Dr Liz Gordon: An insider’s guide to bashing beneficiaries


Minutes of an undated caucus meeting in Parliament House

Attendance: Mr Cringes (leader), Ms Upstart, and several unimportant MPs.

Mr. Cringes: “We need to do something about beneficiaries coming up to the election. Our polling tells us that we gain 3% of the vote every time we target beneficiaries.  This I shrink from doing, personally, but the party is the thing”.

Ms Upstart: “As potential Minister I have lots of ideas.  I have trawled the policies of countries as punitive as ourselves and have a veritable treasure-trove of policy options to put before the meeting today to heap enormous pressure on those who dare to be out of work or bringing up their children on the public purse”.

Mr Cringes: “Thanks, Lulu.  But do try not to sound so enthusiastic about it.  Remember, we are doing these things because we care”.

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Ms Upstart: “Hmmm.  Care…care….care… I’ll remember that”.

Anon: “I have a brilliant idea to put forward.  Many of these beneficiaries are in their position because they have little education and therefore cannot get well-paid work.  What about helping them get the qualifications they need to get into good work? They will never look back”.

Ms Upstart: “They do not deserve an education!”

Mr Cringes: “Be quiet, Lulu.  So, Anon, you need to understand that we need a healthy population of beneficiaries so that we can bash them.  Giving them a hand up out of poverty won’t do at all. No, we need then there to make life a little harder for them”.

Anon: “But isn’t that self-defeating if we could help them be independent forever?”

Mr Cringes: “We in the National Party talk about this as a point of principle.  While pragmatically education might help, why should beneficiaries get a free leg-up to education when hard-working kiwis have to pay through the nose for theirs?”

Anon (muttering into his water): “Free education for all perhaps?”

Ms. Upstart: “Oh for heaven’s sake.  Go join the Greens!”

Mr. Cringes: “So what do you have for us, Lulu?”

Ms. Upstart: “Well, I have looked at a range of sanctions we might use to make life harder for beneficiaries and perhaps put up a few barriers”.

Mr. Cringes: “And…?”

Ms. Upstart: “I have come up with three front-runners. The first is a no-brainer – ticks all the boxes.  That is, sanction any beneficiary who does not get all their children fully immunised. They do it in parts of Australia.  And this is a truly useful policy, as we are keen to get immunization rates up”.

Mr. Cringes: “Oh that is a wonderful policy.  I love the coercive element, too, which will play out with our swing redneck voters”.

Anon2: “But I understand that mainly the immunization refusers are middle class families who read lots of dodgy research – how will that help?”

Mr. Cringes: “Perception, perception.  We will be seen, at one stroke, to be disciplining beneficiaries and helping solve the immunization problem we have.  It’s a great policy. And a great point of principle. I can hear it now in my speeches – ‘People who rely on the state to bring up their children have a responsibility to be model parents’.  There are votes in this”.

Ms. Upstart: “I am glad you like it.  I am sure you will like the next one even more. Compulsory drug-testing of all job-seekers!”

Mr Cringes: “But isn’t this already happening?  Even Jacinda Ardern supports that”.

Ms. Upstart: “No, this is not about workplace drug-testing, or related to an employment application.  This is all beneficiaries, randomly tested in their own homes by mobile units! It is brilliant!”

Mr Cringes: “So what sanction would you impose, Lulu?”

Ms Upstart: “Well I think that they should be arrested for ingesting illegal drugs and charged”.

Mr Cringes: (Sighs) “Well I suppose we can run it past the lawyers but I think that there may be a few human rights implications.  But good idea in principle.”

Ms Upstart: “I have one more suggestion. We will require every beneficiary family to sign up to a healthy eating programme.  No sugary foods and drinks, no chippies or fried food, plenty of vegetables. We could launch dawn raids to check on kitchen cupboards…. Oh yes, we might as well check the whole house for cleanliness, too, and cut benefits for dirty or delinquent eaters”.

Mr Cringes: “Oh well, let’s cost it out.  I could see us selling the good eating idea, although kitchen inspections are a little 1950s.  Anything else?”

There wasn’t, although no doubt further plans were in the pipeline.


Dr Liz Gordon is a researcher and a barrister, with interests in destroying neo-liberalism in all its forms and moving towards a socially just society.  She usually blogs on justice, social welfare and education topics.


  1. I see nothing wrong in trying to persuade benefituries that it is good to get their children vaccinated as a way of paying back for the help they getting from the state to bring up their children. Personnal responsibility needs to be encouraged . I find it hard to understand people like Dr Liz Gordon who obviously are highly motivated themselves do not want to see others persuaded to do the same.Making sure you are drug free and attend job interviews surely is not too much to expect.If we can lighten the load of those getting the benefit that do not deserve it there would be a better arguement to increase it for those that do need help.

    • Hi Trevor, Michelle is right. It is the element of coercion that rankles so much. Just because you are down on your luck and need to be supported by the state for a period, should not mean that you are subject to coercion, particularly if it is for the purpose of boosting redneck votes. I have had a great life but only because people helped me when it was needed. No woman is an island and all that.

      • Let’s be clear here though.
        There is a not insignificant proportion of beneficiaries who rely on taxpayer assistance long term if not indefinitely.
        These people should be required to remain drug free and generally be model citizens because quite frankly they contribute little if anything to society whilst taking the benefit.

