Wednesday, September 05, 2012

The expected distraction

The wheels seem to have really come off the government's asset sales programme, with the announced six-month delay now expected to last well into next year. National needs a distraction! Cue Paula Bennett standing up to announce that she will stop the benefits of any beneficiary with an outstanding arrest warrant, both smearing beneficiaries as criminals, and getting a double-score with National's sadism bloc for being simultaneously "tough on crime" and "tough on poor people".

Unfortunately, details on this are sketchy - but from those revealed, it looks dubious. A power to stop benefits "in exceptional circumstances where someone poses a danger to the public" cannot possibly apply on a blanket basis to anyone with an outstanding warrant. An outstanding warrant does not equate to "danger to the public" (you can have an arrest warrant issued for unpaid fines or failure to turn up in court), and doing something without exception clearly does not meet the "in exceptional circumstances" test. But challenging that costs serious money, so Bennett will probably get away with it (assuming of course that she's quoting the law correctly).

As with her promise to cut the benefits of those who fail a drug test, the big question - what will happen to these people? - remains unanswered. And its one we deserve an answer to. If you cut people off from financial support, they have immediate needs and very few ways of meeting them. If the government's policy is essentially to force people into crime, then it is not only wrong - it is going to cost us far more than it saves.