Could Labour’s first major policy announcement be a permanent unemployment insurance scheme similar to that advocated for by ACT?
Ouch. That’s the headline from a piece at interest.co.nz looking at Grant Robertson’s idea of a two tier welfare system.
The proposal is to have an ACC-like insurance scheme for newly unemployed people. It’s a time limited payment “which gives people security and keeps them connected to the labour market”.
The scheme could payout the same to everyone, or be related to the income they had been earning. Funding would come from government, employer and employee contributions.
He denied it was middle class welfare, in that people who lose higher paid jobs could get paid more than those who lose lower paid jobs or are longer-term welfare dependents, unable to work.
“There are two different debates here. I don’t think it’s useful to draw them together. One is about the adequacy of the welfare system, the other is about what we do in situations when people lose their jobs and how we keep them in the labour market,” Robertson said.
Yeah, thanks Grant. We get it. You are developing separate policy that will help the working and middle classes, while continuing your intentional neglect of the underclass. We fully understand where your priorities are at.
This is entirely consistent with Labour’s approach to social security. They see welfare as a necessary evil, not to be encouraged, and that all problems can be solved by work. Except those that can’t, but that’s ok, because Labour’s plan is to a) stop people falling in a hole, b) pull up the people from the hole that they can, and c) leave the rest in the hole but hidden behind a nice curtain of kindness rhetoric.
Too harsh? Labour have sat on their hands for three years with regards to welfare, almost completely ignoring the WEAG report. They didn’t even have a go at the low hanging fruit, this isn’t real politik it’s ideology.
Maybe welfare is a second term project, but here they are signalling that they want to attend to people who are doing ok and the sound of silence around the underclass is deafening.
Meanwhile, Carmel Sepuloni is talking about how to get people on a benefit to do voluntary work. Not so they can have better lives, but to get them ready for the jobs that Labour believe will heal all ills.
The ironic cruelty here is that the biggest barriers to beneficiaries doing voluntary work come from Work and Income punitive policies that Sepuloni oversees. Some of that is cultural (if you do voluntary work you’re not serious about looking for a job), some of it is bureaucratic (if an interview at WINZ to keep prodding you to look for work clashes with your voluntary job you will be penalised if you priorities the voluntary commitment).
Sepuloni appears to have done nothing about those barriers. Typically, while WEAG advised making volunteering more accessible because it helped beneficiaries be part of their community, Labour want volunteering to be part of their work-ready programme. A programme which has often worked against the wellbeing of beneficiaries and their community.
Thirty years on from Marilyn Waring’s Counting for Nothing and we are still stuck in ideology that paid work is the be all and end all. Yet unpaid work holds up our society. Were we to value that we might put wellbeing at the centre of the economy isn’t of it being a superficial overlay. Helping out at the marae or raising a child on a benefit might not be the big bucks export earner that so many extol, but we are lost without them. Why do we value them so poorly?
For Labour the point of volunteering is to prepare for jobs, but those are jobs that are rapidly disappearing, and many of which were poorly paid with poor employment conditions. Hard to see how the people moving in and out of low paid work are going to be helped by an insurance scheme they don’t earn enough to pay into, but hey, at least they can do unpaid work to keep their hand in.
I believe the kindness stuff is real. I think that Labour has good people in it and many of them value compassion and want the best for people. Unfortunately that’s not enough and it shows in the policies that Labour produce (or don’t produce).
It’s not that I object to Labour making plans around support for people who lose their job. Obviously we are in a major crisis with covid, and this has to be done. What I don’t understand is why Labour haven’t been addressing the equally serious crises around welfare in the past three years and still won’t go there.
And before anyone says ‘oh but the winter energy payment’,
Pre-COVID, core benefit entitlements were well under legally-mandated child poverty measures; COVID made things worse and the Government acknowledged that by doubling the Winter Energy Payment for the "vulnerable", ie those on benefits and NZ Super. But this COVID WEP ends 1 Oct.
— Child Poverty Action (@childpovertynz) September 1, 2020
As core incomes are below primary poverty lines, CPAG & @_AAAP_ urgently call for the COVID WEP to continue, and for children on benefits to receive all family support tax credits (a min of $72.50pw extra – blue bar on graph) pic.twitter.com/EEjND1zxH6
— Child Poverty Action (@childpovertynz) September 1, 2020
There are real alternatives. From the Interest piece,
It’s questionable whether the Green Party would support such a regime, should it form a government with Labour after the election.
It wants the country’s welfare system boosted in line with recommendations made by the Government’s Welfare Expert Advisory Group.
The Green Party also wants to ensure that everyone who isn’t in paid full-time work, including students and part-timers, receives a ‘Guaranteed Minimum Income’ payment of at least $325 a week after tax. Single, childless people on Jobseeker Support currently receive $251.
The Greens’ GMI is part of a whole package designed to address all the interlocking issues that make up the massive poverty elephant in the New Zealand living room: housing, welfare rates, WINZ culture, barriers to work, racism, sexism.
Now that we’re in a covid world, I fully expect many of the middle classes, even those on the left, to support Labour’s vision of solutions rather than the Greens. Of course they will want to protect their own. But if mainstream NZ votes on that self interest we can no longer pretend we are willing to do much about poverty other than say we want it to end.
If 2017 was the election of a major cultural shift around values, where New Zealand said we want kindness now, then 2020 is the election of putting our money were our mouth is. The left is looking set to win the election, so the choice now is about what kind of left government do we want?
front page photo via Medium.