The recognition of the need to provide income support to farmers during this drought period is illustrative. It illustrates the importance of having a comprehensive social protection system that steps in when things go wrong including the weather as in this case. It illustrates the benefit of Farm Owners of having a union that the Government supports and is prepared to fund to provide much needed services such as co-ordination, animal welfare advice and counselling.
If we didn’t support those farmers in need at this time they wouldn’t be able to pay their power bills or buy food for their families during this drought period. Interestingly they are actually working while getting these benefits, including presumably adding value to their assets. Some will be laying off staff who could face a stand down if they need to go onto the unemployment benefit.
I don’t imagine these Farmers or their partners are expected to attend a WINZ office every second day to show they are seeking new employment – we support them in the circumstances they find themselves in – needing to continue to look after their farms and families, but in need of financial and other types of support to get through a financial difficulty. We don’t expect them or their partners to go out and find other work during this time. This is community at its best. The support includes access to the equivalent of the unemployment benefit, access to counselling and business advice and the ability to defer tax payments. For a time, these farmers will be “beneficiaries” but that’s ok – that’s what we do as a community, in times of need.
Solo mums are a bit like these farmers. They are working but not earning and need community support to do that. For them, they now have to attend job preparation courses and look for work. They can be drug tested, boot camped and have their benefits cut if they don’t answer the phone when WINZ rings them about something. Working when you have small kids is extremely difficult particularly if you have kids at school and pre-school age. Their hours never line up and school holidays and the endless colds and coughs little ones get means often having to choosing between two important obligations – your kids or your work. Sure lots of women do it, but for someone solo and particularly if you don’t have a sympathetic employer or if your kids need you to be home, it should not be compulsory and your life and the life of your kids is likely to be extremely unpleasant.
The unemployed are looking for work and most of them were happily working until the business they were working for hit hard times. For youth, a large number have never had the chance. Many are in and out of work – labour hire here, labour hire there, spending more time looking for work than working. There is a jobs drought, but no equivalent sympathy for them. We are told to be suspicious of them – that they probably aren’t trying hard enough, that they are too picky, that they are drug taking, phone answering avoiders. Really they are just like the farmers. Relying on Social Protection when things go wrong.
The drought shows how important social protection systems are. When the unexpected happens – your farm dries up, you get sick, you lose your job, you find yourself alone raising your kids – the community steps in by way of tax funded Social Protection. For most people the need is not forever and most will be part of both the funding community and the receiving community at some point in our life. I support the farmers getting benefits and I hope for their sake it rains very soon.