Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Labour endorses 'income management' roll-out

The National government implemented income management for youth and young parents. This involves loading most of their benefit onto a payment card which can be used for groceries and other necessities. Rent and power are paid direct and the beneficiary is left with a small cash allowance.

Indications are that this regime will be rolled out to other beneficiaries who are not managing their money ie constantly seeking more assistance.

This is a policy that enjoys popular support because people want to see children's basic needs met. It took a National government to implement it.

But here's a surprise.

Labour supports it.

Their Social Development policy paper contains this statement:

"...allow income management to be used as a tool by social agencies where there are known child protection issues and it is considered in the best interests of the child, especially where there are gambling, drug and alcohol issues involved."

But then they go backwards again:

"Labour will:
lift the abatement-free thresholds for all main benefits to $150 per week.
The initial cost of this change is estimated at $40 million a year. However, we expect this to be offset by savings made by people on benefits taking up more part-time work."
Abatement-free thresholds are notoriously difficult to set. Raising them does encourage people to work more hours. But it also makes it much more difficult for them to actually get off the benefit because the combination of benefit and work is much better than work alone.

In fairness to Labour (because I blogged recently that I couldn't find their Super policy) here it is confirmed:

A sustainable superannuation system is essential and, in fairness to all generations, requires action now. The number of Kiwis above the retirement age has increased by 24 per cent since the last census, showing action is needed to keep universal superannuation sustainable. Labour will:
gradually lift the age of New Zealand Superannuation eligibility from 65 to 67, starting on 1 April 2020 and taking 12 years to phase in.

I support the age going up but this wouldn't win my vote. Look at the timeline. Once Key, who foolishly tied himself to retaining the age at 65, is no longer PM National will move on this. They'll have to.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Press debate: Key's back

John Key has got his mojo back - happy about that, not just for political purposes but for his own wellbeing. I thought the dreadful stuff about his daughter might have affected him last debate. Barry Soper and (I think) Rachel Smalley said the same today.

Some notes so far:

Sub-standard state houses - Key names his boyhood home address in Christchurch. "We had no mould because my mother looked after it fastidiously and I mowed the lawns. There is some personal responsibility here."

Key, on Labour's five new taxes: "Kiwis work hard for their money and they can spend it better than we can."

Pre-empting borrowing accusation, Key: "We borrowed $50 million and spent $15 of that standing behind the people of Christchurch." Then fired it back at Cunliffe, "What would you have done?"

Key on spending promises: "Labour and the Greens are the Usain Bolt of spending money."

On dirty politics: Key reminds people how Mike Willimas went looking for dirt on him in Australia. Searching through his tax records. Then he asks Cunliffe directly about bloggers in his own office... "And I will name them if you want me too..." Cunliffe rejoinders there is no equivalent on the Left like Whale Oil. (No. None have anywhere near his readership.)

(Unfortunately the second half transmission is too patchy to blog on).

Very brief comment on Ashburton

The media coverage of the Ashburton killer's background is sympathetic.

I have no sympathy for him. He lost his mother while still at college. So he should know what it feels like. Yet he has probably robbed children of a mother; partners, sisters and brothers, parents, friends of someone who added enormous value and meaning to their lives. Someone who was everything to them. Why?

It is unforgivable whatever his circumstances are. Harsh? I don't think so. My compassion is directed towards those innocent people just going about their work. Trying, in fact, to help this man. As had Presbyterian Support staff who also got kicked in the teeth for it and are probably thanking God today that he set his sights on WINZ and not them.

No. I have no sympathy. It's just a shame he didn't finish himself off and avoid all the further suffering the friends and families will have to endure as he appears repeatedly before them on their TV screens if not in the flesh.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Indigenous disproportion in both crime and welfare dependence. And an afterthought.

 An article in yesterday's Australian was brought to my attention. About the disproportionate incidence of crime and imprisonment amongst their indigenous population, it's well worth a read:

Far from shrinking, that disproportion, which is already far greater than that for black people in the US, indigenous Canadians and New Zealand Maoris, has been widening, with the ratio of indigenous to non-indigenous imprisonment rates rising 40 per cent since 2001. The gap in imprisonment rates is even larger for women than men, and also growing.
Weatherburn gently demolishes the claim that those outcomes reflect indigenous disempowerment. As he shows, the differences in incarceration rates actually declined after 1900, with the current gap only
emerging in the 1960s.
Nor does Weatherburn’s exhaustive analysis find any evidence that indigenous Australians are treated
more harshly by the justice system than their non-indigenous counterparts. On the contrary, taking
account of the factors courts consider, they are both less likely to be imprisoned, and when imprisoned, receive shorter sentences.
Rather, the rise in imprisonment rates reflects the changes the 60s brought: the equal wage decision in
1965, which accelerated the collapse in indigenous employment in regional areas; the dismantling of
laws prohibiting the sale of alcohol to indigenous Australians; and the explosive increase in welfare

Further to the last phrase is this well-worded observation:

Aggravating the extent and severity of the violence is widespread substance abuse. Even correcting for differences in the age structure of the population, the rate of alcohol-induced deaths for indigenous Australians is 7.5 times the non-indigenous rate. And there is a direct link between drunkenness and crime: indigenous prisoners are nearly three times more likely than non-indigenous offenders to have been intoxicated when they committed their offence. But alcohol abuse is a symptom, not an ultimate cause: a symptom of ready access to cash without any real requirement to work, with that cash being spent on goods such as alcohol and drugs that dull boredom, are consumed in social groups, and can be enjoyed by the barely literate. And once entrenched, the cycle of substance abuse, violence, imprisonment and reoffending perpetuates the labour market exclusion that served to justify the welfare hand-outs in the first place.

