Saturday, December 13, 2008

Just like the 'mother country'

“It is about the right to work. It is in the name of the party. It is the Labour party.”

Hah. That's a quote from Labour's Work and Pensions Minister, James Purnell, as he defends his proposed welfare 'reforms' on the eve of their announcement.

From what is already known, they are timid. They will have little effect, essentially asking beneficiaries to plan to go to work as opposed to stopping the inflow of young people or tightening up eligibility.

Asked why he wouldn't consider time-limiting benefits;

"The British people would think that was unfair, if you had very bad luck over five years and at the end of it there was an arbitrary limit to your support.”

James Bartholomew sums up the UK's performance in welfare over the last few years. He could just as easily be talking about New Zealand and our Labour Party's performance.

Britain has more than four million people who are of working age but who are claiming benefit on the basis that they are not working. This is the case after more than a decade of economic growth. The figure is likely to rise substantially now that we have entered a recession.

The numbers who are claiming benefits in this way are about four times the equivalent figure in the 1960s. This has been a massive increase and it shows particularly in the number claiming benefit on the basis that they are sick or incapable and then number claiming benefit as lone parents...

...The Labour government basically funked it. President Clinton had signed into law a radical change in the USA which resulted a 60 per cent reduction in the numbers claiming welfare benefits. Other countries, according to Professor Gregg, also sharply increased the conditionality of their welfare benefits. Britain has made only marginal progress. The welfare culture with the damaging effects it has on national culture has been allowed to continue.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Why National's DPB reforms aren't enough

The Americans reached a realisation that welfare was harming families and children during the 1990s. They decided that open-ended welfare must be transformed into temporary assistance only. They abolished Aid To Families With Dependent Children (AFDC) and introduced Temporary Assistance For Needy Families (TANF).

I came across this in the Delaware State Plan;

Five key principles form the foundation of TANF:

1. Work should pay more than welfare.
2. Welfare recipients must exercise personal responsibility in exchange for benefits.
3. Welfare should be transitional, not a way of life.
4. Both parents are responsible for supporting their children; and
5. The formation and maintenance of two-parent families should be encouraged, and teenage pregnancy and unwed motherhood should be discouraged.

If we held current New Zealand policy up to these principles, it would fail. As would National's work-testing-without-a-cap amendment. I will take each principle and show why with just one point;

1/ Having more children raises welfare income. People in work do not get a pay rise when they add children to their family. Hence welfare pays more than work.

2/ Adding children to an existing benefit highlights 5,000 acts of personal irresponsibility every year.

3/ A female can go from being supported as a dependent child on the DPB, to receiving the sickness benefit for her own pregnancy, to receiving the DPB as a sole parent, to receiving to DPB for Women Alone, to receiving Superannuation. Nearly 500 people moved from the DPB to Super in 2006. There is no legislation that prevents a person from choosing this pathway.

4/ The current child support/DPB system actively encourages non-support of children.

5/ Benefits for mothering are available to females from the age of 16 and very few, if any, conditions are imposed. In broad terms money is taken from two parent families and given to one parent families hence the 'formation and maintenance' of the first is discouraged.

All of this will continue unless National has plans afoot we are not yet privvy to.

Women's troubles

It is never long between reports that women aren't getting a fair shake of the stick - in the workplace or in society.

Yet our biggest government department employs a staff that is 73 percent female. Yes, the Ministry of Social Development. They like to skite that their workforce is representative. It's true that the majority of beneficiaries are women.

The Families Commission does even better in employing a staff that is 83 percent female. Then they start acting like role models by being very family friendly with flexible hours, school holiday programmes at work, going home early on Families Day, etc. I guess the idea is walking the talk so they can justify lobbying for ever more workplace legislation along these lines. Think compulsory breastfeeding-stations.

But the people who work in these organisations don't live in the real world. They don't have shareholders to answer to and profits that must be made if they want jobs. They have budgets but they go over them routinely. If they don't go over them they won't appear to be working hard. The taxpayer's pocket is very deep.

Many of these women employees - and their 'clients' - would once have been supported by men and worked in unpaid caring roles. But the more paid caring roles that are created - DPB carers beget social workers for example - the more they have to be managed and studied and monitored. The whole kit and caboodle exists to expand.

Now New Zealand is being told off by UNICEF because it has too many children living in poverty, not enough Paid Parental Leave and not enough good quality childcare. Don't tell me. Another taxpayer cash injection is called for. Yet;

1/ Most of the children living in 'poverty' in NZ have mothers on the DPB.

