The Dim-Post

September 12, 2012

What’s the plan?

Filed under: economics,Politics — danylmc @ 8:10 am

National’s latest welfare reform seems like a tipping point to me – an escalation from pointless media stunts to authoritarian interventionism that could inflict considerable misery on some of the many children living in poverty in this country.

It’s part of a package. National has critiqued Labour’s policy to provide food to children at low decile schools at a cost of $3 – 19 million per year, while locking in subsidies to polluters at $330 million dollars over the next four years via the ETS. Yesterday in the House David Cunliffe cited a figure from the Parliamentary Library that the New Zealand economy lost 10,500 jobs in the June quarter alone. It’s official: National are a shitty, vicious government.

Joyce and English haven’t been too worried about the ongoing disintegration of the non-dairy sectors of the economy, because they have Bennett running distraction, and they also have their ‘drill-baby-drill’ economic strategy, copying the success of Australia’s mining boom. Which has lost 900 jobs in the last week. If Aussie mining slumps, how is New Zealand going to compete with them given their huge capital investment, proximity to market and the fact that they’re mining in the desert, not mountainous rain-forests?

And what’s going to happen to our unemployment rate if we’re not (a) creating jobs and (b) exporting 50,000 workers to Australia every year?


  1. “…National’s latest welfare reform seems like a tipping point to me…” it is the remorseless logic of escalation, the need for a bigger and bigger bit of bene-bashing heroin to get the media rush they seek. But like you, I now suspect Paula Bennett has croosed a tipping point and is now personally hooked on the sadists endorphin rush, the feeling of power that comes when you gently beat your jackboot with a riding crop as your victims cower in front of you. I wonder if Paula Bennett understands, or even cares, about the socio-psychological forces that become unleashed when the state officially sanctions the population turning on a group of people designated as a class of problematic parasites with less human rights than the rest of the population?

    Comment by Sanctuary — September 12, 2012 @ 8:30 am

  2. I am expecting her next move to be forcing beneficiaries to wear arm bands so that the rest of the population can easily identify them and add to the persecution instigated by this government. My only hope is that when a conservative body like Plunket come out in opposition there will be rethink.

    Comment by Karen — September 12, 2012 @ 8:46 am

  3. So benefit bashing includes requiring beneficiaries to ensure their children go to school and have the freely provided health checks they are required to do. As a parent I do this voluntarily, but if ensuring it happens needs a big stick ’cause the all the carrots they’ve received are not working – get out the big stick!

    Once again this post is not is about the actual policy itself, but your twisted view on what the ‘enemy’ (i.e. any party not Labour/Greens) are doing – you assume only benign motives for ‘your side’ and only malicious motives for the other – typical of those too involved in the politics of politics to actually consider that governments are just part of a greater society.

    Comment by Fost — September 12, 2012 @ 9:15 am

  4. @Frost, the problem with the approach is this: while it is laudable for children to receive ECE and healthcare etc, what do you think will happen to the children of dysfunctional parents who do not get their kids into school or kindy or into their local doctor’s register ? Given that we know that possibly hundreds of families will fail this new test, the logical outcome of this policy is extreme hardship for many of the children this policy purports to help.

    If you think this outcome is a good one for the children involved, then you are both deluded and uncaring.

    A better approach would be to put resources into those families that are not meeting the targets. You know, things like case workers, financial incentives, planning assistance etc. But that kind of approach might have an impact on the largess available for shitty, low value projects such as the Holiday Highway.

    Comment by mikaerecurtis — September 12, 2012 @ 9:23 am

  5. @Fost those on low incomes probably aren’t able to afford carrots. Beating them will not suddenly enable to do so. The post isn’t about assuming one side is the side of the angels, the other the devils. It’s outright indignation that a gvoernment can poor large amounts of money into the hands of those with money while at the same time, not only can they not only not be arsed doing anything about making sure poor kids get a good start to the day, they’re quite happy to put the boot in as well. If that’s not shitty and vicious, I’m not sure what is.

    Comment by Ben — September 12, 2012 @ 9:48 am

  6. @Mikaere, let’s not fall into the trap of thinking that only dysfunctional parents will fail the test; it’s not hard to imagine these services being difficult to impossible to access for parents with the best of intentions in some circumstances.

