Saturday, June 16, 2007

Plain speaking a rarity

Here is some refreshing disagreement between health board members talking about health solutions for the poor, Maori and the aged. When you read comments like these it hits home forcefully that very little plain speaking ever sees the light of day.

Board member Jack Havill said it wasn't enough for the groups to rely on the DHB to fix their health problems, which ranged from obesity and diabetes to heart disease and more.

"What about personal responsibilities?" Dr Havill asked.

David Gilgen said the issue could not simply be solved within the DHB's portfolio. "We're looking at microscopic solutions to a macroscopic problem."

Dr Gilgen defended Maori, saying a prejudice in New Zealand hindered them from making a success out of their lives. "I've got Maoris who go to Australia; they're hardworking, they're reliable, they operate, but when they come back to New Zealand they're `lazy Maoris' again."

He said in a recent trip to the dentist he was asked if he was there for a Winz quote.

Gordon Blake said lower socio-economic people were jeopardising services provided by the DHB by not turning up to appointments and not supporting services in their area.

Charles Bronson - my hero

All my careful studying of form and breeding and performance came to fruition this week when I picked six winners in a row at Forbury Park and secured a percentage of the $75,000 Pick Six. It's a lovely feeling when the TAB doesn't have enough cash to pay you out and has to write a cheque. Over a thousand percent return. Not bad. Back in my more-protestant-than-me husband's good books.

Why the picture of Charles Bronson? Because I can't find a picture of the real Charles Bronson, the striking grey son of Christian Cullen, who was the horse of the night, getting headed in the straight (my heart sank as my chances looked like evaporating) but then valiantly fighting back for a big win. Not something you see very often. Go you good thing.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Maori stereotype of Pakeha

I've just finished reading Nga Iwi o te Motu, 1000 years of Maori History, by Michael King. We hear plenty about the Pakeha stereotype of Maori. This is the first I've read about the Maori stereotype of Pakeha.

Yesterday I attended a funeral. I hate funerals. I struggle with emotion, can't keep down the tears while marvelling at (and resenting I guess) those all around me who keep their composure and even deliver calm and occasionally comical eulogies. I took Robert with me as the lady who had passed away (prematurely) had been very kind to him as a baby and toddler. I think he was her surrogate grandchild while she waited for some of her own. Anyway, unsuccessfully trying to momentarily distract myself from thinking about Mary, I was describing to him how Maori grieve and the tangi process and, drawing on the following passage, how Maori might see Pakeha funerals by contrast;

There is no comparable body of literature to mirror Maori views of Pakeha over the same period. But what has been published by way of reminiscence by writers such as Amiria Stirling and Reweti Kohere suggests that there was a Maori stereotype of the Pakeha as someone who was self-centred, materialist, acquisitive, unfeeling about their extended family and callous about their treatment of the dead.

Regarding the last, if it is true I think it's simply misinterpretation on the part of Maori. But it's a reminder that we should all be wary of misinterpretation of attitudes, behaviours and practices we don't understand. Within and without our own culture.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Abortions increase

There were 400 more abortions in 2006 than in 2005 - a 2.3% increase. All ethnicities experienced increases ACCEPT ASIANS. The largest increase in abortion rate (per 1,000) was for 15-19 year-olds. 105 11-14 year-olds had an abortion - the highest number on record. The highest percentage increase in number of abortions was for Maori. Of the countries given by Statistics NZ, in 2005 NZ was second only to Sweden.

Bits and pieces

When my mother went into labour with me my father dropped her off at the hospital on the way to rugby practice. Dean Barker's wife isn't expecting is she?

The Muliagas were entitled to (and reportedly getting) $279 a week in WFF tax credits. That's like having a job and getting a benefit. But still the PM wants more done for "vulnerable" people.

Australians apparently almost exclusively blame mothers, especially welfare mothers, for their children's obesity. Ms Malik said many articles implicitly pitched responsible mothers against "neglectful refrigerator mothers made soft by welfarism". But isn't the stuff that comes out of the fridge mostly good for you? Are they neglecting the fridge or their children?