And explains the migration from unemployment to disability benefits. More pathways by which welfare dependency creates more welfare dependency.

The article cites an Aboriginal population at 2.5% of total, with 26 percent of the prison population.
- Maori  respectively 15%  and 50%
- US non-Hispanic Blacks 13% and 40%

Apparently, "...nearly half of all adult indigenous Australians are now primarily reliant on welfare". Currently around 28% of Maori rely on a benefit. On an optimistic note,  lower than it's been in the past.

And really, I get sick of writing about Maori. The inter-marriage and inter-mixing between Maori and Pakeha has been huge factor in the recent history of NZ and strikes a substantial contrast with Australia. It's an aspect of NZ I value immensely. The inward conflict  between my strong sense of and advocacy for individualism, but attention to ethnic disparities grows. One day I might start a crusade to stop governments racially classifying people. Perhaps that is a source of oppression in itself?

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Election choices: A brief examination of child poverty claims

 Like Rodney Hide I want this election to be about real issues. A debate about policy. An examination of what is true and what is not.

Next Saturday the Child Poverty Action Group is holding a hikoi to demand action on child poverty. Doubtless Labour, Mana/Internet and  the Greens will be out in force. Here's how CPAG bill it:

One in four children don't get a fair go in New Zealand. They live in cold, damp, over-crowded houses. They get sick more often and end up in hospital with serious illnesses that can affect them for life.  Their families struggle to pay the bills and buy healthy food, which means they often go to school hungry and find it harder to learn.

It's time to call these people out on their claims.

1/ 22 percent of children live in households that have low incomes (using the favoured measure)

 2/ However, a majority of these children are not suffering from deprivation.

About 15% (red and green bar on the 60% measure) experience deprivation.

So one in 6-7 children is suffering some form of deprivation. What does that mean?

Describing hardship for children
Material hardship means going without goods, services, and experiences that people can reasonably be expected to have. Statistics New Zealand, with the advice of the Ministry of Social Development, has provided an analysis of what this means using the New Zealand General Social Survey data. They identified eleven key indicators of vulnerability such as:
having a smoker or a victim of crime living in the house (both about 20%)
living in a high deprivation area (22%)
living in an overcrowded house (13%)
having a low socioeconomic rating on the ELSI scale
having more than one housing problem like damp, cost, cold, or inadequate heating (10%)
having limited access to facilities like shops, schools, libraries and medical facilities (9%).
They assessed the six percent of children with five or more of these indicators as being at high risk of being in deprivation.
So children at high risk of deprivation number around one in 16 or 17 children.

Note too that:

   - 13 percent of children were living in an overcrowded house. Not one in four as claimed by CPAG.

   - 10 percent of children had a cold house problem. One in ten. Not one in four as claimed by CPAG

What about the claim that one in four " families struggle to pay bills and buy healthy food"?

Even in the lowest deciles 70 percent or more  families report having enough, just enough or even more than enough money. Having just enough may still mean they are struggling but they are managing to meet their outgoings.

Politicians  usual method of attracting votes is to bribe people with hand-outs. But another is to evoke feelings of guilt in the population along with promise to alleviate them. The worse the picture they paint (with the aid of their supporting pressure groups), the bigger the guilt burden they can lay on the voter.

Arm yourself with the facts before you make a voting decision.

Friday, August 29, 2014

MSD employee asks the question on many people's lips

From the NZ Herald:

A public servant is under investigation over allegations that he said beneficiaries were "stupid" for having children.
The man, who works for the Ministry of Social Development, has been suspended amid questions about comments he posted on the Whale Oil blog.
Those comments, posted under a pseudonym, included: "Why is it that people who are *already* poor then decide to have babies and expect that they will be able to make ends meet? "

The man shouldn't have been reading Whale Oil and posting on work time (if he was). Some of his views may be objectionable.

But asking why poor people decide to have babies and expect to cope financially is a question that exercises many people. We know, and probably the commenter also knows, that every year one in five children will be become dependent on welfare directly or shortly after their birth. He may have even read the Ministerial Committee on Poverty report:

There is a significant group of children that spend most of their childhood in a benefit-supported household family and on low incomes for most of their childhood. According to Wilson and Soughton (2011) around 6% of children spend 13 or 14 years in benefit supported households families by the time they are 14 years. Thus, if we translate this
to the current group of children aged 0-14 years, this translates to over 50,000
children (see figure 6). We also see that a further 130,000 children aged 0-14 years are expect ed to have spent more than half of their first 14 years on a benefit (or a further 15% of children), but less than 13 years. These children aged 0-14 years are likely to have the highest risk of material hardship.

This outcome is a direct result of parental decisions.

I wouldn't however call these people "stupid" . Their reasons may be entirely rational. They may be deep-seated and emotional. They may be cynical or just plain irresponsible. But if  the "why" behind the major driver of child poverty isn't properly understood, then responses won't work.