    Comment by James Butler (@j20r) — September 12, 2012 @ 9:51 am

  7. @Fost – ECE isn’t school, which is a service provided by the state. It’s subsidised by the government but delivered by the private sector. What happens if you’re a single mum with a number of kids, you don’t have a car and there’s no ECE center near you? Now you stay home and look after the kids yourself – next year you’re legally required to somehow transport your children to a privately run childcare center at the taxpayers’ expense.

    Comment by danylmc — September 12, 2012 @ 9:51 am

  8. @Danyl Well duh, if there’s demand (your single mum) then the market will supply (an ECE centre nearby)! Problem solved.

    Comment by James Butler (@j20r) — September 12, 2012 @ 9:58 am

  9. “So benefit bashing includes requiring beneficiaries to ensure their children go to school”

    No, it’s requiring them to have their children in early childhood education, when ECE is frequently an additional cost — the “20 free hours” thing is a mirage as centres often charge more than the subsidy, and there are transport and other costs in getting your kids there and back, which are hard on a budget with no wiggle room.

    Comment by Stephen J — September 12, 2012 @ 10:11 am

  10. @James, my understanding from the NatRad report on it was that if the parents were actively seeking to get their kinds into ECE etc, then they would be OK. Ergo, the ones that are most likely to fail the test are the dysfunctional ones. However, I can see how this could be a judgement call and therefore subject to abuse/bad decisions.

    Comment by mikaerecurtis — September 12, 2012 @ 10:17 am

  11. @Frost – I think that it should be a common sense axiom that no welfare policy aimed at parents should harm innocent children as a consequence of its implementation. This should be a minimum requirement of any reasonable policy consideration from within WINZ (although one suspects that the Bennett is probably making up these policies on advice not from civil servants concerned with child welfare but from political consultants and party hacks).

    Now, it seems to me that if you accept that as a minimum decent, humane welfare reform should not have as an implicit outcome making life materially worse for children then you also must accept limitations on the type and form of “get tough” reforms you wish to implement. In short, in a decent society any decent person should know where the limit is and intuitively understand what is unethical and inhumane. The biggest worry to me is here we have a minister who is clearly not just comfortable, but positively gleeful in her creating and implementing policies that punish children for the sins of their parents. To me, this implies a degree of sadism in the ministers behaviour that should be ringing alarm bells above and beyond just a debate around the policy itself.

    Comment by Sanctuary — September 12, 2012 @ 10:31 am

  12. To make a similar point to James, but from another angle…as a Doctor I see a lot of “dysfunctional” parents (as in feckless, violent, unpleasant,spendthrift, substance abusing etc etc). Fortunately a lot of them have money, jobs, nice houses and family supports so they survive and so do their children. These people may “forget” to make breakfast for their kids too…but they swing by the bakery on the way to school in the Prado and buy them a bun. They have options…but some of them are still shitty parents. They would never see themselves as dysfunctional…that is a label reserved for the “poor” who are, of course, solely to blame for their poverty.

    If you take a family with biopsychosocial problems and “incentivise” them to be better parents by reducing their already meagre income the people that will suffer are the children.

    Comment by PPCM — September 12, 2012 @ 10:31 am

  13. This is way beyond a tipping point. Drug-testing beneficiaries etc had some level of defensable logic to it. But this is legally forcing children into PRESCHOOL education and choosing to only do it for a sector of society you dislike. Why exactly should the child of a beneficiary legally have to attend ECE but not the child of a middle-class family where one of the parent’s doesn’t work?

    Comment by garethw — September 12, 2012 @ 11:53 am

  14. Not to mention that our dairy industry will soon be hit by the same problem as the mining industry: China not buying stuff.

    Comment by Rich d'Rich (@rich_d_rich) — September 12, 2012 @ 11:57 am

  15. “…And what’s going to happen to our unemployment rate if we’re not (a) creating jobs and (b) exporting 50,000 workers to Australia every year..?”

    Never mind the unemployment rate – what happens to any dysfunctional boiler when you block the safety valve?