In 2003 only 11.5 percent of prisoners were gang members. Now one quarter are. At this rate by around 2014 the prisons will be 100 percent filled with gang members. Still. Not to worry. Tariana Turia told us not all gang members are criminals.

Don't you miss Richard Prebble serving it up to the the government?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Death penalty prevents homicides

I am not a proponent of the death penalty. But how often do we here opponents of it say, look at the United States, it hasn't worked there. This report claims there would be even more homicides without the death penalty.

Responding to welfare apologists

This appeared in the NZ Herald on Monday. My response is below.

Louise Humpage and Susan St John: A bill the poor will pay for
Monday June 11, 2007

Work, work and more work: what ever happened to social security? Most people don't know it, but social security is undergoing significant changes.

These could affect any of us, if we were suddenly to become sick or disabled, a sole parent, or if the economy was to force employers to shed large numbers of employees.

The Social Security Amendment Bill 2006 has just passed its second reading and, if not stopped, will legislate fundamental changes to the Social Security Act 1964, which was intended to "consolidate and amend" the 1938 Social Security Act introduced by the first Labour Government.

The 1938 act became the foundation stone for the modern welfare state. "Welfare" has a bad name now but then it was about safeguarding New Zealanders from hardship arising from age, sickness, widowhood, orphanhood and unemployment to allow all to participate and belong in society.

The Royal Commission on Social Security in 1972 and the Royal Commission on Social Policy in 1988 demonstrated New Zealanders still endorsed these goals. In the 1990s many policy changes undermined the purpose of social security (user-pays in health and education, "work-for-the-dole" for the unemployed, "dob in" campaigns targeting sole mothers) but the principles were never formally challenged.

That is all about to change: the Social Security Amendment Bill wipes away any notion that our social security system is about ensuring everyone can participate as citizens. Instead, it makes getting people into a job, any job, the fundamental duty of citizenship. This principle is baldly stated "Work in paid employment offers the best opportunity for people to achieve social and economic well-being."

The bill fails to acknowledge that many undertake unpaid work looking after children, the sick and elderly or doing other community activities. This work is crucial to the running of our society but receives no value in the bill. Nor does the proposed legislation do anything to ensure that meaningful, adequately paid, secure employment is available.

Instead it punishes those who can't find work. It allows for a new pre-benefit activity to be completed before anyone is even allowed to apply for the unemployment benefit. Under a new government, this activity could include work-for-the-dole.

Being sick or disabled is no longer an excuse not to work. Sickness and invalid beneficiaries will be subject to new "planning and activity" requirements which means that if they don't start for planning for work, they could risk having their benefit suspended or reduced. Spouses are also expected to get paid work even though they may be caring for their sick spouse and/or have young children.

The rationale for these new requirements is that sickness and invalid benefit numbers are increasing at a time of low unemployment.

But rather than an epidemic of "dole-bludgers" shifting to these benefits, we are largely seeing the effects of an ageing population who, due to improvements in technology are living longer than ever but nonetheless may suffer from ill health that stops them working the last few years before retirement.

As if in hindsight, the bill does provide some social security "to help alleviate hardship". But this phrase is far more limiting than the goals of eliminating poverty and ensuring participation and belonging for all citizens that we have long embraced.

Furthermore, paid work, which is enshrined in the new act as the only source of well-being, is increasingly becoming the basis for state-provided welfare. Those outside the workforce are in grave danger of being regarded as second-class citizens. While we don't yet have health insurance tied to employment as in the US, access to a major part of Working for Families tax credits and KiwiSaver subsidies to ensure a secure old age are already conditional on being in paid work. Caregivers, who are predominantly women, should be alarmed at this trend.

That a Labour Government is undermining the original notion of "well-fare" would have Michael Joseph Savage turning in his grave.

* Dr Louise Humpage lectures in the Department of Sociology, and Dr Susan St John lectures in the Department of Economics, University of Auckland.

