Today’s New Zealand editorial not only claims that too many beneficiaries are travelling overseas, and that the rules allowing such trips should be tightened, but that there really isn’t very much poverty in NZ. Paula Bennett’s benefit changes have made life increasingly hard for beneficiaries. Today’s anonymous NZ Herald editorial wants to make life even harder for them.
The title of the editorial is, “Editorial: Travel is not a right for those taking welfare”. it gets all indignant about the costs to taxpayers:
It is, though, “staggering”, as Paula Bennett says, that as many as 21,000 have had a trip since July, when the rules became more stringent. That is just the number who did not tell Work and Income they were going and consequently had their benefit cut. Of those, nearly 5000 have had their benefits cancelled once eight weeks had elapsed since their departure and they had not re-established contact with Work and Income. It begs the question, what would have happened before last July?
Payments totalling $10.5 million have been saved since July by suspending the benefits of those who left with no word.
Only 1750 of those caught by the new rules have made more than one trip abroad since July, most of them twice and 191 have travelled outside the country three times. The circumstances and travel habits of those few warrant closer scrutiny. For the rest, the suspension of their benefit has probably come as a surprise and it will be a reminder that their income carries an obligation not unlike the wages of employment, where recipients cannot expect to be paid if they are absent without leave.
Overseas travel has come within the means of most people today and it is a principle of social welfare that nobody should be excluded from participation in the ordinary living standards around them. Modern home entertainments and labour-saving appliances are rightly considered essentials for this reason. But an overseas trip is outside the bounds of social participation. The public is not obliged to pay for it. The fact that so many beneficiaries get to go overseas at times is a credit to their families and their private support.
And then comes the kicker in the final line:
It may explain why there is more poverty in statistics than is visible in real life.
That last line makes me wonder where the author lives, and/or spends most of their time – certainly not in West Auckland. The editorial argument is that, because some beneficiaries have relatives that help them out on occasions, and/or give them an occasional gift, they really don’t experience poverty.
This line is a very skewed way of reporting the data:
nearly 5000 have had their benefits cancelled once eight weeks had elapsed since their departure and they had not re-established contact with Work and Income.
It refers to people who largely failed to notify WINZ that they were back in NZ.
In the course of the editorial, the arguments made by Sue Moroney and selectively quoted and then dismissed:
Labour spokeswoman Sue Moroney said it was wrong to imagine a benefit alone allowed anyone to travel overseas. Often the cost was met by family members or was a gift. She is right, but she and others who talk about poverty in this country ought to remind themselves of this more often.
Alistair Russell of Auckland Action Against Poverty explains what is wrong with Bennett’s latest attack on beneficiaries:
“Ms Bennett is cynically trying to persuade New Zealand that beneficiaries live a life of luxury, are able to pack their Louis Vuitton luggage and swan off on overseas holidays.”
Mr Russell asks, “How many people have left New Zealand having abandoned all hope of getting a decent job? How many have left because of their experience of on-going Work and Income harassment?”
“Auckland Action Against Poverty knows the reality Ms Bennett continues to deny. Life on a benefit is brutally hard. Children go hungry. Choices are made about what bill goes unpaid. Go into Work and Income and leave your dignity at the door. This is the real world and not the fantasy that Ms Bennett wants us to buy into.”
“Today I have spoken with a superannuitant who went overseas. Her daughter paid for the trip. She traveled to see a grandchild. She notified Work and Income of her travel plans. She obeyed all the rules and still had her benefit stopped.”
“This government needs to focus on policies which address poverty. And stop cheap publicity stunts trying to vilify beneficiaries. We need meaningful job creation. We need an end to the Work and Income culture of harassment.”
The NZ Herald editorial fails to account for the real damage that is being done to the lives of too many Kiwis: it is the drivers of the inequality gap is unacceptably large. We have a society that celebrates inherited privilege, and the remnants of British Empire, while demanding a life of struggle for the least well off.