared with the rest of the developed world. Bennett and Key try to lie to us, that this is a problem, that there is an “explosion” of sickness and invalid’s benefit claimants, but they are lying into people’s faces. Even MSD figures prove this.

    In short, what Sue describes here, what is also often debated on The Standard, this government brings in NAZI style policies, on a “soft” note!

  12. Another impotant article, Sue; keep up the good work. Comparisons with the situation in the UK as shown by the Guardian are telling – the tories here and there are running the same agenda – and elsewhere round the world as well. Unfortunately the so-called Labour governments and oppositions are not sighificantly better. What the capos need to understand is that their precious system will grind to a halt once enough people are disenfranchised from participating meaningfully in the consumption side of the economy. Then we might see some real change!

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