Safety net or lifestyle choice?

PAT BOOTH
Last updated 11:01 27/03/2012

If you accept the theory that "it's better to be criticised than ignored", then that item "written by a 21-year-old woman" on welfare last week was a winner.

There have been strong words about the plight of beneficiaries as opposed to an equally strident belief that too many are being paid too much to do nothing.

And although the roof didn't actually fall in, the plaster bent under one word – "plagiarism". More of that later.

In the mailbag on the "21-year-old":

Elizabeth Ragen: "It seems a shame that the usual standard of the Off Pat column has degenerated into a mass of judgemental rage from someone so young and so obviously devoid of any meaningful life experience.

"Most of us will (or already do) need living assistance at some time for reasons that are beyond our control and this is funded by the Government using the tax payments that most of us make. It is not a gift and is not something that anyone should be made to feel ashamed of.

"Before attacking the people who most need our help, we may be better served by investigating exactly how this Government is spending our tax dollars in the first place and then voting accordingly.

"It is my experience that most people do the best they can with what they have and that there will always be a minority that are featured in the media to such an extent that the masses are led to believe that this is the norm. But this is just not true.

"While I understand that this person has a right to hold such dictatorial views, I am appalled that they were printed at all."

Steve Casey, Mt Eden: "Excellent to see the article from the 21-year-old. These are genuine concerns.

"Social welfare is no longer a safety net. It is a lifestyle choice. It is unfair to ask a taxpayer of any age or generation to continue to pay for these luxuries.

"The technology is there to be able to limit what a person can use the benefit for.

"A special debit card could be loaded to purchase only certain items of necessity.

"Allow a proportionate amount of cash withdrawal for discretionary items such as alcohol or cigarettes. This may be in the vicinity of $50 per week.

"An alternative proposal is that twice a week the beneficiary goes during working hours to a collection centre where the correct food types are made up in boxes. These boxes can be taken home.

"A balanced dietary set of fruit, vegetables, protein items and similar are supplied.

"Other bill paying is taken care of such as one phone – a cell or landline – and electricity so utilities are paid and do not stand in line after casinos and pubs.

"Get them out of bed and make them show a bit of effort. Allocate a schedule two times each week.

"This simulates turning up for your paid job.

"If they are hung over or stoned and don't make it, the City Mission could benefit.

"You don't get the food just as you would not get paid if you did not show up for work.

"On another note, why do we still bring in foreign workers to pick fruit?

"This was devised eight or so years ago when there was a labour shortage (only 3.9 per cent unemployed!).

"Why do we fly people in from other countries and pay New Zealanders to sit around doing nothing?

"Another writer is saying what I have been saying all along.

"How is it that we allow a 16-year-old to procreate and the reward is guaranteed income and housing for the next 18 years?

"There is no accountability for the cash handed out so it can go on drugs, alcohol or tattoos and often does.

"If the family cannot take care of the child and its needs, then give it up for adoption.

"I visited some people in a central North Island town last year. The daughter got pregnant at 15.

"The guy who did it impregnated two other girls in the town. He is impecunious and pays nothing.

"The taxpayer pays for three mothers in three rental houses and will do for the next 16-plus years.

"From the 1989 movie Parenthood with Steve Martin and co. Very slight paraphrase:

"You need a licence to catch a fish, you need a licence to own a dog, but anyone can be a parent."

Plagiarism – I plead "not guilty".

The Oxford dictionary, a Bible for most writers, defines it as "taking and using thoughts, writings of another person as one's own".

Thought it would be wise to clear that up, before entering a plea of "not guilty".

There must also be intention that you lifted the words deliberately for your own reasons to convince readers they were your own ...

The item involved heavy criticism of people who claim welfare payments falsely.

The plagiarism allegation came from Peter Hoar of Birkenhead who described himself as "involved with teaching journalism at the Auckland University of Technology".

He strongly criticised the use of the item, believing: "If one of my students did such a thing, I would fail them and take them before the disciplinary committee.

"I would also hope that Pat thinks very deeply about printing material in a community newspaper that is quoted approvingly on racist sites such as a New Zealand white pride one.

"Is this responsible conduct?

"I would also hope he will be making a full apology for printing this piece without acknowledging that he had copied and pasted it from some website.

"I suppose it would be too much to ask for some balanced comment on the subject of alleged welfare abuse.

"This might be a good place for one of your journalists to start: http:// werewolf.co.nz/2011/02/ten-myths-about-welfare/."

Since this 10 myths item Peter Hoar praises is four to five times the weekly length of this column, I point to it as available there.

As someone who did my time lecturing at AUT in the first year of its journalism degree course late last century, I presume the topic and its treatment produced great debate in Peter Hoar's lecture room.

If it also has done so elsewhere that's the intention of much of the content in this column. For the record, the item came in my mail in letter form.

Believing it to be a local letter, I didn't know of its original source until another reader, Keith Sharp, in his contribution to the great debate, confirmed the item appeared "from a US veteran Alfred W Evans of Gatesville, Texas, to the Waco Tribune".

Hardly a "21-year-old-woman".

Peter Hoar gave a precise publication date of November 18, 2011.

Last question: If I had "plagiarised" the item intending to convey it was my own opinion as the term suggests, why would I unwittingly falsely label it as coming from a "21-year-old woman"?

Many things I am, but not that.

Lesson: If the subject is social welfare, fraud and need – wear a flak jacket.

To contact Pat Booth email offpat@snl.co.nz or write care of this newspaper. All replies are open for publication unless marked Not For Publication.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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