I’ve been meaning to write about the Salvation Army’s superb State of the Nation report, but I haven’t managed to more than skim read it1, let alone put a post together on it. So I thought I’d combine my few thoughts so far on it with this Sally Army story, about how the impending welfare changes of this government are a ‘defining moment’.
The welfare working group reports back tomorrow, with John Key having done the preparation for its harsh remedies himself with his comments that the use of foodbanks was a “lifestyle choice” and the result of “poor choices”.
Salvation Army Major Campbell Roberts sums up nicely what the response should be:
“We think that the pathway beyond welfare dependency is not more tightly controlled benefits, but better resourced schools, training opportunities and opening up workplaces to the marginalised … the rhetoric about moving people back into work is great, but you look at the average solo mum with three or four children.
“She might want to get to work but there’s all sorts of hurdles; there’s not adequate early childhood education, she doesn’t happen to live next to a workplace … and then the ability of the workplace, even if it wanted to, to be able to fit the constraints of looking after children who get sick often and things go wrong. And what happens when they come home from school and holidays?”
It is pointless forcing people to go back to work when there aren’t jobs for them to go to. The most appropriate welfare reform John Key can undertake is to get our economy moving again. The vast majority of Kiwis on benefits want to work, but under National 700 more people are joining the dole queue each week.
One wonders if this, along with asset sales, is the government’s attempt to be ‘bold’ in a way the Salvation Army criticised them for not being in their Report. Shame the policies lack any vision however.
There has been nothing bold in the Government’s political agenda despite any rhetoric which would have us think otherwise. […] Regrettably there is no big picture emerging from this State of the Nation report.2
Instead as National fiddles the tax system for their rich mates, doing nothing much as the economic crisis and recession continues, the progress that had been made by the last term of the Clark government has been reversed:
This report shows that child poverty rates have climbed back to where they were five years ago, that violence toward children and youth unemployment are as bad as they were five years ago, and that the educational disadvantage suffered by Maori children continues and may even be getting worse. […]
The problems of unaffordable housing, alcohol-fuelled family violence, child poverty and youth disaffection are as they were four years ago. Despite their importance and despite the public concern expressed about them, little has changed. In effect meaningful social progress has stalled.
With no investment in our future, but spending hundreds of millions building new prisons whilst cutting $400 million from Early Childhood Education, inevitably we’re going backwards. When we’re cutting skills, education and science and technology budgets we’re stripping our future. When we’re failing to invest in the Cullen Fund. shifting pension burden to the young, we’re taxing our youth. As Dame Anne Salmond says: an ‘aging society that doesn’t care for its young has a death wish’. If our youth all leave the country because we’ve left too big a bill for them, can we blame them as we sit in our poverty-filled retirement?
National is justifying their cuts by successfully inducing media hysteria about debt, managing to get the borrowing $350 million/week number out there (including $120 million / week for their tax cuts for the rich). In fact private debt is finally decreasing and Treasury’s most recent forecasts suggest a cash shortfall of around $5 billion this financial year and Government’s overall operating position moving back into surplus in 2011/12. As the Sallies put it:
Between 2004 and 2008 debt seemed such a good thing as New Zealanders dug themselves into a $90 billion pit of debt to buy bigger houses, wider TVs and smaller mobile phones. Few people in the media commented on this profligacy and foolishness yet now they are presenting debt as the limiting factor for having Government do anything other than bail out many of the people who profited from this profligacy and foolishness.
So we can afford to invest in our future, we don’t need to demonise the poor, and we don’t need to sell off those assets our ancestors built up for us.
And we need a new government who realises this.
1 I can heartily recommend reading the foreword and report cards for those short on time.
2 Yes, the Sallies also criticise the Clark government for a lack of vision with their not dealing with the housing bubble etc, but at least they were making progress on society’s ills.