Monday, January 30, 2012

John Key and welfare

Like most Tories, John Key hates welfare and welfare recipients. And if he doesn't then he's certainly not above  exploiting the prejudices of many New Zealanders to make some political hay stigmatising welfare recipients as a drag on the rest of us hardworking citizens.
Key, along with his Minster of Social Development, faux Westie Paula Bennett, spent the last term of the National government describing beneficiaries as 'breeding for a business', with benefit receipt being 'a way of life'. For these bludgers the message was simple: 'the dream is over'. Subsequent legislation required sole parents to work at least 15 hours per week when their youngest child turns 6; that Sickness beneficiaries to work 15 hours per week; and people accessing hardship assistance more than twice per year to show proof of taking reasonable steps to improve income, reduce costs, or improve financial management. In practice this means beneficiaries now have to show they have sought budgeting assistance, a stipulation that has put enormous strain on budgeting services who have not had any compensatory increase in funding. During the 2011 election, National also promised to get tough on 16 and 17 year olds in receipt of the Independent Youth Benefit.
In the meantime, National has also promised to implement the recommendations of its ACT-led Welfare Working Group, a group that viewed beneficiaries as shiftless slackers who abuse their kids, take drugs, spend all their money on alcohol and cigarettes and are almost entirely to blame for the government's difficult fiscal position . (A rejoinder to much of this crap has been published by Child Poverty Action Group.)
But it seems there are two faces to National's attitude to welfare.

(Source: wiki commons)

Consider the following news item from Radio NZ:
The Prime Minister John Key says one of the issues he'll raise with the Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard today and tomorrow is the provision of welfare support to New Zealanders living in Australia. Mr Key's in Melbourne for a meeting with Ms Gillard and a joint cabint meeting tomorrow. He says a change in policy being considered by Australia could result in 100,000 New Zealanders being made permanent residents of that country. Mr Key says that would mean they then become eligible for welfare support. The problem for many New Zealanders living in Australia became clear when those affected by the Queensland floods were initially ineligible for government support. Mr Key says the Australian government will have to consider the cost of the change before making a decision.
In other words, New Zealand sole parents need to be incentivised into work through punitive sanctions, while New Zealanders in Australia need to be eligible for 'government support'. Not just welfare, note, but 'support'.
We think this is a cunning ploy to help the Key government achieve its target of equalising the incomes of Australians and New Zealanders. If welfare is hard to get in New Zealand but is easier to get in Australia then the thing to do would be to encourage our  beneficiaries and homeless to move to Australia, thus bringing New Zealand's average income up, and dragging Australia's down. It's a bit like Victorian England: we don't want to look after our own poor, so we'll try to ship them to Australia.
Given that the Gillard government is on the same austerity schtick as the rest of the developed world (including New Zealand), good luck with that, Mr Key. And in case you're wondering, you're a hypocrite. 

PS Cartoon on the outcome of the joint cabinet meeting. Thanks, Scoop.