Written By: - Date published: 9:05 am, April 10th, 2013 - 17 comments
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Yesterday more planks in the NAct raft of small changes, were before the House. These small changes add up to major changes that whittle away the rights of individuals, undermine democracy, and increase hardship and insecurity for those on low incomes. Meanwhile the government is failing to fulfill it’s responsibilities, and gaining more dubious powers over people’s lives.
In the debate on the Social Security (Benefit Categories and Work Focus) Amendment Bill, Third Reading,* Jacinda Adern began by saying that this year was the 75th anniversary of NZ Social Security. Ardern’s speech highlights the main problems with Bennett’s punitive investment approach, in which all the responsibility is on the claimant. Ardern then goes on to outline Labour’s vision for the re-instating of Social Security as it was originally intended; a system that does not divide people into the deserving and undeserving poor; a system based on the social contract, in which the state also has responsibilities.
She said that the Social Security system needs to be changed, but not in the way this Bill is doing. Ardern argued, that if we want to rebuild it 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 ocurring 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.
Ardern goes on to identify ways in which the current government is failing to meet it’s responsibilities for instant by not ensuring there are sufficient jobs available. She argues that this government have produced “these punitive welfare reforms” at a time of high unemployment, and “massive job losses”. Ardern then outlines all the hurdles of appointments people need to go through to get some support, all without limited individual support from a case manager.
“This is the investment approach that the minister speaks of. This Bill tears up the idea of a social contract.
… The government’s job is simply to sanction you when to fail.
Then Ardern outlines Labour’s vision of a proactive system for the 76th year of social security. It is one that will recognise the major and tough job of case managers, who must be supported. Labour’s vision will incorporate returning dignity to the system. Labour will take a long term view, for instance through provision of genuine investments in decent training and employment opportunities.
It may not be glamorous or something the minister can stick a ribbon on and sell to the media. But these are the families that need long term intervention, and not just by a work broker.
This is a significant and important promise on the part of Labour, and many of us will be watching to see that they do not deviate from such a vision.
Another Bill before the House yesterday was Peter Dunne’s Child Support Amendment Bill Third Reading. In this Cunliffe explained why Labour would not be supporting it. he describes it as a missed opportunity, by (Dunne) “the little engine that couldn’t”. He asks why the minister didn’t write into the Bill that the interests of the child come first. This is also the best for society, because it is more likely to produce people that grow up to be productive members of society.
Around the time the government changed, in 2008,
… there was $1.3 Billion of uncollected child support debt and penalties. 4 years later, under this ministers watch, this has doubled to $2.7 Bilion of unpaid child – it’s doubled in 4 years.
Cunliffe quotes Judith Collins who said, “Writing off debts gives the worst possible message to absent parents.” However, in contrast, this Bill rightly writes down penalties. But why did it take the government 4 years to do it? There is an inflexible, non-transparent “formula change”, with limited range at the heart of the Bill. It is likely that it will result in less money going to the mothers, who are usually the main carers. Meanwhile, the costs of administering these provisions will rise “$1000 million of red tape, to wrap a bow around a debt mountain that’s doubled on its watch.” This is fiddling with the system, not fixing it. This Bill needs to go back to the drawing board.
Labour is also concerned that the strengthening of IRD’s ability to make automatic deductions without consent. Cunliffe notes that today, on the same day as this reading, Dunne has “issued a press release suggesting that IRD should be able to share for the first time, personal and private taxpayer information with other government agencies, for the purposes of crime fighting.” This when there is a poor record of emailing private information to the wrong individuals.
And Cunliffe concludes his speech by needling the government benches on issues of privacy, PM shoulder tapping, and general lack of trust.
These Bills are all part of the way that our current government is whittling away democracy, government responsibility and trust, and increasingly taking away people’s rights to privacy, social security, and access to fair and transparent systems.