At the end of last Sunday’s Insight program on RNZ, which focused on the issue of poverty, one of the experts featured (Ruby Duncan from charity Oasis) left us with this:
Children are dying, children are being killed in their own homes, we know all about that, how much do we care?
It’s a very good question. How much do we, as a country, care about the poor? I think the answer is complicated, and I also think that it is the issue that most clearly distinguishes the political Left and the Right. I wrote about this last year, but I’m going to repeat some of the words now.
Here’s a triplet of facts. 1) Every “developed” country needs a welfare system to take care of those who are, for whatever reason unable to support themselves. 2) The majority of welfare recipients are exactly the cases of genuine need that welfare systems are designed for. 3) A minority of welfare recipients are lazy bludgers who game the system to try and extract benefits when they could support themselves.
I don’t think anyone seriously questions point 1 anymore. The Left won that argument. What still separates us clearly into Left and Right today, it seems to me, is how we respond to 2 and 3. A Lefty will generously support a comprehensive welfare system to provide a decent quality of life for those in need (they accept the minority of bludgers as a cost of doing business). But nothing shrivels a Tory heart like the idea of sharing their wealth. While unable to deny the need, they become so obsessed with the small minority of bludgers that they can’t help but attack the system, and in doing so they attack the support for the overwhelming majority of perfectly genuine welfare recipients.
Now in the run up to the election, as both major parties have released their welfare related policies, we can see exactly this difference very starkly portrayed.
National’s policy is all about trying to drive people off welfare, all about trying to stamp out the bludgers. For that reason it is punitive and damaging to the majority of genuine welfare recipients. National’s policy is divorced from reality because it fails to take any account of three important facts:
In contrast Labour’s policy accepts that we should simply help in cases of genuine need – the vast majority of welfare recipients. In particular there are around 200,000 children living in poverty in NZ, and that is simply unacceptable. Extending the WFF tax credit to beneficiary families with children under 18 will put an extra $60 a week in their hands (phased in by April 2018). The cost of paying more to some small percentage of bludging beneficiaries is far outweighed by the benefit of lifting children out of poverty.
Oh and just by the way, Labour’s policy makes more economic sense no matter which way you look at it. Child poverty costs New Zealand $6 billion annually by some estimates. Spending to reduce child poverty has a massive return on investment.
So there you have it. The classic split between Left and Right on welfare. As ever the Left is working to help the majority in genuine need, while the Right is so obsessed with the small minority of bludgers that their only aim is to make the system more punitive for all. Which approach better serves the children of New Zealand? How much do we care?