Friday, December 19, 2014

Blog's 9th birthday

My first post was on December 19, 2005. Wouldn't have put money on it lasting nine years.

The stats are steady but not growing. I usually occupy some position in the 30s when it comes to blog rankings in NZ and average around 200 visits a day.

So you'd wonder why I bother.

I continue to believe the welfare stuff is hugely important and pester MSD, read all their publications, monitor party policies, keep a watching brief on welfare reforms abroad and if I have something particularly interesting the goodwill of other bigger blogs (particular Whale Oil - thanks Cam)  usually means I can get them to pick it up.

And thanks to my regular readers who often send me tidbits and comments off-blog. You in particular keep me going.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

An American down-under sees what too many NZers can't

Today Sean Plunket interviewed an amazing man called Terrance Wallace on Radio Live .

He is a black American raised by a single mother in Chicago, who has sent up a home for disadvantaged Maori and Pasifika young men  that provides them with opportunities they would not have in their own communities.

His initiative is called The In Zone project.

Under his scheme these young guys are achieving great results.

It's a reasonably long though deeply interesting interview (Plunket at his best).

But have a listen to what he says about state welfare at 25:15

Reducing welfare dependence would reduce inequality

Letter to the Hutt News:

Dear Editor

According to Gordon Campbell  a recent  OECD report showed New Zealand's "...economic policies have caused a significant rise in income inequality" (Hutt News, December 16).

Income inequality grew during the late 1980s and early 1990s then levelled off during the 2000s.

Over that period the structure of families, and gender participation in the work force changed significantly. Single parent families headed by females with no or low educational qualifications and/or  work experience increased significantly through to the turn of the century before levelling off over the past few years. Many depend on welfare and consequently form a large share of poor families.

At the same time,  partnered woman increasingly either remained working or returned to work earlier after childbirth.

In a nutshell, there are now more households with one work-less parent, and more households with two working parents. The difference between the the incomes of the  two households is pronounced.

What the OECD report  Campbell refers to said was that, " labour market policies, childcare supports and in-work benefits" are needed if increased economic growth is desired. This recognises that children coming out of disadvantaged homes eg unemployed households, need a working parent and better engagement with education from an early age.

The welfare reforms instituted by the National government (and Labour prior with the creation of the In Work Tax Credit) have gone some way to fulfilling this goal but need to go much further. Reducing welfare dependence would contribute enormously to reducing inequality.

Lindsay Mitchell

Figure J.5   Inequality in New Zealand and the OECD trend: the Gini coefficient


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

"I hope my father dies soon"

Thank you very much to the reader who sent this to me. It needs no additional commentary from me.

I hope my father dies soon.

And while I'm at it, I might want you to die a painful death too.

I'm entirely serious on both counts.

My father, age 86, is on the final approach to the long dirt nap (to use his own phrase). His mind is 98% gone, and all he has left is hours or possibly months of hideous unpleasantness in a hospital bed. I'll spare you the details, but it's as close to a living Hell as you can get.

If my dad were a cat, we would have put him to sleep long ago. And not once would we have looked back and thought too soon.

Because it's not too soon. It's far too late. His smallish estate pays about $8,000 per month to keep him in this state of perpetual suffering. Rarely has money been so poorly spent.

I'd like to proactively end his suffering and let him go out with some dignity. But my government says I can't make that decision. Neither can his doctors. So, for all practical purposes, the government is torturing my father until he dies.

I'm a patriotic guy by nature. I love my country. But the government? Well, we just broke up.

And let me say this next part as clearly as I can.

If you're a politician who has ever voted against doctor-assisted suicide, or you would vote against it in the future, I hate your fucking guts and I would like you to die a long, horrible death. I would be happy to kill you personally and watch you bleed out. I won't do that, because I fear the consequences. But I'd enjoy it, because you motherfuckers are responsible for torturing my father. Now it's personal.

