Welfare: Reform or Transformation?

by Cory Anderson

The Labour government has promised to deliver transformational change with a positive impact on the lives of New Zealanders. Shortly after being elected three years ago, the Prime Minister named herself as “Minister for Child Poverty Reduction” and convened the Welfare Expert Advisory Group (WEAG) to examine our welfare system and propose reforms.

The government has made some positive changes – lifting some of the sanctions against beneficiaries, including those on women who don’t name the father of their children, and increasing the “abatement threshold” in line with increases to the minimum wage. But these changes fall well short of transformation. Key National-era sanctions remain in place, such as those against beneficiaries who fail or refuse to take drug tests, and benefit levels remain well beneath what is required to live a dignified life.

The Welfare Expert Advisory Group released their report in February, and recommended key changes to the welfare system including an immediate rise in the main benefits of between 12 and 47%; rethinking the obligations and sanctions placed on welfare recipients; allowing single parents to care for children for longer before seeking work; changing the definition of a relationship to enable higher benefit payments; and increasing benefits in line with average wages, the cost of living and accommodation costs.

If the government is genuinely committed to transforming the welfare system and the lives of working people, it would immediately implement all the recommendations of the WEAG report. The Expert Advisory Group estimated that fully implementing its recommendations would cost approximately $5.2 billion a year. This is an increase of approximately 20% on current welfare spending, and could be partially offset by reallocating some of the $4.2 billion budgeted for military spending and implementing a capital gains tax.

But beyond even these recommendations, further change is needed to achieve a real transformation. [Read more…]

The Budget: a socialist response

budget 2018“Budget 2018 sets out the first steps in a plan for transformation.” That’s how Grant Robertson introduced Labour’s first Budget. Hopes for transformation brought Labour, the Greens and NZ First into government last year. A glance around at the inequality, underfunding and social suffering that have become normalised after nine years of National shows how much needs to be transformed. There is a $2.7 billion gap in health funding between 2010 levels and now, according to Council of Trade Unions research. About one in eight children live in poverty. Workers have faced years of stagnant wages, and students have seen cuts to allowance eligibility and caps to the number of years they can receive a loan. The Salvation Army describes poverty levels as “critical”, with almost 40% of families facing food insecurity. Unemployed workers on benefits face the punitive and demeaning culture of WINZ, while families with at least one member in full-time employment make up about 40% of those in poverty. This is the background to Budget 2018, and to the kind of transformations needed by workers, students, and the poor.

 

Labour campaigned on a series of reforms that, since they won office, have seen their popularity increase: removing fees on the first year of tertiary study; an increase in the minimum wage; a healthy homes guarantee; a winter energy package for retired workers; extension to paid parental leave. These are all reforms socialists should support, but they are just a small fraction of the range of measures needed to address the scale of the problems working people face.

[Read more…]

AAAP Impact Mangere

impactpromo_02Last week I saw the faces of poverty in Aotearoa. Not sad, withdrawn and dirty as we often see in child poverty promotions but angry, frustrated and determined, writes Rowan McArthur.

Angry at their situation, the government and the government departments which perpetrate and reinforce the violent culture of poverty. Frustrated at constantly being turned away and denied access to money, food, beds, clothes, fridges and washing machines. Frustrated at being treated like they are worthless, but determined to survive, determined to fight, determined to organize.

The Auckland Action Against Poverty Impact held in Mangere last week (August 5-7) saw hundreds of people turn up to gain their full entitlements. Hundreds gained access to basic necessities that had been denied them by WINZ for years. [Read more…]

WINZ: Poverty and Pep Talks

WINZYesterday I attended a ‘work for you seminar’ at the WINZ office on Queen Street, central Auckland. After the usual waiting around for 30 mins we went into the work seminar room. To my horror I look up and see an supposedly inspirational quote from Margret Thatcher on the wall…

“I do not know any one who has got to the top without hard work. That is the recipe. It will not always get you to the top, but should get you pretty near.”

The gall, the hypocracy, the sheer arrogance of it all. Thatcher, the woman whose policies deliberately fostered mass unemployment in Britain, and whose government ruined the lives of hundreds of thousands, being used as part of a pep talk to convince us unemployment was somehow our fault. [Read more…]

Family Court Reforms

The war on the poor has extended its reach to the Family Court. In the guise of protecting the vulnerable and improving the experience of those needing assistance to resolve family disputes the Government has reformed the Family Court fundamentally.

 

FamilyCourt

Although the Minister of Justice consulted with an expert advisory group what became clear when the minister’s report and recommendations to Cabinet were released was that that the real purpose of the reforms is to reduce the cost to the state of providing such assistance.

 

From March 2014 when the reforms come into effect, parents who go to Court for assistance in resolving disputes about the care of their children will not be entitled or able to have legal representation in Court prior to the matter going to a Hearing. There are a number of pieces of legislation and Court rules and regulations over which the Family Court has jurisdiction the main one being the Care of Children Act 2004.It is unrealistic and unfair to expect those in crisis to understand and interpret its provisions.

[Read more…]

Auckland Action Against Poverty Welfare Impact

560983_501014533245828_1675135460_nToday I am going to give a brief overview of the recent Auckland Action Against Poverty Welfare Impact that I attended, what drives me to work in this area, and my plans to build a sustainable welfare advocacy service in Otepoti.

Firstly, my interest in welfare stems from my upbringing, living in a household sustained by the Domestic Purposes Benefit, and my personal experience being a sole parent receiving what was called the DPB before the National Government abolished it, and classed all parents as ‘jobseekers.’

A small disclaimer: I am not a “jobseeker” and no sole parent in Aotearoa is a jobseeker.  Parents have a job already, the most important job there is, to care for our babies and build healthy, happy, and capable, children.

Recent attacks on welfare effectively undermine parenting as a valid, fundamentally important function in Aotearoa. They try to set paid workers against unpaid workers, to ensure people in the paid working class attack unpaid workers instead of the real target, the ruling class. [Read more…]

Racism – Alive and Dangerous

Kyle Chapman - Racist thug

The past couple of days have made me sick to the very core. First a racist cartoon blaming individuals for poverty and a widespread response which claimed ‘it’s just a joke’ and now the news that a neo-nazi group ‘Right Wing Resistance’ is trying to set up branches around the country.

As times get more desperate and people start feeling the brunt of economic hard times, people start looking round for something to blame. Racism is a tool to focus the anger of everyday people away from the people responsible for creating the hard times – government and city council cutbacks and bosses that lay people off, slumlords and profiteering power companies – and onto other, even worse-off, sections of society.

The cartoon in the Marlborough Express yesterday last week was an example of how racism is used to divide the working class.

[Read more…]

The Labour leadership battle

Shearer

From the outset of last year’s leadership contest Shearer was the choice of the capitalist class to take over from Phil Goff. There was a reason for that; Shearer was distinctly the right-wing candidate who signalled his willingness to jettison left-wing policies that Labour had adopted for the General Election. Shearer was the puppet of the mass-media. Shearer supporters wax indignant at the claim there is a left-right split in the leadership struggle, but what else are we to make of Shearer’s speeches attacking sickness beneficiaries and the support he’s received – and is receiving – from the right of the parliamentary party?

[Read more…]

National’s war on the poor

This article will be focusing on cutbacks to Welfare and what they mean in the context of the social, political and economic environment of New Zelaand. Firstly I will talk briefly about recent benefit history. Then I will talk about what the current welfare reforms are and some of the ruling classes myths to justify them. Then I will discuss how and why we should stop them.

[Read more…]