Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Model work(er)

Under pressure to 'do something' about child poverty, the newly re-elected National government has done, well, nothing, but it has talked up a storm.

A key strategy for the government has been to argue that the gap between benefits and wages must be maintained (23 years after the fact, National still won't admit that its 1991 benefit cuts resulted in massive increases in child poverty) because work, and work alone, is to be the way out of poverty. The 'work first' discourse has a very 19th century, patriarchal tone that echoes the Victorian idea that relief for the disabled and unemployed had to be mean and unpleasant in order to deter the idle poor from shirking.

The moral case for the (self) disciplinary virtues of paid work are commonly an integral part of the case for getting parents - or anyone else who isn't "totally blind or permanently and severely restricted in his or her capacity for work" - into employment. There is little empirical support for such moral claims but they serve the purpose of enabling the blame for people's situation to be sheeted home to their own shortcomings rather than to systematic and deliberate economic violence. All of which brings us to the latest offering in this vein from Messers Russell Wills, Children's Commissioner, and Phil O'Reilly, Chief Executive of Business New Zealand.
Phil O'Reilly has done a reasonable job of sounding concerned about child poverty over the last few years. But Business New Zealand is, for all intents and purposes, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the National Party, and has provided vocal support for National while it has undermined the ability of New Zealanders to make a decent living through working. How this is compatible with alleviating child poverty is not clear.

As Commissioner for Children, Russell Wills put together the Expert Advisory Group that produced an evidence-based report on how to deal with child poverty in New Zealand. It wasn't perfect, and as with most social policy issues many of the proposals were contested. But this debate is healthy in social policy, and the report and working papers were generally of high quality and made a worthwhile contribution.

So what with Mr Wills being a paediatrician and focused on evidence-based policy, we were startled to read that "parents [ in paid work] have better self-esteem and purpose, and model work as the norm their children aspire to." Better purpose? Who said? Where is the evidence for this? Did the authors ask any sole parents? If they had they might have found there's nothing wrong with beneficiary parents' self-esteem but they get sick of not having enough money to feed their kids, and having to put up with ill-informed statements from the commentariat.

And where is the evidence that children take their parents' 'good' behaviour as a model for their own? How do we know that the children of beneficiary parents do not have their own aspirations? This, gentlemen, is little more than the patriarchal, moralistic fantasy of men who (to steal a phrase from a wonderful friend) are not not at the coalface raising children on a very low income. Further, for the authors to argue that "incomes are too low" when Business New Zealand has been at the forefront of efforts to keep them low is disingenuous. 

Russell WIlls has done a great deal to bring the issue of child poverty to the public's attention. it is a shame he is in danger of unravelling this good work by buying into the 'work is the way out of poverty' myth when their is no evidence that it is, and it fails to acknowledge both a lack of suitable employment for sole parents, and that many parents simply cannot work. Most importantly, it undermines the notion that parenting is work, and hard work at that. I don't doubt Mr WIlls' determination to improve the lives of New Zealand children, but this must be on terms that respect their rights as children, and their whanau's right to care for them. Paid work comes after that.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Things that piss me off #5

People who get dogs ("it's a pitbull, man, it'll be a good guard dog") then chain them up to containers with no shelter. And by the way, dipshits at number 7, they're not pitbulls, they're labrador crosses. And yes, I will be calling the SPCA in the morning because few things get on my wick more than highly distressed dogs barking because they've spent the night out in the cold.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Economic indices you can use

Have you ever listened to economics yukspeak and wondered what on earth those bankers and commentators are talking about? Someone tells you GDP has grown X% and New Zealand is enjoying an economic boom yet...your pay packet hasn't gotten any bigger and there's a seemingly endless stream of news reports about families living in cars. You know that somehow your world is changing but GDP, inflation and the trade-weighted exchange rate don't tell you anything about how or, more importantly, why.

As a public service, Spiderandme brings you two economic indices you can relate to - indices that tell you something meaningful about your world. 

Foo-foo dogs
First up: the Foo-Foo Index. When we first lived in our low-income neighbourhood, when it came to dogs the most common sight was young brown guys walking the sorts of dogs that feature here. The young men in question would invariably tell you these dogs were pitbulls, but in fact there are very few actual pitbulls in New Zealand, and most of them were South Auckland Specials. But in Auckland's overheated real estate market, these young men are being priced out of suburbs like ours as the middle classes gradually move south because they, in turn, have been priced out of the inner 'burbs. 

How can we gauge the extent of this gentrification, and its implications for those being forced even further south (to, for example, Pokeno)? The Foo-Foo Index can help. For ages the only foo-foo dogs in the 'hood were a pair of white fluffy things that lived up the road. But in the last couple of years the South Auckland Specials have gradually been replaced by foo-foo dogs. The adventurous new residents have border collies and retrievers and the like. Our SPCA brindle boys are now very much in the minority (it seems the middle classes do not get their dogs from the SPCA). And indeed, the rate of turnover of residents in the neighbourhood has shot up, and the number of houses being tarted up is at some sort of record high. So where do the (mostly) nice young men with their supposed pitbulls go to find rental housing? Yes, yes, we know. They cram into sleepouts and caravans in Takanini.

Then there's the Firecracker Index. In the mid-2000s Guy Fawkes here was horrific. Crackers would start in mid-October (no one out South pays much attention to the sale limit) and they would go through to mid-November then go off again at Christmas and New Year.

Crackers are expensive, and in the illusory economic growth of the 2000s people had cash to squander on them. One of the upsides to the recession of 2009-2010 was that cash was scarce and Guy Fawkes was comparatively quiet.  The last two years have been far busier, with people not only celebrating Guy Fawkes itself, but being able to hoard fireworks for later in the year. But this year, despite our rock-star economy, Guy Fawkes has been quieter again. November the 5th was ghastly but the subsequent Friday and Saturday were not as bad as previous years (but still bad enough). There's just not as much money to throw at them.

In some ways the Foo-Foo Index and the Firecracker Index overlap: as the neighbourhood ages as a result of younger people being forced out and foo-foo dog owners moving in, the number of cretins (and I'm looking at you, across the road neighbour) setting off crackers in the street at 10.30 at night reduces. Indeed, many of the crackers we hear are from across the estuary from the as-yet ungentrified Otara and East Tamaki (except for the ones let off by the over-the-road cretin).

Between them the Foo-Foo Index and the Firecracker Index can give you a guide as to whether your neighbourhood is part of the Great Auckland Real Estate Bubble (and its attendant rates increases) or whether you neighbours are feeling as flush as the business press tells them they are. For those thinking a bit further ahead, they must also raise questions about Auckland's continuing socioeconomic (and ethnic) divide.