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Bathwater and babies

Written By: - Date published: 9:42 pm, March 19th, 2012 - 31 comments
Categories: babies, benefits, child welfare, equality - Tags:

Tapu Misa has an excellent article in today’s Herald. She hopes those predicting the demise of Labour’s pre-election promise to extend Working to Families to the children of beneficiaries are wrong. So do I.

Election 2011 might seem like a long time ago, but I thought Labour’s policy for children was great. Here it is as a reminder. The only problem was that it was left till last, announced during the election campaign, and disappeared without trace.

I am concerned at the mixed signals coming from that part of Labour that backgrounds the media. As Tapu Misa indicates, this  policy or that policy is said to be for discard, as Labour is said to be  moving  bravely to the centre of the political spectrum.

Worryingly all the policies said to be for discard are those that would have most impact on those at the bottom of the heap. No justification is offered for these moves, nor is there any evidence that they have wide support within the party. Judging from the hopes and aspirations expressed by those in the review meeting I was at this week, I don’t think that is the case.

The only evidence offered so far appears to be the door-knocking experience of the Taranaki candidate, Josie Pagani. I suspect that had she been the candidate in Mangere or Manukau East she might have drawn a different conclusion.

If all this can be called a political strategy, I think it is a bad one. Labour didn’t only lose votes at the centre in the last election, it lost them at the margin. Turnout was down to 74%, the worst result since 1887, and Labour’s share of that at 27% was the lowest percentage since before 1935.  Theorising that Labour moving to the centre will leave more room for others on the left is in my view wishful thinking. The more likely result is even lower turnout as more people give up on political promise.

If any of Labour’s policies are to be up for review, I would hope that it be done in full consultation with all in the Party – we have a Policy Council for that purpose. Also if there are to be changes, they should at the same time include policies that will deliver real benefit to the children of the poor, and real hope to those whose situation is currently unequal through no fault of their own and the prospects of whose children are grim.

Labour can still be the party of social justice – it will be defined by what it does for our children. Let’s not throw out what was a very very good policy.


31 comments on “Bathwater and babies”

  1. Lanthanide 1

    I support extending WFF to beneficiaries (the documentary on child poverty was simply shocking), but the way Labour announced it was a complete and utter clusterfuck.

    Retaining the name “working for families” and extending it to people who aren’t working is a truly incredible PR own-goal. Similarly is the fact that they did a u-turn on this after, when the policy was first implemented, repeatedly making it very clear that it was to be an incentive for people to get into work and off a benefit.

    National didn’t announce all their policies during the election campaign (like the new super ministry and Nick Smith wanting to screw down on local councils), so why on earth did Labour feel they had to put all of their cards on the table, especially with an expensive policy like this in an environment of touted fiscal parsimony by their opponents?

    • Blue 1.1

      The clusterfuck has its roots in the decision to introduce Working For Families in its current form.

      The last Labour Government was more in touch with the punitive attitude that most Kiws have towards beneficiaries, and decided to give the payment only to those in work, despite the fact that children living in poverty cannot help whether their parents have jobs or not.

      Trying to fix that situation inevitably kickstarted the shitfight that the last Labour government deferred.

      Introducing WFF was in itself an admission that wages in NZ are so pathetic that at the lower end of the scale you can’t raise a family on them.

      The solution to introduce WFF rather than raising the minimum wage is another one of those ‘defer the problem’ solutions where Labour took it on the government to give families money because employers would scream the house down if they were required to pay their staff a living wage.

      Any Labour leader who wants to get elected and stay elected cannot touch this policy or they will die a painful political death. The time for Labour to get this right was when they were in office, and now the window of opportunity has passed.

    • QoT 1.2

      Are we sharing a brain, Lanth? Exactly my feelings on the matter.

  2. It was a poorly thought through policy, poorly promoted, and poorly received by the electorate. A bit like the whole campaign – they ended up just campaigning on one anti something.

    The last thing we need is yet another layer on a complex benefit system. Everything should be substantially simplified, not made a worse mess. I don’t know if it’s deliberate or not but the complexity hides the real costs – and also masks how sparse it is for some people.

    • Lanthanide 2.1

      “and also masks how sparse it is for some people.”

      Yep, definitely true. As someone who doesn’t get WFF, and is unlikely to ever get it, I don’t really have much of a grasp on how it works or the various entitlements that are available.

      I think understanding of WFF is poor in the public at large, probably even amongst people that actually claim it, and National somewhat tapped into this with their new “ME too!” tax rate that gives single workers a tax credit up to $48k or whatever it is. That was a cunning piece of divide-and-conquer legislation – “look, Labour don’t care about you guys! we do!”; of course they dropped most of it when they cancelled the rest of the tax-cuts and replaced them with the “tax switch” that made most lower-income people worse off.

