Labour – whose side are you on? Time to come clean on welfare & jobs

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It was great to see Labour and the Green Party come out with their proposal for a single state-owned buyer of electricity last week.

Ah hah, I thought. At last Labour – perhaps spurred on by their new best friends the Greens – have found some courage. And lovely to see John Key accusing the two parties of sabotage and ‘far-Left’ politics. Couldn’t be further from the truth, but it lifts the spirits to see some spark finally emerging from the centre left.

On the electricity front, the big question of course is whether Labour and the Greens will actually action their proposal once they’re warming the government benches. I remember all too well how Labour lost its bottle on the employment relations front in the face of massive business opposition in the winter of 2000, despite a recent election victory and the Alliance being part of that government.

But good luck to them, and may both parties remain true to their single-buyer promise.

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On another current political battleground, however, Labour remains as dubiously shifty as ever. When it comes to welfare and jobs, I still have no clue as to where Labour stands in the face of the Bennett-Rebstock rampage.

Well meaning MPs like Jacinda Ardern and Carol Beaumont make resounding speeches in the House opposing National’s brutal welfare bills.

However, what many of us out here in the real world really want to know is whether Labour will legislate to overturn the reforms in all their awful detail when their party becomes part of government again?
There has been no clear statement on this from Labour at any point.

Over the last few decades, Labour has been as culpable as National when it comes to its approach to welfare and decent job creation.

Roger Douglas and co in the 1980s methodically wiped out hundreds of thousands of jobs, decimated small town New Zealand, ended full wage job creation schemes (now looked back on with great fondness by many in districts currently hard hit by unemployment) and began the first work for dole scheme since the Depression.

Labour in the 2000s never even attempted to lift benefit levels to their equivalent before National’s 1991 cuts; got rid of the Special Benefit which made the difference between survival and desperate penury for many; reintroduced no-go zones in a number of rural and provincial areas, making it even harder for working age people to stay in or return to their home districts; established massive structural discrimination against the children of beneficiaries via the In Work Tax Credit portion of Working for Families; and undermined in legislation the very purpose of social security as established by their forebears in 1938.

Paula Bennett and John Key have ridden in on the back of Labour’s 2000s welfare changes to cement in a culture and practice which foments our country’s unfortunate disposition towards hatred of beneficiaries, as evidenced by the recent report showing that those dependent on income support are now the most discriminated against group of people in Aotearoa.

Last week a Labour MP told me that her party does not plan to make any announcements on welfare policy till some time not long before the 2014 election.

That’s just not good enough.

David Shearer’s sickness beneficiary on a roof speech was naively revealing of his true feelings about beneficiaries. His lack of regret since then about what he said and how he said it simply shows that he, too, buys into the blind prejudice so prevalent in our communities.

In the face of Shearer’s speech and the lack of any commitment to turn back National’s reforms, every day that goes by only deepens the sense that Labour is still stuck in the same conservative, blinkered space on welfare and jobs.

We need a clear positioning statement soon, or the suspicion will be that Labour is going to carry on as usual, perhaps making small superficial changes for the better, but not dealing with the finely tuned cruelty of our complex welfare system and the total lack of any Government commitment to full wage job creation.

I challenge Labour to tell us where you really stand, well before election year.

Come clean on whether you’ll wipe out the Nats’ reforms of the past two years, or let them ride.
Show us that you’re interested in real solutions on welfare, poverty and unemployment, like full wage job creation, the fair application of Working for Families to all children, and a move towards a Universal Basic Income.

People are suffering now, day in and day out, and once the impacts of the latest social security legislation come into force, that suffering is only going to deepen.

I’d love to see your party apply a little intelligence to the situation, rather than blind prejudice.
The pledge to establish a single buyer of electricity is well and good, but how about showing some courage on another, more desperate front, and recall on whose votes the Labour Party first rode to power – the unemployed workers of the 1930s.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Well said Sue! I too have had my hopes raised that Labour has at last found its bottle and will now stand up and clearly articulate a humane, socially responsible alternative to the nightmare that National and its cronies have unleashed on NZ. Breath held; fingers crossed.

  2. Well said, Sue. My concern is that Shearer still hasn’t really stated what he supports, beyond his talking up of (Third Way style) PPPs.

    I have noticed that Jacinda Ardern has shifted from apologetic statements supporting Shearer’s beneficiary on the roof comments, to explicitly denouncing beneficiary bashing, and against Bennett’s “undeserving” poor rhetoric.

    Ardern has made some recent statements of a difference vision for Labour, as I posted about here.

    In her speech during the third reading of the Social Security (Benefit Categories and Work Focus) Amendment Bill, Third Reading, Ardern argued that Labour wants to rebuild social security so that it is:

    … one that acts as a dignified transition for those who need it for a short time; and a dignified support system for those, for reasons of terminal illness or significant disability, will need it for a longer period of time, we no longer need to have the political games that are occurring around welfare. It is Labour’s vision that we rebuild the foundations of what we built 35 years ago. We first must start by remembering the social contract and that is that the state has a responsibility too.

