Wednesday, January 26, 2005



Don Brash: simple solutions for simple minds

A few thoughts on Don Brash's much touted "Orewa II" speech:

Firstly, those who have tarred the speech as beneficiary bashing are entirely correct. Like Orewa I, this speech is a finely-crafted exercise in divide and rule, singling out a segment of our society, demonising them and casting them as the enemy, and targetting them out for further victimisation. In his first Orewa speech, Brash did this to Maori. This time round, the targets are beneficiaries - specifically solo mothers, invalids and sickness beneficiaries - who Brash essentially accuses of being frauds, criminals, and malingerers, "ripping off the system" and "living off the rest of the community". Brash has plausible deniability on this, of course - his speechwriters put in careful caveats here and there which he could point to and say that of course he wasn't trying to tar all beneficiaries in that way - but at the same time it is undeniably the impression his speech was intended to convey. As for the facts that fraud is a relatively minor problem, that the vast majority of sickness and invalids beneficiaries really are too ill to work (though partly this is due to not getting the treatment they need for their conditions - something the government is now, finally, working on correcting), that 45% of DPB recipients are already in part-time work and less than 10% are still on the benefit by the time their youngest child turns 14 - in other words, that the "problem" for which he is offering a "solution" is vastly less serious than his punitive tactics would suggest - well, why should they get in the way of stirring hate?

Those who accuse Brash of resurrecting the failed policies of the past and going "back to the future" are likewise correct - there's very little here that wasn't tried (unsuccessfully) under Jenny Shipley in the late 90's. Though Brash's comment that adoption should be seen as an "acceptable option" suggests that he's looking beyond the late twentieth century, and all the way back to the nineteenth - the very era New Zealand was established as a reaction against. A significant strand of our ancestors fled halfway around the world to try and grub a living out of the forest and the swamp to escape the workhouse and the orphanage - not to recreate them.

The policy proposals themselves are best described as simple solutions for simple minds. They make good soundbites, but as shown during the Shipley government, fail to work in practice. Work-for-the-dole simply stops beneficiaries from looking for real work. Work-testing the DPB turns single-parent families into no-parent families. And work-testing those on sickness and invalids' benefits was nothing more than black comedy, with terminally ill cancer patients being dragged from chemotherapy to discuss their future work prospects with WINZ. There are far better options available - making work actually pay (rather than promoting a low-wage, low-skill economy) being the chief one. Others include providing proper healthcare so that sickness and invalids beneficiaries can work and have a life again, providing grants so that the unemployed can relocate in search of work, and removing WINZ's vicious clawbacks so that those on benefits can ease themselves into the workforce through part-time work. But such positive policies are anathema to a party seemingly committed to the idea that those on benefits are shiftless, demoralised bludgers rather than people who want jobs and lives like everybody else.

10 comments:

You and John Armstrong seem confused.

Brash is publicly articulating what most NZers already think and discuss privately: people who are long-term recipients of the various benefits are manipulating the system for their own gain.

This argument has political validity in itself, and does not indicate some Machiavelian attempt at dividing Labour. If Clark decides that political expediency justifies implementing some of Brash's ideas, then thats her bad decision to make. More likely she and Maharey will cook up some bullshit programme in the hope it will confuse centrist NZers long enough for them to vote Labour in this years elections.

I assume this is what you and Armstrong really mean by "divide and conquer": Brash is forcing Labour to publicly confront the reality of their state welfare policies merely by speaking what he thinks to be true.

Ta ta,
AL

Posted by Antarctic Lemur : 1/27/2005 08:10:00 AM

Its really amazing the way people generalise about beneficiaries but in fact there are a lot of different reasons why someone should be a long term beneficiary.

eg. one of the larger groups of long term unemployed are refugees. Many of them would actually like to work but for a variety of reasons-one of the big ones being racism and employers inability to contemplate taking on someone who looks and sounds a bit different- they can't find anyone to employ them.

Factor in that we are talking about someone who is in an alien (and contrary to what New Zealanders like to pretend a not very friendly) culture,who may very well have experienced terrible things that many smug complacent self righteous middle New Zealanders don't bother to even try to imagine, and you have someone who is deserving of respect and support- not name calling

And, really the problem is far more complicated than simple minded talk back radio type of rhetoric ever reveals. If you have a whole extended family where only one person speaks English and has a drivers license maybe the best thing for that person to do is take care of their family- arranging medical appointments, helping with groceries etc- rather than forcing them to accept some sort of minimum wage factory job- especially if they are in fact qualified as a doctor.

Posted by Make Tea Not War : 1/27/2005 08:49:00 AM

No, refugees are not a substantial part of the long-term unemployed.

You can see a list of official refugees admitted into NZ here (try the Table 3 link first):

http://www.refugee.org.nz/stats.htm

Even assuming 100% of refugees remain unemployed and on a state benefit, they add up to an insignificant amount of total beneficiaries, and a small component of long-term beneficiaries.

As to your claim of entrenched racism in NZ culture, in Auckland the City Councils are staffed in large part by immigrants, and you will find large numbers of immigrants working in white and blue-color jobs throughout the region. I believe ~30% or so of Aucklanders were born overseas (can't remember exact % sorry).

Of course your typical Indian taxi driver will talk of his doctor cousin working at McDonalds at the earliest available opportunity. That is a Medical Council (ie professional monopoly) problem, not an indication of racism. And i think the Medical Councils concern about the quality of academic training of some immigrants is valid. I had a bad experience with a Brazilian dentist once...

