Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A recipe for a vicious society

The Welfare Working Group's final report is out. The first impression? its as if they've taken Gordon Campbell's excellent piece on Ten Myths About Welfare and taken it as a guidebook. Harsh work-testing in a period of mass unemployment. Restructuring WINZ so that its primary purpose is not to ensure that people get the support they need, but to throw people off benefits. Requiring parents on the DPB to find work when their youngest child is three, or when their youngest child is just three months old if they have further children (Cthulhu knows what this means for people who get divorced while pregnant). And of course the usual "tough" sanctions of cutting people's benefits for infractions - meaning leaving people to starve. One particularly cruel point is to require all 16 and 17-year olds on a benefit to live with a "responsible adult". Of course, in order to get a benefit at that age, you have to be unable to live with such an adult, due to things like abuse. So what this will mean will be teenagers forced to continue to live with abusive parents, rather than being able to get out.

This is not a recipe for a decent society. Instead, it is one for a vicious society, where people in need are stigmatised and left to starve. We are supposed to have a welfare system to prevent that. Instead, our system is going to be further perverted to create those very circumstances. If this is how John Key "helps" the underclass, then I think we'd all rather he'd stayed at home.

Of course, this may just be another cynical exercise like Don Brash's reports on "catching Australia", designed to establish a baseline of such barking madness that whatever the government does looks moderate by comparison. And Key seems to be promoting that idea, saying that the report makes him "queasy" and calling it "extreme" and "a step too far". We can only hope that that is the game they are playing. But even so, this promises the sort of extreme stigmatisation and crackdown that we last saw under Jenny Shipley in the 90's.

You don't need a clique of overpaid insane "consultants" to recognise that the key to getting people off benefits isn't repeatedly kicking them in the face with a steel-capped boot, but providing jobs. The number of people on the unemployment benefit fell over the 2000's as we reached full employment. So did the number of people on the DPB (which is mostly a short-term benefit). As for the sickness benefit, here's a suggestion: give people the treatment they need so they can work again. But that would cost money; steelcapped boots are cheaper.