  3. Olwyn 3

    I agree with Lanthanide, that the policy of getting more money to beneficiary families should be kept, but not as WFF. It is absolutely cruel to try and push people into work by starving their kids, especially when there is no work in the first place. I also think we need to address housing, since this too plays a big part in the wretched circumstances to which families are reduced.

    “If any of Labour’s policies are to be up for review, I would hope that it be done in full consultation with all in the Party – we have a Policy Council for that purpose…Labour can still be the party of social justice…” hear, hear, but it means having the conviction to challenge the current narrative, rather than seeking out a niche within it.

    • RedLogix 3.1

      I agree with Lanthanide, that the policy of getting more money to beneficiary families should be kept, but not as WFF.

      I know I may be a little boring about this, but again this is yet another area where the UBI concept simply makes the policy problem go away.

      Scrap WFF and supplement the UBI with a Universal Child Allowance in the order of say $3k pa. (Or something like that… I haven’t thought the exact amount through.)

      We used to have this, and my mother recalled it as a great thing. Worked a treat because it was paid to the mother and in those days it meant that the stay-at-home mums (as they usually were back then) actually had a small amount of financial independence. OK it wasn’t much but it was better than nothing.

      But more importantly, being a universal allowance it gets rid of all the stupid distinctions and distortions of the current targetted system.

  4. DH 4

    Labour’s answer to everything… chuck more taxpayers money at it. Hell we’re a bottomless pit & it’s not their money is it.

    Y’know about half of the total welfare spend would go straight into private landlords pockets. Give beneficiaries a bit more dosh & within two years it will all be gone in increased rents. The bill for accommodation supplements alone is more than $1.5billion every year now, and that’s just from continually topping up the benefits so people can afford a roof over their head.

    D’ya think that Labour can actually try solving a problem instead of brushing it under the carpet with handouts all the time? Just once? Or is it that the chardonnay socialists aren’t too keen on seeing their own property portfolios lose value.

    • Colonial Viper 4.1

      Labour’s answer to everything… chuck more taxpayers money at it. Hell we’re a bottomless pit & it’s not their money is it.

      Your statement is simplistic rubbish.

      But I agree with your sentiment that Labour seems incapable of actually solving the root causes of the problems we face as a nation. More capitalist pretend and extend on the way, although a slightly gentler softer version than National.

    • RedLogix 4.2

      half of the total welfare spend would go straight into private landlords pockets.

      What… who provide homes for them where the state won’t anymore?

      • DH 4.2.1

        No, who keep the poor on the poverty line by charging as much rent as the market will bear. Who got generous tax rebates while collecting rents paid for by taxpayers.

        Even the productivity commission admitted in their housing report that extra Govt support for the poor, like the accommodation supplement, capitalises into higher housing prices by underpinning the market. And the higher the house price, the higher the rent.

        Rent is the biggest expense of the poor and it’s reached the stage where it’s killing those not fortunate enough to get a state house. Labour must fix the housing problem but instead they keep sweeping it under the carpet by handing out more & more cash that makes the problem even worse.

        • Colonial Viper

          Labour must fix the housing problem but instead they keep sweeping it under the carpet by handing out more & more cash that makes the problem even worse.


          Labour is not doing any of these things you are stating at the moment because Labour is currently NOT IN POWER.

          • DH

            Of course. But that was their election platform wasn’t it, and now we’ve got Mike here promoting more of the same. Spend spend spend. We’re a money tree.

            The housing market is going to get a whole lot worse for the low-income earners. During the housing boom rents lagged behind house prices because of the capital gain. Now that the capital gain has stalled investors are hiking rents up to get a market return from their investment.

            Without capital gain rents provide the only return so investors won’t build more houses until rents are high enough to provide a market return. That puts the squeeze on from both ends. Once rents are high enough we’ll see the housing market take off again. And the taxpayer is presently funding that bullshit.

  5. Reasons why Labour would be stupid not to drop this policy:

    1. The people with jobs currently receiving WFF were under the impression they were getting an in-work tax credit. The political party that wants to make them social welfare beneficiaries instead is going to seriously piss them off.

    2. In a situation where wages are low, raising social welfare benefits to match those wages provides a serious disincentive to working for a living. Having it as a policy is a valuable free gift to the govt and they’ll make the most of it. The problem is the low wages, not welfare, and that’s something Labour could get some traction on.

    3. Wasters, munters and thickos are already the nation’s most prolific breeders. Providing them with additional financial incentives to adopt a career consisting entirely of living on a benefit and increasing the waster, munter and thicko population is seriously not the way to win the hearts and minds of people who vote.

    • Grumpy 5.1

      ….and….it’s a subsidy for employers anyway. WFF is the main thing keeping the minimum wage ridiculously low.

      • Lanthanide 5.1.1

        “WFF is the main thing keeping the minimum wage ridiculously low.”

        No, that would be the National government.