I know that many of my fellow citizens have legitimate concerns about doctor-assisted suicide. One can certainly imagine greedy heirs speeding up the demise of grandma to get the inheritance. That would be a strong argument if doctor-assisted suicide wasn't already working elsewhere with little problems, or if good things in general (such as hospitals and the police) never came with their own risks.

I'm okay with any citizen who opposes doctor-assisted suicide on moral or practical grounds. But if you have acted on that thought, such as basing a vote on it, I would like you to die a slow, horrible death too. You and the government are accomplices in the torturing of my father, and there's a good chance you'll someday be accomplices in torturing me to death too.

I might feel differently in a few years, but at the moment my emotions are a bit raw. If I could push a magic button and send every politician who opposes doctor-assisted suicide into a painful death spiral that lasts for months, I'd press it. And I wouldn't feel a bit of guilt because sometimes you have to get rid of the bad guys to make the world a better place. We do it in defensive wars and the police do it daily. This would be another one of those situations.

I don't want anyone to misconstrue this post as satire or exaggeration. So I'll reiterate. If you have acted, or plan to act, in a way that keeps doctor-assisted suicide illegal, I see you as an accomplice in torturing my father, and perhaps me as well someday. I want you to die a painful death, and soon. And I'd be happy to tell you the same thing to your face.

Note to my government: I'll keep paying my taxes and doing whatever I need to do to stay out of jail, but don't ask me for anything else. We're done now.

[Update: My father passed a few hours after I wrote this.]

Increasing employment rate of single parents

A reader sent through the above graph which was part of a brief article in the Economist (Britain).

The Economist commentary,

The government will surely be pleased with new figures showing that a growing proportion of single mothers are in work. The percentage of children living in workless families is at its lowest since 1996, when records began. The reduction in income support for single working parents since 2008 may have contributed to the shift. But the overall rise conceals the fact that, compared with women who are part of a couple, single mums are almost twice as likely to be in low-skilled—and low-paid—jobs. And for some, especially lone parents, the price of child care can still be a barrier to entering the workforce. All political parties have promised to make it more affordable. But women are used to being left holding the baby.

 The NZ rate and trend is similar. The main driver is welfare reform, including the In Work Tax Credit.

 Data extracted from Household Composition by Household Labour Force Status (Qrtly-Mar/Jun/Sep/Dec)One parent with dependent child(ren) only All Employed

Monday, December 15, 2014

Little courage leaves opportunity for ACT

I am underwhelmed by Andrew Little. Previously I've blogged about his lack of courage in turning away from a capital gains tax (which I don't want but concede there is significant support for on the left) and lifting the Super age - an issue that must be faced.

According to the NZ Herald he has now instructed Iain Lees-Galloway to drop the private voluntary euthanasia bill previously sponsored by Maryan Street.

A bill which would legalise voluntary euthanasia has been dropped by Labour MP Iain Lees-Galloway at the request of his leader Andrew Little.
Mr Lees-Galloway had been canvassing support for his End of Life Choice Bill before deciding whether to return it to the private members' bill ballot.
But Mr Little confirmed yesterday that he had told Mr Lees-Galloway not to put it in the ballot because it was not an issue Labour should be focused on when it was rebuilding.
"It comes down to priorities at the moment," Mr Little said. "We are very much focused on ... jobs and economic security.
"There are more people affected by weak labour market regulation and weak economic strategy than they are about the right to make explicit choices about how they die."
The bill would have allowed any adult suffering from a condition likely to cause their death within 12 months to request medical assistance to die.
Mr Little said Labour was still a socially progressive party under his leadership.
"It's not about avoiding controversy but it's about choosing the controversies that are best for us at this point in time. That stuff on euthanasia, it isn't the time for us to be talking about that."
This is dumb. When will the time be? When you've lost even more support from the older generations to NZ First? I've done the Grey Power meetings over two elections and know that this group is particular keen to address the issue.

It's not a politically smart move and it isn't a principled one either. Labour WAS the socially progressive party of ideas and reform. Not any more.

ACT should pick up the bill. ACT's philosophy champions the rights of the individual.

