Earlier this year, Paula Bennett released the personal details of two women who get the DPB who had opposed her cancelling of a grant designed to get people off the benefit. As far as I’m aware, the Privacy Commissioner still hasn’t published her opinion on Bennett’s bully tactics but it looks like Bennett has got the message that she can’t use her privileges as minister to bully vulnerable people who dare to oppose her.
Today, details of the recipients of the largest benefit payments have been released and Bennett said that could only happen “as long as people’s privacy was protected”. So, a small victory for human rights there. Although Bennett still needs to apologise to the first two women and, in a decent government, she would have lose her portfolio.
Anyway, on the details of the largest benefit payments. Typically, actual information was released only to journalists, who then gave a selected account of them so we don’t have a good overview of the payments. We know that the majority of the largest payments go to people who are raising other people’s children – like two grandfathers who are raising 8 and 10 children apiece on just $1574 and $1702 a week respectively. That works out at about $20 after-tax a day to raise a kid. That’s doing it tough. These people are hardly bludgers. If not for them, the kids would be separated from their familyand be in more expensive state care.
Bennett managed to find one family who do seem to be exploiting the system. In the interests of giving people a fair and balanced view of the benefit system, Colin Espiner spends his entire article on these people. The fact is that there are a very small number of people who are almost irredeemably trouble and this family looks to fit the bill. That Espiner and Bennett could only find this one family among all the beneficiaries who genuinely look like bludgers speaks volumes.
I wonder how much Bennett had her ministry spend on this witch-hunt of the highest paid beneficiaries. I wonder how much she will spend on continuing special monitoring of these few families, the majority of whom are clearly in real need and not abusing the system. I bet the expense outweighs any savings.
Meanwhile, unemployment continues to climb (despite the small seasonal drop in dole numbers in October and November) and the number of sickness beneficiaries has exploded under Bennett’s watch. Creating work opportunities for these tens of thousands of people who desperately want to work should be Bennett’s priority, not witch-hunts intended to get her positive headlines.