    Comment by Sanctuary — September 12, 2012 @ 12:15 pm

  16. What happens if you’re a single mum with a number of kids, you don’t have a car and there’s no ECE center near you? Now you stay home and look after the kids yourself – next year you’re legally required to somehow transport your children to a privately run childcare center at the taxpayers’ expense.
    See this is where the opposition is going to lie – it’s a bad idea to force children into ECE. But it’s actually not the worst issue here (and there will be plenty of arguments made as to why it’s a great idea). The worst bit is that they’re only forcing beneficiaries’ kids into ECE – it’s either a good policy for children or it’s not; the source of the parent’s income is completely independent of that…

    Comment by garethw — September 12, 2012 @ 12:21 pm

  17. Yeah, this is just weird. I would have picked compulsory ECE as the kind of authoritarian shit more likely to be imposed by a Labour govt than a National one.

    Comment by Psycho Milt — September 12, 2012 @ 12:21 pm

  18. One day, sooner rather than later, the baby boomers will become old and frail. They will survey the damage they have brought to this country and they will cower in fright when they finally realise the younger generation – honed by dog-eat-dog disenfranchisement – will not serve them in their time of senility and weakness.

    This day will come and I welcome it.

    Comment by cognitive dissonance is a bitch, yo — September 12, 2012 @ 12:32 pm

  19. I would have picked compulsory ECE as the kind of authoritarian shit more likely to be imposed by a Labour govt than a National one.
    Labour authoritates (new word!) over everyone – National just over those imagined homogenous groups it dislikes…

    Comment by garethw — September 12, 2012 @ 12:33 pm

  20. Sadly, Bennett and co calculate that people like Fost will not have the slightest interest in engaging with the debate, and their comforting prejudices will remain unchanged. She’s probably right.

    I think it’s all a giant experiment, we’re all lab rats and (puts on white coat) it’s quite intriguing to observe. Karen refers to “armbands” above, but at some point that is no longer reductio ad absurdum. If an “independent report” (i.e. blogger in garage) proposed making the Community Services Card some kind of compulsory ID/tracking device, then first-term National would have called it a non-starter, but second-term National would at least want to “have the conversation”, before Key ruled it out as “too extreme”, and annouced the tracking device would only be rolled out as a “voluntary trial in South Auckland”, part of a “balanced approach”.

    Comment by sammy 2.0 — September 12, 2012 @ 12:52 pm

  21. “I am expecting her next move to be forcing beneficiaries to wear arm bands”

    What a coincidence. That was exactly my response to a colleague this morning.
    This government are indeed vicious and shitty, and the beneficiary crap they’re rolling out, while it is a distraction, serves the purpose of giving an increasingly precarious populace somewhere to focus their anger. The Welfare Working Group and the government’s Green Paper also made it plain that welfare has an ethnic dimension just for those who were having trouble getting the message.
    This is not about improving outcomes for children: it is about discriminating and stigmatising. The government has adduced no evidence that the behaviour of beneficiaries is sufficiently different from that of others to warrant this intensive social management. We are about to produce a VERY angry generation of children.

    Comment by donna — September 12, 2012 @ 1:01 pm

  22. We are about to produce a VERY angry generation of children.

    Maybe the ones that don’t die of diseases of poverty in slum housing.
    The rest can be incarcerated or safely ignored as non-voters.

    Comment by Gregor W — September 12, 2012 @ 1:07 pm

  23. Mussolinied and Godwinned in two that must be a new record!

    Comment by merv — September 12, 2012 @ 1:15 pm

  24. Just a point: “Free Kindergarten” is ECE.

    “David Cunliffe cited a figure from the Parliamentary Library that the New Zealand economy lost 10,500 jobs in the June quarter alone” Um, that must be a “gross” figure, for the June Household Labour Force Survey says (Key Facts): The number of people employed decreased by 2,000 people. Still not good, but there’s statistics…

    “exporting 50,000 workers to Australia every year”

    Don’t worry, the end of the mining boom (remember “mining bad: grrr, grrr!”) will put paid to that.
    See page 1 of:
    …for the lovely graph showing net inward migration. See page 4 for:

    “Highest net gain of migrants in 16 months – Seasonally adjusted permanent and long-term (PLT) migration figures showed a net gain (an excess of arrivals over departures) of 500 migrants in June 2012. Three of the last four months have had net migration gains.”

