GUEST BLOG: Geoff Simmons – National’s Push-Me-Pull-You Social Policy

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National’s Social Services Discussion Document was an odd mixture of headline-grabbing beneficiary/ gang bashing and a continuation of Bill English’s more thoughtful social investment approach. Overall it comes out looking like a Push-Me-Pull-You. 

 

Context

First up, a couple of points for context. 

NZ Super is more than half of our welfare budget, and continues to grow by around $800m per year. Our biggest beneficiary group is the over 65s. This is far and away our biggest welfare issue. National to their credit are at least talking about it – wanting to raise the age of eligibility from 65 to 67. However, they don’t want to do this for another 20 years, and in the meantime they want to crack down on other benefits which are miniscule in comparison. Incidentally TOP prefers means testing NZ Super, which is a much fairer solution for manual workers and those who die younger (e.g. Maori). 

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Remember also that in 2014 researcher Lisa Marriot pointed out that the value of tax evasion was 40 times that of benefit fraud. Yet as a society we put far more resources into investigating benefit fraud. It is hard to know how much this has changed since 2017 but it is unlikely to be much. 

 

The Populist Beneficiary Bashing Bits

The document pushes benefit restrictions and sanctions if:

  1. Gang members can’t prove their assets are from legal income. 
  2. Beneficiaries don’t immunise their children. 
  3. People are on benefits under 20 years (money management restrictions).
  4. People have been on benefits for more than 6 months. 
  5. Mothers don’t name fathers of their children. 
  6. Tenants “contaminate” a house with meth. 

Like most punitive policies that make eligibility more difficult, whatever money these changes save will be vastly outweighed by the cost of the extra paperwork. Maybe a handful of people would have their benefits stopped, and we can debate whether that’s a good outcome (generally it isn’t). Meanwhile, thousands of innocent bystanders would be tangled up in more red tape. We already know many people don’t get benefits they are entitled to, and in order to get their entitlement it takes people hours to navigate the system. The only real winners would be the Ministry of Social Development and the hordes of bureaucrats it would need to employ to make all these ideas work. 

Remember that we already investigate benefit fraud much more than tax evasion. These proposals aren’t about saving money or even helping people, they are about sending a tough message. 

There are plenty of examples of this stuff backfiring. We’ve already seen this with meth contamination, which resulted in Housing NZ apologising and admitting they wasted hundreds of millions on testing and cleaning up their properties. This Government ended up compensating a bunch of tenants for being wrongly evicted.    

What about when Judith Collins proposed a law to crush boy racers’ cars? After nine years in power, her law managed to crush a grand total of three cars. How much time was spent passing that law? How many hours of officials’ time for drafting the legislation? How many hours being debated by 120 highly paid politicians? How many police hours for the requisite paperwork? All to crush three cars. Nice work, Crusher. I’d like to see the cost-benefit analysis on that idea. 

 

The Social Investment Bits

Peppered among the tough rhetoric are the vestiges of some good ideas reminiscent of Bill English’s social investment approach. Bear in mind Social Investment isn’t dead under this Government, it has just been renamed and repurposed as Wellbeing. There are some differences, but also a lot of similarities.  

The good stuff includes purchasing services for outcomes, a Social Innovation Fund, reducing benefit abatement rates, working in partnership with Community Housing Providers, supporting Housing First, supporting parents during the first 1000 days of a child’s life and improving prisoner reintegration into society. This all appears to be good, evidence based stuff. 

 

Push-Me-Pull-You

Beneficiary bashing ideas and evidence based ideas are uneasy bedmates, but one recommendation in particular sticks out like a sore thumb: 

Recommendation 10 States: National proposes to explore options to simplify the income support system.  

A simple income support system is a great idea. It would reduce the need for an expensive bureaucracy to manage the unwieldy beast. More importantly it will make it easier for people to get what they are entitled to. That is why TOP supports an Unconditional Basic Income (UBI) – giving everyone $200 a week, no questions asked. 

Here’s the problem. The punitive sanctions National are proposing are the exact opposite of a simplified income support system. As noted above they will only serve to tie beneficiaries up in red tape and result in the employment of more bureaucrats. This glaring contradiction ultimately undermines the credibility of their more evidence based ideas. 