2/ The DPB is permanent paid parental leave.

Paying people to produce and stay home with children has hardly been hugely successful to date.

If the government would keep its nose out of redistributing income to further what it sees as socially desirable ends, people would get back to relying on each other for committed support. In which case the DPB, PPL and subsidised childcare, as institutions, would all be redundant.

Need I say it? More government, and the many appendages of government, is not the answer.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Too many cooks

The title of this post is too frivolous but sets the scene aptly.

This morning Minister for Social Development, Paula Bennett, told Breakfast TV host Paul Henry, that although she had called a halt to the Families Commission Summit, she had no intention of scrapping the Commission itself. Among other things she believed they had done a good job in the 'It's not OK' campaign. 'It's not OK' has almost become part of our vocabulary she said.

The 'It's not OK' campaign has apparently resulted in more reports to police of family violence. When the police respond to a report, if children are present in the home, they are bound to make a notification to CYF.

See below the effect this has had;

Now, the CYF Briefing to the Incoming Minister has this warning;

The volume of family violence notifications we receive from the Police is higher than ever. We received 33,569 in 2007/2008, compared to 26,348 in 2006/2007. This is an increase of just over 27 per cent. If this number continues to rise, it will have an impact on our ability to cope.
The growing number of family violence notifications provides further opportunities for a more effective community response. Most of these cases are best responded to by family violence workers, not Child, Youth and Family social workers.

Let's be clear about this. The campaign by one arm of government is causing a problem for the other.

In fact the campaign might feasibly be making life for children in genuine danger even riskier as those social workers with the power to remove them become less available. Theoretically one could even speculate that the FARs (Further Action Required) line in the graph above has dropped slightly as a direct result of the notifications increasing. Over-worked social workers will have reduced capacity to take further action.

Talking about the Families Commission

I was invited to join Radio New Zealand's Jim Mora for a discussion about the Families Commission and whether we need it. Funnily enough Chris Trotter, when on topic and not talking about the history of the Labour Party or the pressing need to build more state houses, agreed with me more than once. (Starts at 9:00)

I note too that the DomPost editorial today calls for the scrapping of the Families Commission.

This entity began life with Commissioners numbering up to seven and 20 support staff. According to their latest annual report there are now 41 staff. Like the Children's Commissioner, they are well over budget. Most of the staff are involved in policy and research but the Ministry of Social Development has another 330 people fulfilling similar functions within the main body.

Its pet project seems to be trying to convince the government to increase spending on Paid Parental Leave ten-fold. As far as I can ascertain its sole purpose is to influence greater redistribution of resources. To Swedenise New Zealand if you like.

National's plan to amalgamate it with the Children Commissioner's Office is nothing more than window dressing. Disband it.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

How most New Zealanders see themselves?

There is an inordinate amount of squealing going on at the moment by those who have held sway for the last nine years. Here an academic takes on the thinking behind curbing local government and makes an interesting but unsubstantiated claim;

But deep down in this vein of thinking are more insidious ideological preconceptions about who we are as a society and what the legitimate role of government ought to be. Most Kiwis, apart from those to the far right, would feel uncomfortable with such views.

In this respect most New Zealanders see themselves having more in common with the worldviews of European social democrats than with those of American neo-conservatives.

Actually Labour fancied themselves as the New Zealand version of the social democrats. Their grand vision was to cement themselves as such as the natural party of government. The electorate just threw them out because they behaved as such.

As immigrants from Europe my parents were decidedly different to their siblings. So were their forbears. Their values drove them out of Europe. As did the values of many who journeyed, of their own volition, to Australia and the States. The people the writer mixes with may be Scandinavian wannabes but I am not convinced "most New Zealanders" are.

Somewhere along the line we have forgotten the description of New Zealanders as embodying rugged individualism. But there is still a strong strain of it simmering.

....councils should play a broad and proactive role in responding to community objectives and promote social, economic, cultural and environmental wellbeing.

Bollocks. The well-being of many ratepayers has been severely compromised by this very prescription. This is just code for greater and greater wealth redistribution by those who can't make a gainful living elsewhere.