    However, I haven’t seen/heard anything similar come from the Labour leadership, nor any policy details about how this vision would be realised.

    I wonder how much it is actually Ardern’s vision, and how much it is shared by the current Labour caucus leadership?

  3. Great work on these issues Sue and Karol. When interviewing Jacinda Ardern on welfare in December I got the impression a values-based response was where she was at. Since then, she has been pushing a policy intention tactic, which shapes the trajectory the party is on and gives a clear indication of what the eventual policy will look like – once costings and integration with connected portfolios has been completed.

    Since Pagani left the tent, Shearer seems to have been drawn back from welfare debates (much to the right’s annoyance), leaving the seeding of policy development to those who are stepping forward as ministers-in-waiting. (You even saw this with the GCSB, NZSIS, intel debate where Grant Robertson, the party’s best debater and public interest advocate, took over and de-cloaked Key revealing to the public some of the PM’s more unsavoury characteristics.)

    Re welfare policy, I see Labour in a similar situation to where it was in 1998-2002. The Alliance’s influence made sure Clark’s Labour connected to the communities (for a time [housing and health in particular]), in search of solution-based policy. Of course it became estranged from the communities after a term in office where it needed support from the centrist conservatives from 2002-08 . The Greens and Mana have the Alliance’s role now and with respect to the Greens are sophisticated in tag-teaming with Labour where they keep on-message, on-policy, and en-point for 2014.

    Perhaps in the last few months Labour has realised it is bigger than just a leader… while National has not. If Labour has then it probably can win the 2014 General Election, but only through presenting red-green policy, a cabinet-in-waiting, internal stability, and with influential support from Mana which has remained true to its grass-roots base (which is building faster than msm polls show).

    • Thanks for the link to that video Selwynn. It is interesting to watch it again. As I did so, I found myself weighing up Ardern as a possible Labour caucus leader.

      Ardern has up til now, provided some good and some poor performances, but she is improving in consisitency. She can articulate a good understanding of a range of issues. Sometimes she appears to speak from the heart on policies for improving the situation of struggling Kiwis on low incomes. From time-to-tine she hits a smiley PR-front false note. And too often she slips into bureaucratic jargon that won’t engage traditional Labour voters. But she is a step or two away from Shearer’s managerial approach.

      Still she expresses commitment to values that I have yet to see/hear from Shearer. Disappointing that, at the end of the video, she doesn’t include rebuilding social security as one of her key issues.

      I am heartened that she is now articulating some traditional Labour values. However, like you Selwynn, I have grown wary having been disappointed before (e.g. with the retreating of Clark’s government from many much-needed policies/issues).

      However, her statement early in the video about Labour being different from national in that it aims to take an active role in intervening in the markets – sounded very Third Way to me.

      I agree that we need some Mana MPs in parliament to influence a Labour-Green government. And we need solid and committed red-green policies on many issues form the Greens and Labour.

  4. Sue, good on you, that is totally overdue, that you raise this! Last night I even bothered reading the Office of the Auditor General’s report on Labour’s last welfare “reforms” from 2007. It was sounding so damned similar to what National are proposing and now introducing that I read. So yes, Labour are truly hypocrites.

    They (Labour) held nice “warm” speeches to keep the ones hoping on them in spirit, to vote for them. But in fact, what do they offer, it is nothing of relevance that is said and written.

    The reforms went through with little opposition, and that is largely because the opposition in Parliament allowed it to happen. I have even gone that far to feed Jacinda Ardern highly interesting info on MSD PRINCIPAL HEALTH ADVISOR Dr Bratt and much else. She finally cottoned on to some of it, but hesitantly. There is info about abysmal treatment of sick and disabled, especially through Auckland City Mission’s Medical Service now, to which she does not even respond.

    These so called “reforms” were in the media all about drug testing, social obligations and stopping benefits for “crims” on the run. That was the distraction agenda by Bennett and co. The real big game changer is forcing sick and diabled, like in the UK, to look for jobs that do not even exist for the healthy and fit.

    Work testing is not even defined, but Bennett praised the UNUM Atos model in the UK. Mansel Aylward, the propagandist for this is in NZ and will attend a GP conference soon, to push for it. Over 1000 killed themselves, or died early due to not coping with “work expectations” in 2011 due to UK medical test regime abuse. So come next NZ where people will be forced to work, sick or not, or have benefits cut. It is disgusting, for real.

    Dr Bratt is already comparing beneficiaries to drug addicts:

    http://www.gpcme.co.nz/pdf/GP%20CME/Friday/C1%201515%20Bratt-Hawker.pdf

    Sadly the useless, and also very biased, right wing media, in NZ have NOT even reported ANYTHING on all this. They behave as if this is a “no brainer” or ” non event”. Shame on damned NZ media for treating beneficiaries like the untouchables not worthy of any mention!

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