Overall National’s social policy ends up looking like Dr Doolittle’s double headed llama Push-Me-Pull-You.

 

Geoff Simmons is the Leader of TOP

16 COMMENTS

  1. Geoff, I think you’re missing the point regarding the “benefit bashing” aspect.

    The objective is not to reduce cost but to make a life of crime and violence less attractive. The *real* cost of those vastly outweighs anything we pay to retirees. We see it in the police, the courts, the prisons and the hospitals.

    I think you need to look beyond your narrowly focused cost spreadsheet and consider the wider social implications.

    • Hi Andrew,

      “make a life of crime and violence less attractive” making a benefit harder to get when you need it and taking it away from people already in a vulnerable situation (most people on a benefit, other than super) does the complete opposite. I only have anecdotal evidence to share, but it is hard to survive on the benefit, the stress of dealing with these bureaucracies is enormous. It also usually comes at a time when everything in your life isn’t “going to plan”.

      Most recidivist offenders I talk to, don’t see any legitimate alternatives. I heard a talk about how the majority of the worst offenders (read costly to the justice system) share a common early life story of poverty. If you want to reduce those “real costs” it isn’t by taking away social supports.

      • “The objective is not to reduce cost but to make a life of crime and violence less attractive.”

        No it’s not. The real objective is to be seen to saying that they will “do something” about this “problem”. A neo-liberal agenda requires at least a perception of social problems amongst the poor and disadvantaged like humans need oxygen. The Right’s agenda involves the concentration of wealth in a particlar direction, that’s it. If right wing parties were completely transparent about this nobody would vote for them. So they have to pretend they care about things they believe will give them the support they need to govern. In the 1990s Bolger/Richardson/Shipley et al whipped up so much hatred of the poor they decimated what ever we had left of a caring society which cleared the way for a climate of opinion in which the poor are seen as parasitic on all honest hard working folk. So now the poor are a “problem” to be “fixed”. It is in Bridges’ and the national party’s interest for poverty and crime to remain because if those problems were ever truly addressed they’s have nothing to stand for except working in the interests of the very wealthy, and we can’t have that.

    • But why now? Bridges and his corrupt lot had 9 years. If you fall for this crap then you truly are regressive.

  2. They (national) have already been down this road and there social investment approach didn’t work in fact all their punitive measures had the opposite effect. We saw homelessness like we had never seen and we definitely now see more than ever a glaring social divide between the haves and have nots. Despite this soimon still wants to beat the poor with a big stick. In the meantime national were flogging of two thousand state houses and they kept on saying, ‘there is no housing crisis’ and people please don’t call it dog whistling dogs are better than that.

  3. Means testing super raises it’s ugly head.
    Which just means tax dodgers and the wealthy still get it.
    Workers and those who declare all their income for taxes, lose out.