AL

Posted by Antarctic Lemur : 1/27/2005 10:09:00 AM

Ok, in the middle of all this argument I still don't know clearly. How many people are on benifits long-term? What is defined as long-term? What facts form the basis for the Don's 1/3 claim?

Does anyone know?

Posted by Anonymous : 1/27/2005 10:41:00 AM

This page has a good summary of long-term unemployment (scroll down to near bottom of page):
http://www.jobsletter.org.nz/stt/stathome.htm
Long and "longer" term unemployed (over 6 months, but read page for breakdown): ~12,300

If every refugee adult and child for the last 10 years remained unemployed, that would add up to less than 12,300 ;-) Unless im missing some big batch of refugees...

I can't find any good stats on the DPB or sickness benefits. Brashes speech may be the best guide for the moment, as he had research compiled for his speech (scroll down to footnotes at end of page):
http://www.national.org.nz/Article.aspx?ArticleID=3498
Total on sickness benefits: 119,000
Total on DPB: 109,000

Note the term unemployed only includes those judged to be actively looking for work.

AL

Posted by Antarctic Lemur : 1/27/2005 11:20:00 AM

>No, refugees are not a substantial part of the long-term unemployed.

Perhaps you are right. I was basing my comments on a conference paper I came across some months ago which I now cannot locate. I don't have time to look any more but I know it was a product of the Waikato Migration Research unit

http://www.waikato.ac.nz/wfass/migration/about.shtml

and I know they identified racism as one of the key reasons for unemployment among refugees.

The point that the reasons for long term unemployment are varied and one should not generalise stands.

Posted by Make Tea Not War : 1/27/2005 11:43:00 AM

You might be referring to a research project on the integration of Afghan refugees into Hamilton life. I believe that group has some very big problems in terms of cultural adjustment, including the younger kids growing up with more liberal ideas than their conservative parents, and racism from other kids at school. Some guy from Waikato gave a seminar on it at last years GSNZ at Auckland University.

The target of Brash's speech were people ripping off sickness benefits through fraud, and women living in relationships while drawing the DPB, not working, and in some cases continuing to have children. I don't think he had Afghan refugees in mind, but then thats the problem with government social policies in general - unintended consequences.

AL

Posted by Antarctic Lemur : 1/27/2005 01:09:00 PM

Mundens here,

This Antarctic Lemur person is obviously mistaken.
If most people supported Brash's statements, he would be in government, not in opposition.

Posted by Anonymous : 1/27/2005 04:27:00 PM

> Though Brash's comment that adoption should be seen as an "acceptable option" suggests that he's looking beyond the late twentieth century, and all the way back to the nineteenth

what is the major problem with adoption? BTW, I dont think he was talking about abduction and child labour as you seem to suggest.

> The policy proposals themselves are best described as simple solutions for simple minds.

you mean abduction and child labour?

> Work-for-the-dole simply stops beneficiaries from looking for real work.

if it does that it just means you are doing it wrong.

> Work-testing the DPB turns single-parent families into no-parent families.

again - doing it wrong. Still as far as I remember I grew up in a "no parent" family no problems at all there. I think kindy and school basically filled in all the time they were working so I could hardly notice. Sure if I was 0-3 that might have been an issue no point forcing parents to leave infants at home alone to die, but if the alternative is school with some after school care then I see no problem.

> And work-testing those on sickness and invalids' benefits was nothing more than black comedy, with terminally ill cancer patients being dragged from chemotherapy to discuss their future work prospects with WINZ.

From each according to his ability - to each according to his need...
If you have cancer but it does not stop you from working why should you not have to work? But if you want, although I personally disagre I think the system would be set up this way, then work testing for those people would be quite easy - if the doctor says it is a terminal illness you immediatly let them off - easy enough to get around that problem then the system can work on all the other people.

> There are far better options available - making work actually pay

oh yeah.. lets give everyone a 100% rise! why didn't anyone think of it before? (excuse my sarcasm)

> Others include providing proper healthcare

all of these projects should be a government aim regardless of what happens in social welfare, it is not a "substitute" because taking action to improve the country in two areas at the same time is not impossible.

---------

> removing WINZ's vicious clawbacks

Are we talking about the universal marginal tax rate? if so then good

> one of the big ones being racism

I would say the problem is risk aversion particularly in relation to ability to communicate, and this applys to points based immigrants and refugees. the government as a policy maker should take this into account. if we cannot provide a good home for certain refugees then maybe we should reconsider who we take - or focus on certain areas so that we can have significant communities of a single type of immigrant (and they can thus create their own sub sector of hte market (a dual economy but still better than a 50 part economy). for example if you were in charge of immigration for 1930's germany you would be being irresponsible to encourage jewish immigrants knowing that they could not be accepted by the society as abhorent as that rejection of the immigrants may be.

> who may very well have experienced terrible things

you are making your case even worse. a person who has experienced terrible things is significantly more likely to harm you than a person who has not.

Posted by Genius : 1/27/2005 05:40:00 PM

Mundens:

It is you are mistaken. Brash only became leader 1.5 years ago, two years after National lost quite a few seats in the 2000 election and English proved he couldnt turn the party's popularity around.

And my statement about welfare reform having widespread appeal doesnt mean: 1. there exists less or more support for other National policies or 2. that the NZ public collectively thinks National is able to form an effective government.

And i wouldnt hold your breath for a 3rd Labour term - Clark has pushed too far this time.

Posted by Antarctic Lemur : 1/27/2005 06:01:00 PM