Talkfest torpedoed

It was unclear yesterday what Paula Bennett intended to do about a families Commission Summit to be held in February 2009 at the cost of 200,000 so I didn't comment. Now it is clear she is pulling the plug on the affair. Well done. If National continues with this habit there will certainly be less to criticise. With the talkfest torpedoed she might as well go a step further and disband the Commission itself. Apart from preserving paper-producing jobs (of which there are hundreds more within MSD) I can think of no reason to persist with it.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Wiping away tears

A 16-year-old wiped away tears as he appeared in Christchurch Youth Court today charged with the murder of Abdulrahaman Ikhtiari.

He should be taken to the home of the victim and made to wipe away the tears of his wife and children. Perhaps he might vaguely stumble upon the difference between tears of grief and tears of self-pity.

Taxing questions

I gather John Key's throne speech has been delivered and is no longer embargoed. No surprises. All the stuff we already knew about. But this has me nonplussed;

My Government is today tabling a Bill to reduce personal taxes from 1 April 2009. Its intention is to pass this new tax legislation by Christmas and it believes this tax reduction will equip New Zealanders with some much needed extra cash in tough economic times.

Personal taxes will be further reduced from 1 April 2010 and from 1 April 2011. As a result, by 1 April 2011 around 80% of New Zealand taxpayers will end up paying no more than 20c in tax for every additional dollar that they earn.

Additional to what? So we could have a higher tax rate than 20 percent up to a certain threshold and then a reduction above it? Or is 20 percent the top rate target by 2011? What am I missing here?

Memo to Greenpeace

Today's Dominion Post had a post-it note attached to the frontpage.

The one below is John's response (or the one I would like to see). Got any other ideas?

Is ACT becoming "socially conservative"?

Colin James makes this observation about ACT's chances of doubling its vote in 2011;

Act's best hope is the last option, to morph into a social conservative party, for which our liberal policy settings have left space and on to which it could tack radical economics in a minor key. Rodney Hide has taken the party partway there. But he is not there yet.

Is ACT becoming socially conservative? Do I care?

That wasn't a flippant remark. I stopped my automatic payment to ACT after many years because I don't know what I am supporting. I have always believed Rodney Hide was a libertarian but he has kept a pretty tight lid on any socially liberal views he holds. The votes matter most and I understand the pragmatism essential to success. I can't do that stuff. Abject failure at it. I have a compulsion to tell the truth as I see it. I don't always know what the truth is so searching for it tends to take priority. This compulsion (as some of my perceived truths have turned out to be self-deceptions) has gotten me into trouble at various times in my life. And I still tend to upset matters among family members by not being prepared to bite down hard on my tongue when misguided proclamations - especially political ones - are uttered. But I digress.

Looking at the ACT MPs other than Rodney I don't sense a true liberal amongst them. But then I don't know them very well. Is Colin James right? (and please don't leave comments about him in lieu of comments about his observation.)

Monday, December 08, 2008

Xmas greetings of a different kind

The Manawatu Standard reports, in Central Districts, the police are sending out letters to families with a history of domestic violence warning them to behave over the Xmas period. This raises a number of questions and reactions from me;

1/ As members of the community we are now being constantly bombarded to act if we suspect family violence is happening. Yet this exercise clearly highlights that even when the police 'suspect' violence is occurring (which is surely why they are sending the letters) little can be done until a significant event has taken place, which is often too late.

2/ Will these letters raise stress levels resulting in the very problem they are trying to prevent? The article acknowledges that the letter can provoke a "negative reaction".

3/ Are police men and women social workers or law enforcement officers?

4/ Who signs the letter, because it is written in the first person? And who is the letter addressed to - the offender or the victim of past violence? Is there no problem with privacy or letters falling into the wrong hands? Or a letter being used to deliberately provoke someone?

5/ Are civil rights being ignored? If someone has been dealt with by the court should they be badgered by the police on the basis they 'might' re-offend? Or do we treat family violence offenders as a different class of people with no entitlement to the 'innocent until proven guilty' status?

6/ If an offender is told his or her home is being monitored is there a potential for the violence to simply shift elsewhere?

7/ If, heaven forbid, somebody is murdered in one of these families after receiving the letter, what are the legal implications for the police?

However, the same exercise was deemed to be a success in Counties-Manukau so maybe the risks and questionable interventions are worth taking. I just hope the police have thought it through thoroughly.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

A product of the welfare state

Latest post from The Welfare State We're In. It concerns Karen Matthews and some of the 'opinion' she has provoked. I will assume you already know who she is. (My own brief comment appears at the end);

Karen Matthews 'a one-woman advertisement for urgent welfare reform. '

It is astonishing the way that news and opinion work in Britain. Today, suddenly there is a focus on the idea that the welfare state created Karen Matthews, the woman who arranged for the kidnap of her own daughter.

