Good to see the government putting the boot into welfare beneficiaries for a change. They haven't done that for a while. Well, not since the last time they felt a need for a diversion, anyway. And fair enough too, what good are beneficiaries if a government can't use them as punching bags? I mean, they're such an easy target; such attention grabbers. Who cares what else is happening if there's a chance to watch them get a good kicking.
Blame the beneficiaries. I'm not sure whether it was written directly into the National Party's manifesto but it's certainly become its stock and trade. Whatever else might be turning belly-up under the government's watch, it hasn't wasted a chance to play the welfare card, and particularly when under pressure. Nothing like appealing to people's base instincts when in a tight spot, after all. When in doubt, give the vulnerable a clout.
No surprises either, that the government keeps going back to the well. The most recent decrees (threatening welfare cuts to any parents who fail to meet early education and health thresholds) are but the latest examples. Quite how children who've already been denied EE will benefit from their parents' dole being cut in half hasn't yet been adequately explained. But that's okay, isn't it? Beneficiary bashing has never had to make sense.
Neither has the timing been unusual. Whenever this government starts to lose traction it tends to falls back on the tried and trusted. It might have lost some support over its asset sales delays and the $170m settlement with Tuhoe, but it always knew it could redeem itself with a bit of gratuitous nonsense about benefit abuse. What better way to distract people from the real issues than feeding their sense of prejudice and intolerance?
Same applies to the move to "price" the future cost of welfare benefits. At a time when many of us have been debating the need for schools to feed hungry and impoverished children, what's been the response from our ministers? To divert attention from what's become a national disgrace by painting beneficiaries as bludgers and a drain on the economy. By representing everyone on benefits as cheats and layabouts.
As MPs Meteria Turei and Jacinda Adern have pointed out, the vast majority of those on unemployment and domestic purpose benefits will be there for only short periods of time. But the Nats knows how to stir up the haters and malcontents amongst us. They used to do it regularly with their anti-Maori agenda; essentially they've just turned their attention to another minority group. They've swapped the race card for the welfare card.
You only have to think back to the previous occasion in which beneficiaries copped it. That was last month when, faced with a chilling report on child poverty the government cynically re-announced its policy about drug-testing job-seekers. Wasn't a particularly relevant move in terms of the day's issues; and neither was it backed by any sort of hard evidence. But it served the government's purpose; deflecting debate away from its dismal performance elsewhere.
And so it continues. All hell breaks loose on one front; government re-opens another, invariably attacking those on welfare. Doesn't matter whether it's asset sales, child poverty or treaty settlements, all can be forgotten with a timely piece of beneficiary-baiting. Classy stuff, indeed. When in trouble beat up on those least able to defend themselves. True, it does tell us something about those in charge. But it tells us just as much about those who support them.
» Read more of Richard Boock in the Sunday Star Times.
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