  6. gareth 6

    It’d be easy enough to trim some off the top to put down at the bottom end of WFF any ways,
    I get @ 70/k per annum have 1 child and get $22 per week wff. Sure it’s nice to have, but can I survive without it? Defiantly.
    I certainly wouldn’t begrudge losing it if the money went to people who are at the bottom of the pile.

    Although my preference would be that if it were trimmed back the money saved went towards better services at a cheaper rate rather than just handing money over… I know a few guys with young kids that are always moaning they’re broke… but seem to have the cash to get on the piss every weekend.
    I know it’s probably a minority over all, but I think that there enough people that will fritter any extra cash away to make it more worth while to provide funded services. My preferences are extending free doctors visits to say 13 yrs and school breakfasts so you can be more sure kids aren’t at school hungry.

    • Enough is Enough 6.1

      I agree 100%

      WFF is and will always be an inefficent tool for redistibution. A lot is lost in IRD churn and there is never a guarantee that the targetted recipients (children) receive the full benefit of it.

      Better to have a more targeted use of funds and the two examples you have given are perfect. In that way it does not matter whether the kids are children of working poor, or children of the unemployed. They will be guaranteed a decent meal every day and free healthcare.

  7. indiana 7

    What is the household income level (for a family of say 2 children) before you become inelligible for WFF?

    • indiana 7.1

      Found it myself off the ird website…you are not inelligible for WFF if your household income is greater than $90500 for having 2 children under 12 years of age.

      So for the purpose of social justice extending WFF to beneficiaries has to be good right?

      • Lanthanide 7.1.1

        Yes. I think a limit of about $70k for 2 children under 12 is fairer and that money should go to beneficiaries.

        I like the policy (well broadly, in principle), but the way Labour handled it was asinine. Right on the back of their unpopular increase to the retirement age as well.

        • indiana

          I agree that the level should be reduced too…but not spent on increasing benefits to those that are not working. There is no social justice in increasing benefits for those that are capable and competent enough but are not willing to get a job. WFF is a policy where the desired outcome does not meet the actual outcome. It is a policy where the people that most benefit from it are not the ones that need it the most.

          • Colonial Viper

            those that are capable and competent enough but are not willing to get a job.

            What fucking jobs are you talking about, and where are they exactly.

            Last time a new supermarket advertised 150 new jobs that got over 1200 applicants.

            I can pick up the phone and find 20 unemployed people this afternoon who will take up full time $14/hr jobs tomorrow instead of staying on a benefit.

            Tell me where these jobs are and I’ll make it happen.

            • indiana


              I think these jobs pay better than what you are offering.

              • Colonial Viper


                How many of those web entrees are still up to date and available? How many of them have already got internal promotion candidates lined up at the top of a short list? How many of those jobs require security clearances which means anyone with a prior conviction is excluded from the get go? How many of those positions are listed simply to “feel out” the job market place for a particular niche role? How many of these jobs have already been promised to friends and family already working or managing at the casino?

                You’re a two dimensional moron. 160,000 unemployed and you show me a website with a few dozen jobs on it and think you’ve made your point. Dumbass.

                • indiana

                  Any other names you want to call me?

                  You asked where the jobs were and I gave you one company’s careers page as an example. You said you could call around 20 people to fill these roles, but now you are saying that they wouldn’t have a chance even if they applied – you never told me the backgroud of the people you knew.

                  So now we may as well just keep handing out benefits as applying for jobs is just too darned hard and not worth it because those nasty employers only give jobs to their mates and in general just piss off the job market just to feel them out, like they have nthing else better to do.

                  • felix

                    “You asked where the jobs were and I gave you one company’s careers page as an example.”

                    Are they advertising 160,000 jobs? Then what exactly do you think you’ve proved?

                    • indiana

                      When CV asked where the jobs were, he never specified that he wanted me to show where the 160,000 jobs were. He said he could round up 20 unemployed people to fill jobs and asked me where to start looking. So I did, I showed just ONE company’s career website…I am sure there are more.

                    • felix

                      Oh well, problem solved then.

                      Better call Bennett and tell her to shut up shop.

  8. Jenny 8

    How is that when Labour suggests plans for helping those in need, there are always accusations of reckless spending and screams of wasting public money. These screams about waste and public money often lead to Labour making a timid backdown.

    But when it comes to handing over tens of $millions of taxpayer’s funds to the fabulously rich, there is not the faintest squeak from these same critics.

    George Kerr was handed $100 million of taxpayer money no questions asked, after he lost his $70 million investment in South Canterbury Finance. (the generous extra $30 million to cover what Kerr felt he should have earned on his $70 million investment)

    Despite the fact that Kerr was one of the richest individuals that has ever lived in this country, who had a personal fortune of $180 million without this handout.

    Instead of punishing the children of beneficiaries, why doesn’t Labour announce that on gaining office Labour will launch an active campaign to recover the total $1.7 billion gifted to the likes of George Kerr.

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