Monday 24 September 2012

Welfare  Watch 

“… the spirit of the market steals life from the vulnerable”

Write On – Child Poverty Feedback due October 12

The Children’s Commissioner’s Expert Advisory Group on Child Poverty is gathering feedback on the solutions put forward in their report Solutions to Child Poverty in New Zealand.  For example, the Public Health Association is really pleased to see housing as a priority in the Children’s Commissioner’s experts report.  Feedback is due by 12 October.   Easy ways of providing feedback are here.  They are also having  public consultations.

NZCCSS has created a one page document (best printed as A3) summarising expert group  recommendations  here, or there is a more detailed summary on the  Commissioner’s website 

Keep Writing – Welfare Submissions due November 1 

There is something very sad about how we are treating  people.  The National Party’s vision includes personal security, equal citizenship and equal opportunity, and individual freedom and choice.   So how does individual freedom and choice line up with  payment cards for 16 and 17 year old beneficiaries and young parents, or lone parents’ lack of choice about early childhood education?  Where does equal citizenship fit with beneficiary parents being required to send their children to early childhood education and the rest of us deciding for ourselves?   How does personal security fit with parents on benefits who do not do what is required, then losing up to half their benefits so their children get to suffer?  What about people with unresolved warrants possibly losing their benefit altogether?

Welfare details - young people and lone parents

It’s all happening on the welfare reform front; although we can’t say we were not warned.

August 20 heralded the start of the new youth payment / young parent payment and wraparound services for young people (16-17), young parents (16-18), and 16-17 year olds not in education, employment or training. These groups who will be assisted to obtain NCEA level 2.  Young people will have rent and power deducted from their payment and a payment card for food and groceries.  There is also budgeting advice and parenting skills. Info for service users is here.  Info about the legislation is here.  There are 43 providers of the new services.  Nothing is happening to young people’s current benefits until they are connected with a provider.

 Lone parents  with children aged over five will be expected to look and be available for part-time work from 15 October 2012. Parents with children over 14 will be expected to look for full-time work.  Government is promoting  long-term reversible contraception,  and is "specifically targeting teen parents and  ... providing $80 million for childcare so they [can]continue with their education and training."

Welfare details -Social Security (Benefit Categories and Work Focus) Amendment Bill 

Second, the Social Security (Benefit Categories and Work Focus) Amendment Bill was introduced on 17 September.  This Bill includes actual changes to welfare payment rules and eligibility, and restructure of existing benefits into three new benefits: Jobseeker Support, Sole Parent Support, and the Supported Living Payment.

There’s drug testing, together with social obligations for parents around early childhood education and well child checks, work ability assessments, and potential for benefits to be stopped when warrants for arrest are not cleared promptly.  Probably the most user-friendly information about the Bill’s content and summary of reform generally is Paula Bennett’s September 17 news release and the questions and answers at the bottom.  Submissions are due on 1 November 2012, and related information can be found here. Enthusiasts can find regulatory impact statements and other documents on the Ministry of Social Development  and Treasury websites.

Welfare details - Human Asset or Liability?

Finally, there is the “$78 billion welfare bill”.  The huge sum comes from a new investment approach to welfare spelled out in the $800,000 report from Australian firm Taylor Fry.  The idea is if current people on benefits follow expected patterns of benefit use, then the total lifetime cost would be $78.1 billion.  The unfortunate name for this is “current client benefit liability”.   The plan is it will help MSD target people “capable of working but are most likely to become long term welfare dependent without some help.”

There are some “nasties” here.  One is that it does not take $800,000 to figure out that invalids are going to be on benefits a long time.  That is because people on Invalids’ Benefits are invalids.  Neither does it take $800,000 to work out young people without education, jobs or family connection are in a vulnerable situation, and it is well worthwhile helping them develop their talents and skills and become socially engaged citizens.

But it is the very idea of citizenship we are forgetting.  Instead of rights and responsibilities of citizenship, and being seen as important community members because we are all citizens, we are changing the language.   Our value is increasingly associated with our market economic role.  We are liabilities if we cost the state money and, by implication, assets if we do not e.g. “clients have an average liability…”.  This results in quite a different recipe for how we treat each other and lays the ground work for some of us being less deserving than others.  Instead of our equal value associated with being “citizens’, suddenly we are either “contributing” assets (worthy) or “non-contributing” liabilities (less worthy).

As if to underline this, Minister Benefit says “taxpayers [worthies] spend $22 million a day on welfare payments and want to know we’re managing the needs of individuals as well as the costs of this system”.   It’s then not a big jump to suggest people, who theoretically pay large amounts of tax, like the Westpac CEO who receives over  $5 million per annum, are our biggest assets.  NZCCSS is not keen on the morality of where all this is going.  It is obnoxious to think of our invalids as liabilities.  Looked at in this way, the biggest “liabilities” are superannuitants.

Given ideas about "asset" people and "liability" people, it is hardly surprising the Green Paper for Vulnerable Children takes a highly constrained approach.  It reflects our a mixed view of where the children  fit: i.e. they can be (a) investments who will be future economic units delivering goods and services or (b) liabilities, i.e. reasons for Lone Parent Support payments which cost taxpayers an Awful Lot of Money.

