Government the one that deserves stick
OUt of left fieldROSS HENDERSON
OPINION: It sounds like it's getting really tough for people who are on a benefit. There's drug-testing, losing half the benefit if you've got a search warrant out for you and now, if you don't get meet your 'obligations', you'll be punished for that as well.
For 17 and 18-year-olds, they have their money controlled through a debit card. And if that's not enough, apparently the whole welfare shebang is going to cost us $78 billion. In a lifetime.
Whatever that means.
Gordon loves this stuff, as he said last week. 'Cos it's our money. And it's about time the government gave the good-for-nothings a bit of stick. Yeah. Makes me feel a whole lot better.
Yeah right. These 'sticks' aren't about fixing any problems. They are about pushing moral panic buttons.
And as for the figure of $78 billion, this is just total rubbish, as I will explain shortly.
Two things give away the cynicism in these measures: the timing of their announcement and the numbers of people actually affected.
The drug-testing requirement was announced just as an official report came out saying 270,000 children were living in poverty.
Losing half the benefit if you've got a warrant out for you was announced the same week that an increase in jobless numbers was revealed. Being punished if you don't meet Paula Bennett's expectations was announced a couple of days after the Labour Party started getting some good coverage of their education policy.
But look at the numbers affected. Remember, even though there are about 182,000 people out of work in New Zealand, according to the Household Labour Force Survey (for the June 2012 quarter), less than half that number - about 50,000 - get an unemployment benefit.
There are around 250,000 on a sickness, invalids or domestic purposes benefit.
The number of 17 and 18-year-olds with a debit card? About 1500.
The number affected by the new 'obligations'? Up to 2000.
The number affected by the arrest warrant policy? Maybe 8000.
Some of these are not arrest warrants but are distress warrants for people who have failed to keep up with debt payments.
The government is spending all of its time on 11,000 and ignoring over 150,000.
What about working on things that will generate jobs for the tens of thousands who are searching for and wanting work?
Why not work harder with Witt and other education institutions to train and retrain people? These are the things that should be the priority.
If the government was serious about improving everyone's lot, they wouldn't stop at helping people on a benefit. They would be working on lifting wages for all working people, because for most of us we've been going backwards in real terms for a few years now.
lf ever there was a sign the government has given up on reducing the number of people on the unemployment benefit or getting flexibility in other benefits so people can get more independence, it is the absurd announcement about the lifetime cost of welfare being $78 billion.
With this figure, the government is saying that if nothing changed from today, or worse, the trends of the last few years carried on, then over a lifetime, which could be anything from 40 to 70 years, it will cost this huge sum of money.
But things will change. Looking at the numbers when they are at their worst is hardly an honest representation. It looks like an attempt to show a big number to cause fright and anger.
Well, the anger should be towards the government.
I remember a saying, I don't know where from, that says 'You don't make your own candle shine more brightly by blowing out somebody else's."
We should think about this whenever the government gives up on its people and just wants to give them stick.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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