  2. Does this mean all groups receiving any state money are accountable. So the farmers got how may billions to clean up their m bovis mess as many were not using the stock tracking system and what about the polluted rivers and waterways we are paying for and suffering from. And then there is the south canterbury finance mess our taxes pay for this mess what was the punishment. If we are going to punish one group lets punish the lot and make sure the higher the cost to us as tax payers the harder the penalty. Now who would get he hardest penalty based on this approach.

    • I agree with you that all those who get a help from the government should be accountable to the taxpayer . Farmers that break the rules the rich who avoid tax subsidised businesses that take short cuts with workers safety and pay government workers that abuse their power all need to be held responsible

      • How magnanimous of you to include farmers, tax dodgers. Yet first you complain about beneficiaries who ‘contribute nothing’. What is this source you quote that declares they contribute nothing?
        Do you not realise that all of us get help from the government? This is why we pay taxes.

  3. I see mr luxon hasn’t wasted any time in saying he wants to hit the poor and beneficiaries with a big stick

  4. I have worked at DSW/NZIS and of course WINZ. I worked in the debt collection units and to be completely honest I find the National Party behaviour even towards beneficiaries to be quite despicable.
    But lets remember one thing is one National politician who supposedly holds a senior role and sits right next to Simon Bridges absolutely hated the National government at the time in the 90s.
    But this particular politician who now holds National into almost insane adulation had no problem with breaching the rights to privacy of beneficiaries that were critical of her beloved John Key government by passing their names onto the mainstream NZ media to conduct a witch-hunt upon
    But then this particular politician comes across as self-serving, egotistical and prepared to recreate herself into a Madam Tussaud Waxwork all for the sake of vanity and arrogance.
    Simon Bridges and National seem hellbent on alienating themselves from what NZers on low incomes are going through. But then for National it must be pretty damned difficult for them to try being human beings when they deem themselves as to having an answer for EVERYTHING.
    John Key deemed himself as having an answer for everything and so it must be pretty damned almost impossible for Simon Bridges to follow the lowly track record that John Key had.

  5. Why do you all get upset and angry when National are for making it harder to get the benefit and stay in it, if working age,….this appeals to their base, not unlike Peters will campaign on immigration and cutting Maori down , the greens on environment (which is a bloody joke…kermadec anyone?)
    And Labour will campaign on Labour friendly policies as their union paymasters dictate.
    Its the same every 3 years, why you get all riled up is both amusing and baffling!

  6. There is a large group of non beneficiaries that refuse to have their children vaccinated due in no small part to being brainwashed by the fear mongering anti vax propaganda. How are you going to reach them? Will they accept having their hand forced? In a pigs ear. The answer there is clearly education. It staggers me that the anti vax brigade can spout such utter bullshit that is incredibly damaging yet suffer no consequence. They are the enemy of NZ children, NOT beneficiaries who just happen to be an easier and softer target for the benefit bashers…aka the National Party.

    The answer for encouraging beneficiaries to vaccinate their children is easy and NOT punitive. Educate them using medical professionals they will respect. In addition to that give them a $25 Countdown voucher for every one of their children they vaccinate. Problem solved very quickly. As usual, common sense not so common.

  7. Also to add to Jacindafans comments early childhood centres, kohanga reo etc could work with public health officials and government on this issue. They could enforce a policy of mandatory immunisation if they want to attend these EC centres. To help implement the policy the government could provide some funding for health promo educational materials in different languages to reach those it needs to reach and to encourage and promote immunisation. Giving a small grocery or petrol voucher as an incentive better that the bigger costs of death or long term health consequences or national flogging people.

    • Frankly Michelle your comment
      ‘They could enforce a policy of mandatory immunisation if they want to attend these EC centres.’

      is just as bad as the Nats crap.

      Do you really think that people are following the anti vax stuff. Do you think perhaps some look at a wide range of literature about the pros and cons of vaccination and that is why some of them don’t immunise.

      I know of a Christchurch paediatrician who said she would never ever immunse a child under 1 consequently her own kids weren’t immunised until later.

      I am 70 years old I have never been immunised for anything nor were most of my siblings, after one of my brother dragged a leg behind him for mon ths after his immunisation and the doctor wasn’t interested. My own children were not immunised and at least 3 of my grandchildren. There are plenty of doctors in Aotearoa that are not fixated on vaccinations.

      If only that woman Nicki Turner was as vehement about the importance of breast feeding for at least a year, decent housing for all, affordable good food for everyone then she might have some credibility for me.

      Get rid of all the fast food joints in the country, give people a living wage and a living benefit, cut the booze outlets, there are so many things as a country we could be doing.

      I do wonder what else the general population thinks should be forced upon us:
      fluoride, folic acid………………

  8. Some really thoughtful comment especially from Michelle, Brigid and Justme. Michal, you don’t understand the merits of Michelle’s proposal of mandatory vaccination for those who attend ECs. Children who aren’t vaccinated pose a risk to vaccinated children. Those who worship individual choice do not appear to care about how their choices affect others.

    Michal you are 70 and happy your family avoided vaccinations. I’m 77 and I’m not impressed, I think you are lucky not being caught out by your stupidity

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