Reaction to the welfare reform announcements

Lots really – here is some:

Labour: – it is “convenient” the Government report excludes superannuation figures which are double the cost annually of all the main benefits combined.

Greens – Drug testing will be too expensive and won’t work.

ACT: -  “believes that it is reasonable that welfare recipients must meet sensible obligations in order to retain their welfare payment – especially when it comes to the welfare of children”.

MANA -“Yes we need welfare reform – but it should start with creating decent jobs for those who’re unemployed and ensuring those who are on benefits get a liveable income."

Auckland Action Against Poverty occupied the Ministry of Social Development’s office. “Beneficiaries should have the right to decide for their families whether childcare and all the WellChild/Tamariki Ora checks are right for their children, the same right that is afforded all other non-beneficiary families.

There is to be a National Day of Action against Welfare Reform October 5 2012

More people will by driving illegally?

Gordon Campbell: as well as hurting children, “wouldn’t a 50% cut in benefits for whatever reason, put New Zealand in breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child?”  Then there is the ‘where are the jobs going to come from for all these work tested beneficiaries’?

Beneficiary Advisory Service -“Scary Stuff”

Plunket:  “Children need to be at the centre of social policy. It’s important that we look for ways of engaging with families and connecting them to the services that are available to them.”

Waitakere Community Law worries that the new welfare policies “will not have their intended effect and instead will force those most in need into even more despairing situations.”

Toby Manhire: -  the most draconian casting of beneficiaries since the efforts of Ruth Richardson and Jenny Shipley in the 90s.

Matthew Hooton: – It’s incredible it hasn’t been fixed before.

Is it contrary to our international obligations?

“Benefits . . . . must be adequate in amount and duration in order that everyone may realise his or her rights to family protection and assistance, an adequate standard of living and adequate access to health care . . . . States parties must also pay full respect to the principle of human dignity . . . . and the principle of non-discrimination. . . . The adequacy criteria should be monitored regularly to ensure that beneficiaries are able to afford the goods and services they require to realise their Covenant rights.
UN Economic and Social Council General Comment 19 quoted by the  Human Rights' Commission

No increase in minimum wage

Don’t expect any imminent increase in the minimum wage.  Labour ‘s Bill to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour  has been defeated.

Reducing  child poverty 

Jacinda Ardern (Labour) has put together a Bill to tackle child poverty “requiring government to identify, act, and report” similar to the UK Child Poverty Act.  She says a  “similar framework has also been recommended by the Children's Commissioner Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty in its recently released report.

Metiria Turei’s  (Greens) Income Tax (Universalisation of In-work Tax Credit) Amendment Bill is due for its first reading and would extend the tax credits to the children of beneficiary and student families.
See the Green Party, Take the Step campaign.

Labour is keen to work with community organisations to provide food in all decile 1-3 schools (cost – up to $19 m).  Labour also say they will extend reading recovery programmes to all New Zealand schools.  Education Minister Dr Pita Sharples pointed out the 2011 Budget already allocated $6.5 million to expand family-based literacy programmes to all decile one, two and three schools.

Proposed Family Court reforms will:

Make participation in the Parenting through Separation course compulsory for most court applicants,  introduce a Family Disputes Resolution service for out-of-court dispute resolution, and have fewer court professionals working in the Family Court.

Judge Peter Boshier is concerned the changes do not go far enough to protect all children.

Improving life for older persons …

Certification for rest homes has improved according to the auditor general, but it is not clear the quality of the care of residents is better.  The Ministry of Health needs to focus on high-risk areas including individual care plans, infection control, medicines management, falls and nutrition, according to the audit Office report.  Age Concern says many rest homes are still too short-staffed to provide proper care.

… And for people with disabilities

Hopefully people with disabilities will benefit from the Ministry of Health’s consultation about delivering Ministry of Health-funded home and community support to adults with disabilities that does not discriminate on the basis of family status.

 Consultation questions include: Whether to target eligibility for payment?  How to pay family carers?  Should a family carers payment be established through the welfare system? What Government and taxpayers can afford?  More info is here  Submissions can be made online at  or sent to the Ministry of Health.  They close at 5pm on Tuesday 6 November 2012.

A new website to improve attitudes and behaviour towards people with disabilities can be found here 

Hopefully extension of the Western Bay of Plenty New Model for Supporting Disabled People into the Eastern Bay of Plenty will also benefit people with disabilities.  The idea is local Area Co-ordinators work with disabled people and their whānau to help develop plans for the future, and build up natural and community support so people with disabilities can live a better life.   It also involves an individualised funding scheme, which enables people with disabilities to have greater flexibility over choosing services and support they require.

Horizon Research Maori Viewpoint 2012

Māori, particularly young Māori feel the country is headed in the wrong direction (71.8% compared with 63.1% in May 2011).  Overall 34.5% of Maori expect their household financial position to worsen next year.  However, five per cent more are involved in iwi affairs than in 2011, though a third are still not active in iwi affairs.  The report's content tables can be downloaded here.

Affordable eating

TEAR Fund has published a cookbook with cheap easy recipes under $2.25.  Find it at their website

Info about the politics of having enough to eat is on Caritas’s Social Justice Week’s website   It includes their publication A world without hunger

All we need is a creative project, and a few good people to work with, and a new thought may spread like wildfire.

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