TWO RECENT events show how entrenched the welfarist mindset has become.
Labour leader David Shearer was pilloried in the left-wing blogosphere for making a speech in which he made it clear he disapproved of people claiming a benefit when they were fit to work. Yet his attitude is entirely in line with the views of the Labour politicians who created the social welfare system in the 1930s.
They were harshly intolerant of welfare “loafers”. The colourful public works minister Bob Semple, a former union leader, is said to have once thundered in biblical tones: “He who shall not work, neither shall he eat.”
That Mr Shearer was condemned within his own party shows how the entitlement mindset has distorted attitudes to the point where dependency on the taxpayer is viewed as a valid lifestyle choice.More recently, the government’s proposal to drug-test beneficiaries has been condemned, predictably, as beneficiary-bashing. But if the state is going to pay people the unemployment benefit, it’s only fair that the recipients demonstrate good faith by being ready and available for work. In many industries, that requires them to be drug-free.
There’s a moral dimension here too. Why should law-abiding taxpayers subsidise the illegal drug habits of the unemployed?
The government’s advisers did their best to find reasons why drug-testing shouldn’t be mandatory, but the public is capable of cutting through all the equivocation. When a poll on TVNZ’s CloseUp asked whether beneficiaries who refuse a drug test should have their benefit cut, 90 per cent of the 16,000 respondents voted yes.
People who are able to work shouldn’t be sitting around on welfare not-working – and in properly run economies they don’t! Look back to 2007, when ‘entitlement mindset’ Labour ran things: the number of unemployed was ~54,000 (just over 3%) in the June Quarter. The unemployment rate went up when the economy crashed in 2008, which happened to be just before National entered government.
Like I said before, having a fairly large proportion of your workforce doing nothing and consuming other peoples’ wealth is really bad, so governments work hard to prevent it. And that was National’s first order of business when they came into power. Remember the Job Summit? The cycle-way? Classic Keynesian economics: the government borrows at low rates and soaks up workers during a downturn, providing jobs while the economy re-balances and the private sector recovers.
Unfortunately National decided not to do any of that stuff. They decided to grow the economy in ways that were more . . . ideologically palatable, like cutting taxes for high income earners and increasing GST, and building shit-loads of roads. Even more unfortunately, none of their ideas worked. The economy remained stagnant and benefit numbers stayed high, incurring a massive cost to the taxpayer.
And that’s where Paula Bennett and her war on beneficiaries comes in. When the economy is tanking and benefit numbers are high, the public is going to blame someone, and that someone is going to be the government – unless the government can blame someone else first. And those someone are the people who are still on benefits because National has failed to create jobs for them to transition to. Thus the endless cycle of ‘tough on welfare’ policies, most of which are aimed at temporarily moving people off benefits so the labour force statistics for the next quarter are less embarrassing to the government.
That’s great politics. Unemployment is a terrible thing: people lose their houses, families break up, it’s linked to physical and mental illness, drug abuse, crime, child poverty – but it’s also concentrated amongst sections of the population who don’t vote very much. Economically and socially the status quo is a disaster, but politically there’s no downside!
National doesn’t want to intervene in the economy and create jobs – for a variety of reasons, some ideological, some related to their own hubris: they’ve been convinced for four years now that the economy is about to experience ‘robust growth’, due to the sheer awesomeness of John Key being in power. Bennett’s welfare reform is an interim response; a very successful propaganda campaign designed to distract the public from National’s jaw-dropping policy failures by pretending that the people most affected by the economic downturn are actually its causes.
Which brings us back to David Shearer and his roof-painting sickness beneficiary: it would be nice if the leader of the opposition didn’t help the government out when they’re waging a dishonest scaremongering campaign to try and conceal their own impotence. If National – or Labour, or whoever – can get unemployment back down to 3% then they can crack down on benefit fraud and drug test beneficiaries and suspend payments to dole-bludgers with outstanding arrest warrants as much as they like (although they probably won’t bother because all those measures will cost far more money than they ever save.) Until then, the only welfare reform I want to hear about is job creation.