    See page 5 for “Net loss of 3,200 migrants in June 2012 year”

    Comment by Clunking Fist — September 12, 2012 @ 2:07 pm

  25. The last two or three changes to welfare have so obviously been about castigating certain people in society that it’s difficult to remember that we only voted this party into power near the end of last year.

    If people want to use cannabis, for example, that’s their choice. Personally, I don’t, but a lot of people do. There’s a huge difference between tightening controls in a sector such as welfare, to ensure that people are meeting their obligations, and building up class barriers that will be detrimental to future generations, and what National has been doing of late falls into the latter category. Now, with these changes, there’s not only social divides between rich and poor, government dependents and non-government dependents, there’s also going to be those who have choices about their own lives and the lives of their children, and those that don’t.

    If you want your child to go to preschool and you can afford that, fine. But making government dependent parents send their children to preschool, or they get their benefit halved, well, that just doesn’t stand up as a legal argument against human rights and so National will just use their power under the guise of “good governing” until support for them dries up completely. Then there will be no remorse for them.

    It would have been better if they had reduced the compulsory age of primary schooling from six to five years of age. Like what they are actually doing, once everything is said and done it doesn’t actually change much, but it’s a lot smarter, a lot more beneficial, and it does not single people out so it’s much better PR.

    Comment by Dan — September 12, 2012 @ 2:41 pm

  26. How about taking away benefits from parents who don’t send their kids to charter schools?

    That could make another controversial policy an overnight success.

    Comment by billbennettnz — September 12, 2012 @ 4:19 pm

  27. It would cost less (certainly socially and possibly fiscally) if the government lowered the school starting age to 4 years (as proposed by Louisa Wall’s bill).

    Most children live within walking distance of a school, but many are not close to child care centres, and people on benefits often can’t afford cars or the fuel to run them. The curriculum for children of that age wouldn’t need to change, sufficient teachers could probably be found (they would have to be found to meet the government’s target of 98% ECE participation in any case). Best of all, there would be no stigmatising of benefit recipients or their children, and fewer bureaucrats would be needed to police the poor. I can’t think of a better way to ensure all children are participating and have opportunities to develop and learn.

    I understand the school starting age in France has bee 3 years for some time, so it is hardly a novel or radical proposal.

    Comment by Laura — September 12, 2012 @ 5:25 pm

  28. That’s just extending the definition of ‘school’ to incorporate kindergarten, like some colleges integrate intermediate classes. The UK does that a bit. at junior level.

    Here The Steiner system does it so they start at the kindy around 4 but primary doesn’t start till aged 7 or so. They have a lower, a middle, and a high school all on the same site.

    Comment by insider — September 12, 2012 @ 5:50 pm

  29. I think it should be five, which is the age at which most kids start school, but from a compulsory (legal) view, it’s six, so that should just be changed to five. Problem solved (or averted). Do nothing about preschool. If people want and qualify for the free 20 hours, fine. If they don’t want it, that’s okay too.

    Possibly increase it to 25 free hours per week, because what does 20 do? In terms of getting mothers into paid part time or full time work, not a lot. The extra five hours would make it easier for those that want to work to do so.

    Comment by Dan — September 12, 2012 @ 6:36 pm

  30. Oh FFS, bene’s have to send their kids to school and the doctors – big fucking deal.

    Beltway whining.

    Comment by Tim — September 12, 2012 @ 6:43 pm

  31. This thread got godwinned twice in the first 2 comments. Impressive

    Comment by Swan — September 12, 2012 @ 7:23 pm

  32. Haha ahaha, Swan my dear boy you are right. Good old Sanctuary the class warrior who sullies himself for the cause by listening to Danny Watson, and his alter ego ‘Karen’ roll out the nazi jackbooted proletariat crusher diatribe. Dimpost posters are like the last Liabore gummint – the gift that keeps giving.

    Comment by Tim — September 12, 2012 @ 7:55 pm

  33. >Oh FFS, bene’s have to send their kids to school and the doctors – big fucking deal.

