Written By: - Date published: 10:32 am, June 24th, 2014 - 50 comments
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Jan Logie published a post on Frog Blog yesterday, that deserved to be read and re-read by anyone interested in the future of NZ society, and the current state of the country’s governance.
In “Work and Income – stories from hidden people“, Logie reports on her meeting with a group of people at a pre-employment course. The stories are not the kind that are hidden from beneficiaries who deal with WINZ these days. nor are they hidden from those who have listen to or read of similar stories online. These are the kind of harrowing stories that speak of the depth of callousness of our current government. They speak to the level of misinformation and neglect that dominants our public culture. Logie reports:
Everyone, including the tutors was worried about what is happening in Work and Income.
Among the issues they raised with me was the basic inadequacy of income. One young man gets $144 pw and has to pay $100 for rent, excluding expenses, leaving him $44 a week to cover all his costs . The young woman next to him was around the same age and had $80 income over her rent each week. They all felt that what you got was really dependent on luck and the case manager on the day.
The same young man had to leave the session with his tutor because , we were told, he was about to have his benefit cut for not turning up to WINZ instigated meetings. This was despite the tutor having a letter saying that the students were not required to attend Work and Income meetings while on the course.
The efforts the man had to go through to convince work and income staff that he had not been non-compliant were mind-boggling. Added to the injustice of it all was that the meeting he was being punished for not attending was a budgeting session; to learn how to pay for everything with his $44pw.
A tutor was also very concerned that a mother had had her benefit cut in half for missing three days of the course when it turned out she and her baby had been admitted to hospital after getting the flu and having seizures. She didn’t have enough money on her phone to tell anyone.
More harrowing stories at the above link.
The struggles of such people should never be forgotten as the election campaign continues. There was a time when Kiwis were proud of the country’s record in caring for it’s least well off, and least powerful citizens. In 1935, the Labour became government committed to providing comprehensive care of citizens “from the cradle to the grave”. In 1938 the historic Social Security Act was past.
Labour won the 1935 election with a policy that every New Zealand citizen had a right to a reasonable standard of living. The community was responsible for ensuring that people were safeguarded against economic conditions from which they could not protect themselves. Labour’s ultimate response to the Depression was the Social Security Act.
The Act combined the introduction of a free-at-the-point-of-use health system with a comprehensive array of welfare benefits. It was financed by a tax surcharge of one shilling in the pound, or 5%. ‘Pensions’ were renamed ‘benefits’.
The NZ History article ends with hints of how this system of care, compassion, inclusiveness and social well being has since been undermined by the powerful spinners of callous, profits-before-people, economics: an ideology that benefits the few at the expense of the many. The result is the kind of society where stories of those struggling are hidden, marginalised, or worse.
We can be much better than that. We can return to the spirit of ’35 and elect a government that works for the whole country. A true economics puts social and community wellbeing as before finances, balance sheets, and corporate profits.
Many things have changed since 1935, so we need a renew blue-print for a society that is measured by the wellbeing of all, including those with least money and power.
Opposition Party Policies:
Everyone has a standard of living that enables them to participate in their community.
People have sufficient income for their personal and whanau/family’s well-being.
People are actively involved in meeting their potential and creating a fulfilling life.
A commitment to full employment.
Greater emphasis on sufficiency, simplicity, universality.
Specific policy points include this:
Improve the culture of Work and Income so that people are treated with dignity and respect and are enable to access their full entitlements promptly.
Labour Party: I couldn’t find a specific policy area on Labour’s website for anything resembling income support or social security. It is touched upon in policies that focus on children and the elderly, and on full employment, a living wage for all and fairness at work.
The Mana Party also puts a strong emphasis on work, a living age and fair employment legislation addresses social security specifically with its Social Wellbeing policy. It explains,
Anyone who is unable to support themselves because they are out of work, sick, injured, disabled, elderly, or a sole parent deserves support from a compassionate welfare system. The current system is far too complicated. It wastes huge amounts of taxpayers’ money on administration, and does not provide even minimal adequate support for most people on benefits. All too often people coming to Work and Income are treated with disregard and contempt.
Specific policy measures include:
Radically change the culture of Work & Income so that people coming in for assistance are treated with respect, granted their full entitlements, and so that staff are trained and supported to work sensitively with people from a diverse range of backgrounds.
On the Internet Party website, I don’t see any policy area (as yet) for social security.
Vote for a return to the spirit of ’35, while focusing on the practicalities of the 21st century.