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Gordon Campbell on Nats’ welfare plan

Written By: - Date published: 10:36 am, August 12th, 2008 - 15 comments
Categories: benefits, national - Tags: , ,

Dog whistle politics to some, beneficiary bashing to others. But is there logic to National’s policy on benefits? Gordon Campbell asks:

Will John Key’s policy announcement on welfare this afternoon do much to resolve the problems it claims to address? Hardly…

It is as if National felt the need to beat up on beneficiaries somehow, and somewhere – and so it picked primarily on solo parents, the group of beneficiaries widely recognized as being in LEAST need of extra motivation to get off the benefit.

One angle I thought was interesting was a study done by the Ministry of Social Development which looked at the health (and mental health) status of sole-mothers. If they are already more likely to be sick then sending them out to work with penalties if they don’t is not likely to lead to good outcomes, for either the parent or the children.

And one question I was hoping to hear asked – what are the penalties planned for those who do not abide by the rules? And what happens if there are others (like children) living in the household?

There’s a fundamental difference in approach here with both sides arguing that the studies back their logic. However as Simon Collins suggests:

…there are other factors besides welfare in the breakdown of the traditional family, and forcing parents into paid work may not be the answer.

15 comments on “Gordon Campbell on Nats’ welfare plan”

  1. Crank 1

    I don’t like beneficiary bashing for cheap political gain but I can’t see the problem with asking DPB parents to work or take part in upskill training for 15 hours whilst their kids are in school.

    Some of the arguments presented about the negative effect on children of having a working parent “stressed out” by having to both work and bring up children is quite frankly very insulting to the large numbers of working parents out there.

  2. Dancer 2

    I thank my lucky stars that I have a partner to help me at home with our children – as they can truely run us ragged (even when they are being good!). i’ve seen a number of two parent households struggle with the reality of even 10 hours work. Certainly it varies, and the more skilled and in demand you are the easier it is – but getting to and from work (esp if you rely on public transport), walking children to school, spending time helping out in class w general reading/writing, NOT being late for pick up – i really have to question whether it’s practical to bring in a big stick when lives are already complicated. I would rather have parents invest time in the classroom and helping with homework, so by the time i retire we have a workforce that is capable of generating income for my nz super!

  3. Phil 3

    Dancer,

    A lot of single parents work, and bring up their children, and do all of those other things – for which they should be celebrated.

    But, the lives of beneficiaries are no more complicated than those doing the exact same parenting on minium wage. Why treat them as ‘different’?

  4. Matthew Pilott 4

    But, the lives of beneficiaries are no more complicated than those doing the exact same parenting on minium wage.

    I don’t imagine that’s true. A single parent with a minumim wage job will no doubt struggle – but they have employment, which is a start. They will have more money. They will, by defnintion, be employable. They will, also by definition, have the ability and means to work, to get to work, to manage their time so they can work, and have the freedom to work. None of those are a given with a solo parent on a benefit.

    I think ‘complicated’ isn’t the right frame of reference. Work will make someone’s life more complicated, but their personal circumstances dictate whether that complication is manageable or not.

    Those personal circumstances are the real factor under which someone may or may not be able to work – and this is where the two are ‘different’.

  5. Dancer 5

    thanks matthew – that’s a better description. it also matters what the penalties are for sole parents who don’t meet the criteria – and what effect that may have on others such as children, who get caught can get in the crossfire. A good summation of the potential damage is “National’s welfare policy would hurt the vulnerable children in society”, the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) said today
    http://www.stuff.co.nz/4652747a6160.html

  6. Ari 6

    I suppose the good part of this is that they’ve seen some sense and let DPB benficiaries keep a bit more of their benefit money while working- which should help some keep afloat with part-time work if living costs keep going the way they are now.

    It’s kinda ironic when the first move from one of the big parties to help beneficiaries in years comes as part of National’s plan to play tough love with solo parents, rather than from Labour. =/

  7. Alistair 7

    “Some of the arguments presented about the negative effect on children of having a working parent “stressed out’ by having to both work and bring up children is quite frankly very insulting to the large numbers of working parents out there.”

    People’s situations can be quite different and such generalising may be short sighted. I am in full time employment but have spent several years looking after a child who suffered from bipolar disorder. He went to school like all other kids but unlike other kids keeping him inline was very difficult. Some parents may be blessed with average children but not all. If one chooses to work so one’s standard of living is better then that is an individuals choice. Money doesn’t but happiness but it is typical of our pathetic materialistic western society to assume it does. Is a child happier with all the latest toys or with more time spent with loving parents. Perhaps we have lost the point of life – perhaps we never knew it… perhaps we don’t even know ourselves Wake up people

  8. insider 8

    Gordon Campbell doesn’t like NAtional’s policy. Who’da thunk it?

