Monday, August 17, 2009

The return of beneficary-bashing

Last year, we elected a National-led government to power. And as surely as night follows day, this has led to a return to the ugly beneficiary-bashing we saw from them during the 90's. Social Development Minister Paula Bennett has ordered WINZ to audit the benefits of everyone receiving more than $1,000 a week, taking care of course to insinuate that these people are dishonest:

Ms Bennett said she could not guarantee that all of those getting more than $1000 a week were entitled to all the money. She had no impression that the system was being abused, but said checks were needed.
Bennett's dogwhistle is already having the desired result down in the sewer: the usual outpouring of rage and hate against those at the bottom of the heap. In a recession when the government should be doing everything it can to help those in need, it is instead working hard to stigmatise, denigrate, victimise and other them for its own political gain. But then, I'd expect nothing less from a party which laughs at the disabled.

The Herald and the sewer are highlighting the fact that "many among the top 50 have more than eight children". That's not surprising. Firstly, poking around with table-builder shows that (as of the 2006 census) around 2.6% of New Zealand women had had six or more children. These people are subject to the same vicissitudes of fate as any other family - they can lose their jobs and suffer from relationship breakups - and when they do WINZ assists them, just as it does for anyone else. Secondly, benefits are nominally assigned by need, which means more help (e.g. childcare subsidies, OSCAR subsidies, family tax credits) is available for large families. You would therefore expect such families to predominate in any ranking by income. The sewer sees this as an excuse to take cheap shots at the "feckless poor". But those children exist, and their need is real (TVNZ last night highlighted an IRD study which estimated it cost $250,000 to raise a child in New Zealand). If we want them to have any chance of a decent life (rather than creating or perpetuating multi-generational poverty), they need to be provided for. What exactly are the right proposing here? Denying assistance to those whose need is greatest? Leaving people to starve? That's not a solution acceptable in any decent society, and it would worsen our social problems, not reduce them.