Written By: - Date published: 7:57 am, July 15th, 2013 - 272 comments
Categories: child welfare, class war, cost of living, crime, democracy under attack, human rights, jobs, john key, paula bennett, public services, same old national - Tags:
Today the Nact governments war on beneficiaries steps up a gear with widespread changes to the social security system. Fronted by John Key and Paula Bennett, who got a great start in their adult lives from the social security system that was developed in the 1930s by the then Labour government. Now they lead a vicious and nasty shift from supporting the less well-off, those suffering misfortune, and the disadvantaged – to persecuting them and treating them as though they are all cheats, self-serving addicts, and malingerers.
And Key and Bennett falsely spin the positive values of these changes for all they worth, playing on the same kinds of lies and misconceptions that are rife in the UK, as posted today by Eddie on the Standard. On Stuff this morning, Michael Fox writes:
Wide-ranging benefit reforms have come into force today, with beneficiary advocates voicing a mix of cautious optimism and criticism of the changes.
From today there are fewer benefit categories, as well as compulsory drug testing for jobseekers, sanctions for fugitive beneficiaries and stricter healthcare obligations for parents of young children.
And what’s it all for? Saving money, and denying as many people as possible much needed support:
Work and Income says the results are “some of the best from any case management trial” in recent years, with 6000 of the 10,000 people in the pilot no longer on a benefit. More than half of those people found work, the rest opted out or cancelled benefits for reasons such as no longer meeting eligibility requirements.
From today, 91,000 people will be enrolled.
The ministry also has a pilot planned in the next two months to get 2000 sickness beneficiaries with mental and physical disabilities into work, she said.
The Government estimates 28,000 to 44,000 people will come off benefits by 2017 because of the reforms, saving up to $1.6 billion.
So it’s all about getting people off benefits and into work…. or anywhere that is out of sight of the middle-classes, and off the books. There seems to be little interest in helping people to deal with difficult circumstances – the original aim of social security. Fox does the usual attempt at (skewed) “balance” with the timid addition of some of the criticism of the changes, sandwiched in between Bennett’s spin:
Federation of Family Budgeting Services boss Raewyn Fox said dealing with one case manager meant more clarity and fewer things falling “through the cracks”, though people were nervous about the changes.
“Some people are worried about being subjected to more tests and [that] it’s a way of getting out of paying them.”
Sarah Thompson, of Auckland Action Against Poverty, said the reforms were about “cutting costs by pushing vulnerable people off the books” at a time when few jobs were available.
Labour social welfare spokeswoman Jacinda Ardern said she was hearing of solo mothers being forced to give up study for menial jobs allocated by Work and Income, such as washing dishes, meaning they could not improve their circumstances.
Simon Collins in this morning’s NZ Herald, is more blunt about the real government agenda and its impact, in his article “Thousands in Welfare cull“:
Thousands of people are expected to be chopped off welfare benefits as sweeping changes in the social security system come into force today.
The reforms represent the biggest upheaval in the welfare state since the Social Security Act was passed by the first Labour Government in 1938.
Other new obligations include drug-testing for jobseekers in relevant industries, which is expected to trigger benefit cuts for up to 5800 people, and a requirement for beneficiaries to clear outstanding arrest warrants.
About 8000 beneficiaries have arrest warrants outstanding for issues such as unpaid fines. Unless they clear them within 38 days, their benefits will be halved if they have children, or stopped completely if they don’t, in what is likely to be the biggest single purge of the benefit rolls since the system was created.
And what will be the impact of these changes? As Collins indicates, a climate of fear, and a rise in crime, especially in drug-related crime.
And will it mean more work for private prison companies like Serco?
It’s no wonder that council workers in Wellington are being attacked my disgruntled people. Some attacks are on librarians by young people having problems with access to the Wellington libraries’ “pay-for use Internet services: a service that should be the right of all Kiwis, and shouldn’t require payment as it is a services necessary to contemporary life.
All part of the on-going “neoliberal” shift of wealth from the many to the few.
Today’s benefit changes -a sad day for New Zealanders, and it does so much dishonour to the 1938 Labour Government.
[update] RNZ interview with “Beneficiary advocate Kay Brereton”
Brereton advocates for more support and incentives for beneficiaries, rather than the stress of medical assessments and other pressures. She argues that the focus is in getting people off benefits, and many at risk people just give up.
In a press release from the Beneficiary Advocacy Federation, Brereton spells out what the “demonisation of beneficiaries” means, and says:
“What job seekers need is assistance and encouragement to help build self esteem and confidence to keep seeking employment in a very tough market; what these reforms offer is bullying and punishment.”
“The recession has touched every family and community in NZ, and the closures and redundancies are still being announced, yet the government is vastly increasing the obligations and sanctions on those with the least choices in these tough times.”
Auckland Action Against Poverty are doing advocacy work at 3 WINZ offices today. They are critical of the latest social security changes and state,
“This is not about getting people into decent work – it’s not about job creation. It’s about cutting costs by pushing vulnerable people off the books.
“AAAP has already been working with increased numbers of beneficiaries over the past couple of months as more and more beneficiaries are being sanctioned for any accidental misstep – or sanctioned due to Work and Income error.
“In addition, Work and Income’s gate-keeping culture has seen a growing number of people being incorrectly denied both financial support and the right to even apply for various supports.