  9. Roby110 9

    Phil said:
    But, the lives of beneficiaries are no more complicated than those doing the exact same parenting on minium wage. Why treat them as ‘different’?

    But, Phil, the Tory policy DOES treat them “different”. It says – “you – unlike other people – will not have a choice”.
    The thing that annoys me the most is hat there is very clear evidence that th vast majority of solo parents on benefits want nothing more than to get off the benefit and be self supporting. The evidence also indicates very strongly that the more we support a person raising children on their own the more quickly they move from benefit to being self supporting and the less likely they are to return to the state for support later.

    And in the end what are the government going to do if a parent refuses to obey this edict. Cut their benfit. To punish who? The kids.

  10. Greg 10

    The argument that potential benefits cuts (due to not fulfilling the working requirement) will impact negatively on children is not valid. You see, it is not the policy itself that is impacting upon children, but the actions of their parents who chose to ignore it. You cannot set policy to the lowest common denominator, that would make for a very depressing society. Its the hidden third variable, which does need to be addressed, but not at the expense of tolerating benefit bludgers (by this i mean genuine bludgers, those who can work). Instead of doing away with this policy on that basis we need to fix the problem at its roots – instead of simply fixing the symptoms, better education, more support (non monetary) for struggling families are but some ideas.

  11. Matthew Pilott 11

    Ari, that’s a good point – that rate is very low ($80) now, if there’s a clear benefit to doing this then it is something you’d think Labour should have looked at.

    The argument that potential benefits cuts (due to not fulfilling the working requirement) will impact negatively on children is not valid. You see, it is not the policy itself that is impacting upon children, but the actions of their parents who chose to ignore it.

    Those children are still entirely dependant on their parent’s income. It’s a valid concern that a blanket policy will negatively affect those children. Key has said that there are some exceptions to work out (as with all their ‘policy’, they are light on detail), so I will watch with interest, and hope that they are very well considered – the stakes are high.

    Also, as I said on another post, Labour’s policies are just what you say is required – free healthcare, childcare, apprenticeships and WINZ emphasis on training. These all help fix the problem at the root.

  12. Savage 12

    If you want someone to do something – such as a beneficiary getting a job or attending a seminar it is better to use a positive reinforcement rather than a negative punishment.

    The streamlining and privitisation that has occurred during the last 25 years has eliminated much of the skilled and semi-skilled labouring jobs that had sustained New Zealand’s working class. From rail to steel to manufacturing almost all these areas have been hit hard.

    You can’t expect people to do jobs that you wouldn’t do for wages that don’t really pay the bills.

    You can’t streamline people out of society – we are all in this waka together. John Key’s latest salvo at beneficiaries is exactly what it looks like – a well placed kick from possibly one of New Zealand’s richest delivered to that of the guts of New Zealand’s poorest.

    If you want to solve this problem then you need to be creative in finding a solution.Simply saying “You are not a productive section of society and we will punish you.” is mind bogglingly simplistic – Just like Mr Key.

  13. Pascal's bookie 13

    The way I see it, we can set up the system with one of two things as a focus, but not both.

    One way is to say that there is a need for welfare programs, and human nature is such that some people will try to free ride on that system. We should focus on eliminating these free riders.

    The other way is to say that there is a need for welfare programs, and that because it is a need, we should ensure that all who need it, get it.

    The first way attempts to eliminate giving the benefits to the undeserving (avoid false positives), at the cost of making things harder for those that need it.

    The second way attempts to make sure that no one who needs the assistance misses out on the benefit of it (avoid false negatives), at the cost of accepting a higher rate of free riders.

    Any system that tries to eliminate free riders will necessarily make the program more onerous in some way or another for those that need it, and will probably mean that some who need it won’t get it at all.

    Given that both approaches take the need for the program as a starting point, I think false positives are less important (and in the scheme of things, less costly) than false negatives, so I prefer the second approach.

  14. Anita 14

    One of the important things about the DPB is that it is intended to support the children. No-one (that I’ve heard anyway) argues that the children will cheat/act to become free riders, it is not a sensible analysis of their actions.

    So in the case of the DPB we must use the need analysis, no other analysis makes any sense at all.

  15. Savage 15

    Calling people ‘free riders’ when you have had more opportunities than them is unfair. If New Zealand society was a truly level playing field eg everyone had the same access to education, healthcare, and other resources then I would be all for penalising ‘free riders’.

    New Zealand isn’t a level playing field. People who think that this is true are really out of touch with what is happening in parts of our society.

    We are going to keep getting the same results if John Key gets his way and gives more funding to private schools.

    “After paying Lucinda’s school fees we only managed to make it to the Swiss Alps twice this year!”

    If he really wants to get people off of welfare then they need more opportunities to succeed in education and to make it out of the hole they are in.

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