    No, dick, it’s pre-school this thread is about talking about. That place where, on the whole, kids run around playing, much as they would at home, but at the cost of half of the beneficiary’s allowance. Which means it can’t be spent on, say, food and clothing and heating for those kids. This is something to impose on people who actually have the free time to look after their kids? FFS all right. Stupidest…idea….ever. Nanny State with a spin – it’s the State that makes actual nannying compulsory.

    Comment by Ben Wilson — September 12, 2012 @ 8:45 pm

  34. Oh dear someones got their rag on. It IS about bene’s sending their kids to school and the doctors – dick.

    Comment by Tim — September 12, 2012 @ 8:50 pm

  35. This post started off sensibly enough criticizing national’s welfare reforms but somehow morphed into an incoherent speil on mining.

    We can choose to leave our mineral redources in the ground but if we do choose to do that then we should be very clear that this will further handicap our ability to develop an economy that can sustain the sort of welfare state we want.

    Public transport, alternative energy, high tech industry – all require mining. If we opt out of mining all we do is make sure we’re paying for it to happen elsewhere. Perhaps we do want close our coal mines, stop mining iron sands and import more steel. Perhaps if it is more economical to build trains here we would prefer to import all the raw resources required.

    Comment by NeilM — September 12, 2012 @ 9:21 pm

  36. The “welfare reform” confirms the transition from nanny state to Gestapo government.

    Beneficiaries are to be ghettoised and concentrated into Bennett camps where they can be tortured at will to the huge delight of the National Party.

    While beneficiary bashing is fun for the national party it might be worth while thinking that no one is obliged to send their children to school until the age of six.

    Maybe the national party should look at all parents of children under the age of six and punish them as well.

    Sorry I forgot, fairness and equity only apply to businesses, not to people.

    Comment by peterlepaysan — September 12, 2012 @ 9:50 pm

  37. > It IS about bene’s sending their kids to school and the doctors

    For you it might be. The adults in the room were talking about the topic the thread is about, which you can get a handle on by reading the first link. The first couple of paragraphs lay it out pretty clearly.

    Comment by Ben Wilson — September 12, 2012 @ 11:11 pm

  38. I have to say, as a right-leaning guy who grew up in South Auckland, I generally write off any claims of ‘bene-bashing’ as fairly common-sense stuff.

    But this policy… this is bullcrap. *If* it was just school we were talking about, it might be tenuously acceptable. Although I still think circumventing due process around enforcing the law makes that proposal 10 times worse than “no benefit with an arrest warrant” (which I do tenuously support).

    But compulsory ECE? The hell with that! Up till six, it’s the parents’ call what they think is best for the child. And this is without any kind of election mandate or consultation? I’m with Psycho Milt, I would have expected this kind of crap under Clark. I guess each time I feel like I can’t get more disillusioned with National’s policy direction they find another way to screw up.

    Danyl, I have to apologise. When you’ve posted about Bennett deliberately ripping into vulnerable sectors of society, I’d written that off as ad hominem attacks against policies you didn’t like. Now I think you might have been right all along.

    A postscript: Lowering the school age is not really a much better policy. It seems very trendy in the blog comment to cite Finland as the paragon of educational achievement. Finland has the shortest period of formal schooling in the OECD, so it seems a little hypocritical to then advocate the exact opposite if we’re using them as a role model.

    Comment by enjiner — September 12, 2012 @ 11:51 pm

  39. Is it just me, or have others got the feeling that this latest welfare “crackdown” has been greeted with a great deal of unease in the general population, people who like enjiner above who might have lustily cheered to the echo the “no benefit with an arrest warrant” but are now quite queasy about this latest sadistic “reform”? Perhaps Paula isn’t as clever as we all think, and has over-played her hand this time? I noted that media is now softening the governments line on this reform – benefits I hear won’t be cut if “significant issues” prevent a beneficiary sending their child to ECE. A “significant issue” could be practically anything.

    Comment by Sanctuary — September 13, 2012 @ 7:53 am

  40. Sadly, Sanc, it’s the zackery same unease that initially met Orewa One, even down to a few enjiners. Disbelief at the blatant hatemongering followed by a huge poll rise for NACT. The common thread is what Brownlee called “the work done” in previous weeks – i.e. the continual stream of thinly-veiled victimbash in print and talkback, eg this morning’s “poll result”.