  4. Jesus Christ!
    I can’t believe, in this day and age, that people can still fall for the same repackaged bullshit.
    Every word that’s excreted out of national and labour and nzfirst and the greens and the blah, meh etc’s is weak kneed and tiresome.
    “ Bash the bennies!” “ Hang single parents!” Shoot speeding drivers!” Bring back public capital punishment!” “ Death sentence for Pot smokers and sundry recreational drugs users!” ( But more piss in supermarkets aye?. )
    Get tough, go hard, work 18 hours a day and fuck Sunday’s ! Who needs them? Work, work, work and you too will be free of the debt and poverty we drop you into.
    Well, we all know how that worked out for some don’t we? Considering the rothschilds own modern banking globally the irony is potent enough to cause a time/space warp into which I pray daily that our scum politicians fall through to never be seen again. Let the aliens have them.
    Heard on some distant planet:
    “ Simon bridges? Que here for arse probings please? Thank you.”
    When wanker politicians complicate a simple thing, you know, you know they’re hiding something.
    This, is how simple it is.
    Our primary industry is agrarian.
    Our primary industry farmers are fucked. Less than $2 a kg for wool is fucking wool sheep breeders. ( Buy a quality jersey for that then?)
    Cows? Saying ‘cow’ now is like shouting “COCK! “ in an Anglican Church on Lesbian Redemption Sunday.
    Apples, pears, and fruits are fucking horrendously expensive in the two-bi thieving scum-fuck super-gouger market chains. Those fuckers sweep the floors of concrete warehouse buildings and truck your money away to God only knows where to hoard.That, is all they do. They don’t plant it. They don’t grow it. They just pimp and fence it then stack up the money in huge piles here and there while outside I’ve seen homeless people begging for scraps and coins.
    What, about that, seems idle and curious?
    The reason national are coming after the most vulnerable is because THEY ARE the most vulnerable.
    And the reason why national are so far up the agrarian primary industry’s arseholes is because that’s where their griftable money comes from. That’s why they’re busy telling farmers that it is the urban, most at risk who are to blame for abysmal farm gate prices so all national has to do is pop a pot of ignorance flavoured hate on the MSM stove to simmer between elections.
    The reason people are hungry and vulnerable isn’t because there’s no money for social balance. They just don’t have access to it. There’s tons of money in AO/NZ. Fucking tons of it. And the evil bastards who steal it off our primary industry, a highway robbery that occurs between the farm gate and the empty guts, is because they, the national party and their mates, don’t want to give it to anyone other than to themselves.
    And let me tell you a little secret? Labour are just the fucking same. Liars, cheats, grifters and swindlers.
    Put simply? You guys are barking up the wrong forest. All of you. There are no exceptions.
    In my opinion. As a long time writer here, and there, a one time farmer and now a film industry professional who gets around and meets interesting people from all over?
    In my opinion; since we have a treasonous cadre of politicians who are lining the pockets of their mates ?
    We need a royal commission of inquiry at the highest level to investigate relationships between non agrarian business enterprises and past and present politicians.
    We need to find out where the fuck our money’s going and we need to know who’s facilitating that.
    The results of such an inquiry would be …. What’s a word for quite big? Large. Immense. Vast. Feel free to use your own here [ …………………..]

    • Country boy

      I reckon you are right on (mostly) in the above epistle.

      Nothing changes – not since I spoke to the Headhunters and not since the previous election where hyping the crime issue and increasing police powers and numbers, rather than expanding the economy to provide opportunities, was the solution to a nations’ problems.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=108B1R39SvI

      Though I refer to SOME HH as shitheads (and concede they may have a similar view of me), not all gang members are total bad arse and many are now bad arse because no opportunity to be anything else

  5. Andrew, I don’t think Geoff is missing the point at all. You say that the point of that policy is to “make a life of crime and violence less attractive” – but given the gangs are making a heap of cash from selling meth now, I don’t think they will be that bothered about losing their welfare. I’d be happy to see that money go elsewhere, don’t get me wrong, but if it costs a whole lot more to implement that policy, than the money that it saves, what’s the point? It does come back to the cost/benefit analysis, and it’s our money they’re going to be wasting. That is Geoff’s point.
    If you are concerned about the cost to society of gang-related crime, as I am, we need to address the social conditions that breed young men to whom that lifestyle is appealing in the first place. I’m no expert but from what I’ve read and observed, that would be things like desperate poverty, existing criminal parents/social networks, domestic violence and abuse, and alienation from tribal networks and their culture (for Maori).

  6. The reason for policies like this are as a deterrent rather than punishment.
    IRD for example chases tax cheats to recoup lost revenue but the pimary driver is to deter others from cheating.

  7. It does appear National are resorting to a Divide and Rule attitude/campaign; aka beneficiary/low income worker bashing.
    It’s easy for National to behave like this as for the average Joe/Josephine Blogg National MP the low income New Zealanders in deliberately kept Low Income New Zealand are nameless and faceless. The faceless and nameless beneficiaries/low income workers will be the very ones Bridges and co will shake hands with in the lead up to the next election and will be the very ones Bridges and co will vent their Hate Campaign on if in government or in Opposition.
    It’s easy for National to bash someone i.e a nameless and faceless being on a low income or is beneficiary; than it would be for National to bash say a wealthy Chinese “Instant Kiwi” who donates heavily to the NZ National Party in return for, as I said, Instant Kiwi citizenship.
    We can clearly see the existing and intended inequality that Bridges and co intend to embark on if by some awful misfortune in votes they become government.
    Maybe it’s time we asked the mainstream NZ media who appear to be firmly in the NZ National Party pocket to ask National as to why it prefers to bash beneficiaries and not the rich? See if National i.e Bridges and co; can answer and worm themselves out of that question? And if Bridges has a justifiable answer then we should read between the lines and wonder why he is after attacking the low income workers of deliberately kept low income NZ within weeks of his China trip???!!!!

