Written By: - Date published: 9:12 am, July 19th, 2017 - 75 comments
Categories: benefits, class war, greens, poverty, Revolution, Social issues, vision, welfare - Tags: #ChangeTheGovt, #greenthegovt, #IamMetiria, how change happens, speaking truth to power, speaking up
I’m old enough to remember that in the mid 1980s people weren’t blamed for being on a benefit. On the contrary, there was overt sympathy for people on the dole because the Labour government was busy experimenting on the economy and the alarming increase in numbers of unemployed being created by lay-offs was seen as either out of individuals’ control, or a good thing that we needed to tighten our belts for until the new goodies trickled down.
But then it changed. I don’t remember when exactly but by the time National came into power in 1990 the stage was set for the benefit cuts that signalled a massive change to the culture of NZ and the end of compassionate social welfare.
I spent some time last night reading #IamMetiria stories on twitter. This hashtag arose from Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei’s speaking truth to power last weekend about the realities of life on a benefit. These stories aren’t new to me personally, I’ve got enough of my own experiences and those of people I know to draw on. But they are still moving and shocking.
I am struck by the sheer amount of wasted talent, creativity, time, effort and emotional energy that’s being sucked out of NZ by this brutal clusterfuck of a system.
There’s something potent about seeing the stories said out loud in this way. We’ve not seen this before and it lays bare the extent and nature of the problem. It’s not just the usual media reports of how many people are unemployed or on DPB/SLA. It’s how many New Zealanders have passed through this system over the past 30 years and had really shitty, often devastating experiences.
None of this is new to the wider culture. It’s not like it hasn’t been written and talked about for some time. I remember a few years ago when stories started being reported by the mainstream media. Like the woman who was legally blind but WINZ wouldn’t believe her. Some of those stories were of middle class people who were shocked at the treatment they were getting, while the rest of us were sitting there nodding and going yep, this is what it’s been like for a very long time, no-one has been listening.
It was good that the MSM finally paid attention then but there was no momentum. Now it seems like a volcano awakening. It’s important that these stories are kept visible. I think even many compassionate lefties probably don’t truly understand just how bad this has been. For so long no-one wanted to talk about this. This is the first time I can remember in more than 20 years that it’s been socially sanctioned to stand up and talk about life on a benefit and what it means.
These are stories of many kinds. Some are stories of people who like Turei found a way out of the poverty trap. They struggled while they were there and now they express gratitude and solidarity. Some are the stories of people still in the thick of it. Too ill or cold or hungry to function properly. Some of them are from women who have chosen not to eat so their kids could. There are lots of stories about ill people being treated badly, and mental health issues are significant. And stories not speaking out for fear of repercussions. There are also many stories of mistakes made by the department and people losing their income, and of the mind-blowing, banal stupidity of the hoops that people have to jump through.
And running throughout all the stories is the thread of humiliation and stress and grief and disbelief that NZ could be treating people this badly.
If you are able to, please go and read #IamMetiria. Understand what is being said and be willing to act. This is a watershed moment. Whatever happens in September, there’s no putting this genie back in the bottle. Metiria Turei broke the spell and now the flood gates are open.
There are things that need to happen next. One is getting out the vote. Making sure that as many people as possible who have had these experiences are enrolled and then voting on or before September 23rd.
This is momentum. We wanted this and here’s an opportunity. It’s not enough to just criticise National (or Labour). We have to act and make things happen. Go to meetings, send emails, encourage people to think about the issues, talk politics. Be upset and depressed and scared, but then move on to support and proactive, creative responses. Get angry. Vote. Tell the stories of people who are struggling as real human beings, change the narrative.
Whatever happens in September we need to build a movement and this is the first time I can remember when we had a real chance at one. It’s not this single twitter stream, nor is it solely about beneficiaries. It’s what’s behind this tip of the iceberg, the fact that NZ is allowed to care again, and that we now have part of the political class ready and willing to act.
Oh for Helen Kelly right now. Imagine what she would say of our conversation over what we put Beneficiaries through. Here's a solid reminder pic.twitter.com/CsV5RdEKPq
— Alan (@alans_world) July 17, 2017
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