A Bill For the Times

Louise Humpage and Susan St John say Michael Joseph Savage would be turning over in his grave if he knew what today's Labour government is planning for social security. I very much doubt that.

What would shock Savage, were he alive today, are the effects of the then necessary and well-meaning Social Security Act of 1938.

It's all about context. The array of benefits created in 1938 - sickness, emergency, and family to name three - came on the back of very hard times, a depression and a war. But even then there wasn't a consensus for widespread social security measures. The first benefits office was apparently burnt down in a politically motivated act of arson. People have always worried about the state crowding out the private sector and costs to the public purse. Labour did have, however, majority support.

For many years the numbers of people relying on benefits remained low and steady. There was little misuse of the sytem. Changing social mores and rising unemployment saw an end to that during the sixties and seventies. The last major benefit, the domestic purposes benefit was added in 1973 and marked the beginning of a welfare explosion.

Twenty years after the introduction of social security there were 25,000 working age people on welfare (most were widows). Today there are 266,000. A ten-fold increase with less than a doubling of the population?

With 266,000 people on benefits after a long period of reasonable economic growth and sustained low unemployment, clearly welfare is longer just about genuine need - it's also about choice. Hence politicians want to restate the aims of social security, making work come first for those who can.

St John and Humpage argue that the blow out on sickness and invalid benefits is "largely" due to an "ageing" poulation but the Ministry of Development's own research showed that less than half of the dramatic rise (12,000 in 1960 to 125,000 today) is due to ageing. Much of the growth is down to huge increases in numbers experiencing psychiatric illness, transfers from other benefits, longer stays on welfare, less reliance on families (which have broken down as an effect of the father- replacing domestic purposes benefit) and changes to eligibility. Before the sixties people who had caused the incapacity which rendered them unable to work were not entitled to a benefit. This gatekeeping clause was effective. It no longer exists.

Before the DPB there was assistance for single parents, albeit limited. There had long been a deserted wives benefit and young unmarried women who became pregnant qualified for emergency assistance. Yes, adoption was far more common but in the period before the DPB, 1971/72, 60 percent of ex- nuptial babies stayed with their mothers or relatives.

Today Michael Joseph Savage would be aghast at the thousands of teenagers who pile onto welfare each year (including 3600 single parents) and, due to low or no skills, stay there, sometimes for decades. He would be especially dismayed at the damage welfare has proliferated among Maori and the intergenerational poverty of values now so entrenched.

Much is made of unpaid work that welfare provides for, especially caring for children. Most of that used to be paid for by a family's breadwinner - not the unrelated taxpayer.

But it is also surprising that St John and Humpage have become quite so upset about the bill soon to be passed. Wellington People's Centre beneficiary advocates say the "punitive" changes are largely superficial - just Labour trying to look "tough" for the benefit of voters. Many of the changes were welcomed.

What really needs to happen is a return to what the 1938 Labour government envisaged. Temporary assistance for temporary need and long term help for only those genuinely incapacitated through no fault of their own. That's all.

There is no place for lifestyle welfare at any time but especially not when we are a small country competing globally, struggling with low productivity and high taxation. Labour is absolutely right to state the principle,"Work in paid employment offers the best opportunity for people to achieve social and economic and wellbeing." Now they just need to mean it.

Uncalled for

Talk about sensationalism. The DomPost (slow off the mark as usual) has a small headline, "Teenagers die racing train".

Yet the NZ Herald, with more detailed coverage quotes an eye witness,

The 20-year-old, who did not want to be named, said he wondered if the driver had slowed to get over a hump at the crossing because the vehicle had lowered suspension.

"She slowed right down, went to go over the tracks, and didn't see the train at all," the contractor said.

There is no suggestion in the Herald piece that the driver had been racing.

When I read the DomPost this morning I thought that it was odd they had given the headline very little priority. Now I know why. It was just supposition. Tacky.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

I was a fat kid

I saw an old schoolmate on TV. He sat next to me during Intermediate. I couldn't resist googling him and sending off an e-mail. An e-mail came back. He remembered me as a "solid, pommie, blonde tom-boy". He was being kind. I was fat. At least I was compared to all the other sylph-like skinny waifs surrounding me. By College I had a complex about it and nearly starved myself to death. I developed very unhealthy eating habits which I failed to correct until I became a parent - a catalyst for many things.

