Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Data gaps and social murder

Today in Question Time we saw a perfect example of how government dodges accountability: by deliberate ignorance. Asked how many beneficiaries were homeless, the Minister for Social Development made it clear that she didn't know, and asked that it be set down as a written question. Not that that would likely result in any answers, because it is highly unlikely that WINZ collects this data (and in fact, the requirement for a contact address in order to receive a benefit means that they can simply pretend that all beneficiaries have homes - and violently cut off anyone who contradicts the official story).

It gets worse. Because the next question was how many beneficiaries have committed suicide in the past ten years. On this, the Minister was clear that WINZ had never collected such data. Which seems to be one hell of a gap. Because surely if beneficiaries are killing themselves, that's the sort of thing we should know, and which should result in questions being asked about whether WINZ's policy of cruelty towards the poor is a contributing factor. But those are not questions the government or WINZ wants asked, so the data is never collected. And laws against reporting on suicides prevent advocacy groups from collecting it themselves (in the style of the UK's Calum's list).

The UK is a useful example. Because over there, statistics were collected. When eventually made public (DWP naturally tried to keep them secret), they revealed that the government knew that their policies were killing people. But they kept imposing them anyway, because the British establishment has a depraved indifference towards the lives of everyone outside their public schoolboy clique.

We know that WINZ has killed at least once. The question is how many other times they have driven people to suicide, and what their policy of cruelty costs us in unnecessary mental health problems. We need to know these things, so we can properly judge these policies. The government's refusal to collect this data is simply an attempt to dodge accountability.

As for how we should hole them accountable: if a policy is expected to result in death, and death occurs, that is nothing less than murder. And those who design, implement and approve that policy are all co-conspirators who should go to jail for it.

Update: WINZ doesn't track suicides, but Ministry of Health has some data, which Graeme Edgeler was able to OIA in less than 24 hours:

This is from the mortality database, recording occupations entered on death certificates for deaths by suicide. That won't necessarily map to being in receipt of a WINZ benefit, but its a start.