The key to this seems to be that one of her lovers asserted that she had given birth to more babies to increase her welfare benefits.

In my book, I put the argument that the welfare state had undermined the morality of those most affected by it, namely those at the poorer end of society. I suggested it had damaged our culture and caused misery on a massive scale.

It is fascinating to see the arguments I put very carefully and with as much relevant evidence that I could muster put now in a really pugnacious and blunt way.

I don't want to associate myself with all the views expressed in the Sun today but they certainly overlap with mine. I agree that Karen Matthews is a creation of the welfare state. I certainly agree with the Sun that the need for reform is urgent. Sadly, the beneficial effects of reform would take a generation to come through. When views such as these are expressed in the Guardian and by presenters of the Today programme on Radio 4 or on Newsnight, then there will be a chance of reform actually happening.

From the Sun editorial:

If ever there was a story to make you hold your head in disbelief, this is it.

How could a MOTHER have her own little girl drugged, kidnapped, tethered like an animal and stuffed in a drawer under a bed?

Vile Karen Matthews is a product of the sink-estate underclass of chaotic families that loaf away their days on easy welfare benefits.

She is a one-woman advertisement for urgent welfare reform.

Slumped in front of her big TV, chain-smoking 60 a day and stuffing herself with pizza, Matthews didn’t give a damn for her kids.

By 30 she’d had seven children by five fathers and was raking in £360 a week in handouts.

One of her grubby lovers said: “She used us just to get pregnant so she could grab more child benefit.”

From John Gaunt's column:

The tragedy is that — just as there will be another Baby P case — there are plenty more Shannons being dragged up in a life of grime that leads to a life of crime.

To blame are the feral parents who couldn’t spell the word parenthood, let alone know the meaning of it.

Whole estates are infested by this underclass. They are not working class — the clue is in the title — they don’t and won’t work.

They have no pride in their homes or areas. They have no respect for themselves, let alone their neighbours or children. They have a moral code that would make an alley cat blush.

They have a lawyer’s expert knowledge of their rights but, sadly, no idea of their responsibilities to their kids or society in general. This is an underclass that New Labour have allowed to fester with their lax “non-judgmental, all kinds of family are equal” social engineering attitude.

But these people aren’t equal to you and me, and they need to be told so before they are allowed to breed another generation that will only be more irresponsible and useless.


We have a sickening situation where those of us who actually work spend more than £170billion of our taxes on social security. That is in addition to the £16billion spent on incapacity benefit.

It’s ironic that Matthews was convicted one day after Labour promised ANOTHER crackdown on welfare dependency.

Scrape beneath the surface of this new “get tough on benefit fraud” policy and you see it is the same old Labour spin. The depressing reality is that, even if the Government were serious, they have left it too late to crack down on the feral, feckless and long-term useless.

In large parts of the country people like Karen Matthews have won, and TV programmes like Shameless aren’t fiction but documentaries of their lives.

The welfare state was set up to be a safety net, not a lifestyle choice, and it is time to return to those principles.

Only those who have paid into the system through NI or tax contributions should be allowed to claim anything out of the pot. If this were applied, it would soon rule out junkies, new arrivals or people like Karen Matthews.

We should also time-limit benefits, as they have done in the US, to force the shirkers back to work.

We need to break the cycle.

These people have chosen a life of benefit dependency because they have been allowed to do so.

Never before, with the world in economic crisis, has there been such a need for urgent reform.

With hard-working people facing the prospect of losing their homes and their savings, I don’t see why the decent majority of Brits should shoulder the responsibility of the bone idle any longer.

Just as the death of Baby P must signal a complete change in social services, so must the conviction of Karen Matthews lead to a change in our Benefits R Us society.

If you have read this through it is pretty tough stuff. It goes without saying that there are deserving instances of welfare receipt. People like me would support them willingly through taxes or charity.

But every year in New Zealand around 5,000 babies are added to existing benefits. Try as I might I can't find any excuse for this or any reason to condone it. The idea that it should be stopped is only now just starting to seep into the collective consciousness. Writing like the above may be quite unpalatable to some but it is absolutely vital these ideas are expressed.