    Yes she may have jumped the shark this time, but unless the Herald and Lhaws tell people, they’ll never “know”. The one consolation is that they’re on their last scapegoat, and if good people stand hard now for our most vulnerable, it’s their last progrom. Imagine the chances of the Tuhoe settlement in 2004.

    Comment by ak — September 13, 2012 @ 8:36 am

  41. Sanc @39 – ““significant issue” could be practically anything.”
    Doesn’t that make you wonder if it isn’t actually a Clayton’s requirement: the requirement you have when you don’t actually care that the requirement is met? I.e. a policy that is spin? To appeal to core supporters/talkback callers?

    Comment by Clunking Fist — September 13, 2012 @ 9:52 am

  42. @ sanc

    Dom post editorial is in favour today (maybe no surprise) so perhaps you are too hopeful.

    This looks like a broken windows type policy to tackle the small but perceptually influential group of institutionalised and multigenerational beneficiaries (that worry the Nats) who don’t care for themselves, their kids or the communities. FOr the rest it will probably mean no difference because their kids do get care and attention so they will tick a box on a form or similar, or the difference will be a positive one – because it will prompt them to do something for the health and education of their kids (the reason some people are beneficiary parents is that they are not as bright/worldly/motivated and understand consequences as most commenting on here)

    It’s hard to see how Lab could unwind this as it will be very difficult for them to manage the ‘Labour discourages bene kids from doctors and school’ type headlines.

    Comment by insider — September 13, 2012 @ 10:25 am

  43. This looks like a broken windows type policy to tackle the small but perceptually influential group of institutionalised and multigenerational beneficiaries (that worry the Nats) who don’t care for themselves, their kids or the communities.

    Except it wont tackle the issue at all. The idea is being floated as a constituency perception management fixer, not a substantive one – hence Paula Bennett’s unwillingness to front on RNZ or TV to front the policy as a serious proposition.

    Soundbite politics BAU. The trouble for the Nats is that have some have pointed out already, the audience is starting to get fatigue. You can only throw ‘public enemy x’ to the lions so often before your constituency switches off.

    Comment by Gregor W — September 13, 2012 @ 10:46 am

  44. Don’t the children of the impoverished middle classes have to go too? How can we make them?

    Comment by Stephen Doyle — September 13, 2012 @ 12:44 pm

  45. Well, when a Mummy and a Daddy love each other very much they buy a house and get a big mortgage and then have babies.

    Comment by merv — September 13, 2012 @ 1:35 pm

  46. You did mean how do we make impoverished middle class children didn’t you?

    Comment by merv — September 13, 2012 @ 1:36 pm

  47. The birds and bees I sort of understand, although colony collapse disorder is a worry, but what I don’t get is why the impoverished middle class, those receiving WFF don’t have to make their preschoolers go to kindy. After all isn’t WFF just another form of government handout?

    Comment by Stephen Doyle — September 13, 2012 @ 2:21 pm

  48. True, Stephen. And that will probably come into law sooner or later. If they really do forge ahead with this thing, there’s no way it will be only beneficiaries, so will extend to either everyone or incorporate WFF recipients, too.

    Comment by Dan — September 13, 2012 @ 5:38 pm

  49. And “their” voters would stand for that?

    Comment by Stephen D. — September 13, 2012 @ 5:56 pm

  50. Only if they give “their” voters another round of tax cuts.

    Comment by Dan — September 13, 2012 @ 6:28 pm

  51. Weren’t ALL children going to be catch under the last govt under “weaving pathways to success” so even non-bene families would be penalised (somehow) if they didn’t raise their children in the manner proscribed by the state?

    Comment by Clunking Fist — September 14, 2012 @ 1:01 pm

  52. Yeah, CF, you’re right to draw attention to National’s twofer here: nannying AND discrimination in one policy!

    Comment by steve — September 15, 2012 @ 12:33 am

  53. Ahh – the golden pathway to violent revolution! Cant happen here? Let the alienation continue, the us and them, the advantaged and disadvantaged – push the limits and watch it explode in Governments and the ruling elites face – history is recorded in bubbles that always pop

    Comment by Gregory Hussey — September 18, 2012 @ 11:02 pm

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