  8. NZ governments are destroying social welfare by over running it with demand, both by importing in people who will need large amounts of social welfare in the form of pensions and health care aka aged parents.

    “The number of Māori aged 65+ will more than double (from 48,500 to 109,400) between 2018 and 2034, as will the senior Pacific population (from 21,300 to 46,700), while the number of senior Asian New Zealanders will almost triple (from 59,500 to 171,900).”

    (The amount of senior Asian NZer’s is expected to be more than the number of aged Maori and Pacific Islander’s combined within a decade, by design not natural population growth!)

    https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12281479

    What idiot policy increases aged migration to a country that is aging and can’t afford it unless the lower services like health care, pensions etc!

    https://croakingcassandra.com/2019/10/14/reopening-parent-visas/

    It has now become the norm to work for nothing for 3 months as a ‘volunteer’ or pay back wages under the table or not be paid what the government is being told workers are being paid to defraud the visa laws or lowering the standard of tertiary courses in NZ including even open tertiary frauds.

    Working in NZ is no longer an even playing field,and likewise redundancy in NZ is pathetic with employers being able to freely remove existing employees in an easy process with no monetary penalty, to replace them with cheaper ones who quickly learn to do what they are told!

    https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/in-depth/365540/why-being-made-redundant-in-nz-is-so-tough

    All of this strategy does not improve productivity or innovation.NZ has languished in both since Rogernomics, while the neoliberals in control of the world, tell NZ to do more of the same aka sell of more to foreign investment and ‘internal’ competition – which as well as not working now is putting into jepady the NZ “high living standards” which is becoming more myth than reality for more and more people who stayed in NZ to work! Now even the migrants coming here live on dog food because the wages are so pathetic compared to the cost of living.

    “New Zealand’s persistently low productivity has long puzzled the OECD, despite expectations the far-reaching reforms of the late 1980s and early 1990s – which the OECD championed – would reverse that.”

    Also in the same link, why would you encourage so many low waged workers into a welfare country knowing that most of the low waged jobs will have disappeared within a short period of time!

    “An estimated 35 percent of New Zealand jobs were at risk of disappearing or otherwise being affected by automation over the next 10-20 years, with 9 percent considered at high risk, the report said.

    As in other countries, low-skilled and low-income workers were more vulnerable than high-skilled, high-income workers.”

    https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/333086/nz-s-weak-productivity-in-oecd-s-sights

  9. wow some good information with backup threads being shared about nz politics past and present
    is there a nz site where users can share NZ information about our politicians past/present or future, companies also general nz influencers and world news that affects nz citizens instead or what the mainstream media seems to spew out continuously
    Nz media seems to push some overseas mainmedia news constantly which has proven to be false and fake information. where is our alternative information
    our main political parties are the same changing laws that suits overseas countries policy usa, china, UN and social media naming just a few
    always at the cost of all nz citizens civil freedom
    we need transparency
    we need to be the news
    or are we
    sheeple

    • wow some good information being shared about nz politics past and present
      is there a nz site where users can share information about our politicians wrong doings or dodgy dealings past or present?
      also companies and organization who influence our politicians and laws to enrich themselves
      Nz rich and famous with political connections that has benefited at the cost of our civil rights
      we need fact based world news.
      our newsmedia source are from world mainstream media which has proven to spread false and fake information.
      and not covering real news
      Our main political parties are the same, changing laws that suits overseas countries like usa, china, UN and social media censoring naming just a few at the cost of all nz citizens civil rights
      we need transparency
      or are we
      sheeple that stays asleep
      they want us divided by race, social standing or religious beliefs
      we are all nz citizens
      we are the news

      sorry i pushed wrong button before sent when not finished

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