Now I have a chubby kid who is my mirror image at the same age. And with all of this hysteria over obesity I am really worried he is going to start fretting the way I did when, given his genes (David and I are both reasonably slim) he is quite likely to lean out as he gets older.

So my rage at the nagging government has a personal edge to it at the moment. Robert (my chubby kid) rages with me saying all these pathetic rules and prohibitions will fail. In fact I think he is already planning a black-market in illicit food. And when I think about it, better that than take all this repressive, rubbish on board and do what I did.

Land of the free....

There is no doubt in my mind that we are too lenient with youth in New Zealand. The justice system is set up to keep them out of court for as long as possible, often for crimes against person or property, crimes which in the past would have been dealt with more severely. We also ignore the role and responsibility of the parent to the point that they may as well not exist.

BUT when I read a story about a mother, Elisa Kelly, who served beer to 15 and 16 year-olds at her son's 16th birthday party so they wouldn't drink and drive, confiscated all car keys, supervised them, didn't drink herself, half of the boys didn't drink and none were intoxicated (which was established when the police raided her property), is going to jail for 2 years and 3 months (reduced from eight years on appeal), is now bankrupt from over $150,000 of legal fees and will be separated from her sons......

well, I am very glad to be living here and not in Virginia, USA.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Effects of daycare on children

Whether or not daycare is helpful or harmful is fairly controversial and complex. Various studies have contradicted each other. This report describes findings from two studies which find young children who spend significant periods of time in daycare are more prone to developing aggressive or anti-social behaviour. This is the comment however which caught my eye;

"Children from workless households were rated as less cooperative and sociable than children in centres with high levels of working parents. This indicates there is a complex mix of factors that influence a child's behaviour and that careful attention is needed to ensure children are supported appropriately."

Workless homes are often dysfunctional, to some degree or another. So it is no surprise children from them are less cooperative or sociable. These children will probably benefit from some time out of their homes, notwithstanding they can be difficult for other attendees and staff who have to deal with them.

Not waiting for the government

We have three overly large gum trees in our garden. They were in need of a severe pruning involving some major boughs, so I called in the team who have previously worked for us. They turned up yesterday, the whole family, plus some new Samoan immigrants. They must have come from church, worked very cheerfully most of the day and did a fabulous job. As we paid we were delighted to find out they were donating the proceeds to their church as a fund-raiser, which is building a drug and alcohol rehabilitation unit. They weren't waiting for "the government to do something". These are the very people New Zealand needs lots of.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Best let sleeping dogs lie

Deborah Coddington has today written about the Press Council decision upholding complaints against her North & South piece on Asians in NZ. I blogged very briefly on it at the time. I didn't read the N&S article - only Deborah's published defence of it, in which she used this statistic;

Here's a disturbing fact: in 2003 four of every five pregnant Asian women aborted their babies. Do we keep abortion as a last-resort method of birth control, or accept it's a casual approach to contraception?

I pointed out that in 2003 there were 5285 births to Asian mothers and 3502 Asian abortions. So 40 percent of pregnancies ended in abortion (ignoring miscarriages). In 2004 this dropped to 36 percent. Neither figure is anywhere near 80 percent or four in five.

In today's Herald on Sunday column she writes; But the council totally ignored the main complaint - that my statistics were wrong. From this omission, I can only conclude that I was correct all along, and the complainants - as I argued - wilfully used different statistics.

If Deborah used the same statistic in her original article, she made a mistake. She extrapolated the Asian teenage abortion rate to all women. Why not just admit it. I would. 'Fess up and move on. It'll do more for your credibility.

(2005 stats are now available and show a further drop in Asian abortions to 34 percent of pregnancies resulting in birth or abortion - approaching 1 in 3).