A paramount individual right is that of choosing to end one's own life without the state criminalising any other party who may have had knowledge or assisted.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

MSD ups efforts to detect sole parent benefit abuse

We all know there are plenty of people pulling a single parent benefit who have partners. Anecdotal evidence aside, there are two data sources pointing to this.

One is the Growing up in NZ study, which I wrote about here but it gets quite complicated.

The second is more straight forward. It's revealed in a passage from Child Poverty in New Zealand, by Simon Chapple and Jonathon Boston:

"Work undertaken at the Department of Labour and based on matching Household Labour Force Survey (HLFS) and administrative welfare records indicated, firstly, that in 2011 about 10 per cent of people whose welfare records showed that they were receiving an unemployment benefit reported to the HLFS that they were actually in full-time employment (i.e., working at least thirty hours a week), and hence were ineligible for the benefit; secondly, that more than one-third of people on an unemployment benefit self-reported as not actively seeking work – and one in five expressed no intention to seek work in the coming year; and, thirdly, that about 10 per cent of people whose welfare records showed that they were receiving a DPB reported being partnered or living as married."

(After an MBIE refusal to release the paper to me, the matter currently sits with the Ombudsman).

Back in October I blogged about a trial mentioned in the MSD Annual Report.

I have asked for more information under the OIA. On Thursday some data was released to me.

The trial is conducted on Sole Parent Support (SPS) beneficiaries because this is the only benefit that has 'relationship status' as a requirement for eligibility. The participants were those who had been on SPS for 20 weeks. A national group was selected, and a regional group covering Taranaki, Waikato and Wellington. Naturally a control group (which received no follow-up intervention) was also  selected.

Here are the early results. I have included the part of the letter that describes the outcomes. In a nutshell those beneficiaries left alone were the most likely to remain on a benefit. When Integrity Services (benefit fraud control) conducted the follow-up interview in the regions, 10.3% were off the benefit 42 days after allocation to the trial; another 1.9% were moved to another benefit (which might indicate a relationship was established and different benefit entitlement applied.)

The 10.3% is remarkably similar to the findings after matching HLFS data and WINZ records referred to above.

There is however every chance the real incidence is higher. I say that because the trial only covered people who had been on SPS for 20 weeks. I suspect the likelihood of having an undeclared partner grows with time rather than decreases but I may be wrong.

Of course, it'd be easy enough to find out. Run follow-up interventions regularly across various cohorts. Though note that under the table the Ministry writes, "Results from the Follow-up Intervention trial continue to be analysed to inform decisions about whether engaging Sole Parents at a certain point in time should be rolled into normal business practice."

Looks like a no-brainer to me.

Two other fraud initiatives referred to in a further document release include ensuring clients understand the definition of a de facto relationship using a brochure and on-line tool; and, in some cases, asking applicants for a third party that can confirm their relationship status (apparently the current Australian approach.)


Quite. It is not for lifestylers who produce meal ticket children because they can't be bothered supporting themselves.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Accommodation Supplement - what's going on?

 Some OIA responses leave me more in the dark than prior.

The ex Minister for Social Development issued a press release in May this year entitled Helping more families into rental housing.

Today’s Budget announcement provides funding for MSD’s new functions as well as new money to encourage people who can to move to alternate accommodation.
“Some people may struggle to move to alternative social housing because of upfront costs such as bond, letting fees and moving costs, or because landlords perceive them as risky tenants,” Mrs Bennett says.
“A new housing support package totalling $8 million over four years will deliver a range of assistance to support people to overcome these barriers. It will also help those who, with a little assistance, could manage private accommodation.”
This new assistance will be available from July 2014, and will be available only to households likely to be able to maintain independent housing.
I wanted to know if this meant an increase in accommodation supplement for some people.

So I wrote to MSD asking:

1/ Since July 2014 what is the single highest weekly accommodation supplement paid?

2/ What region was it paid in?

3/ What was the average accommodation supplement paid in the 
period July 1 - October 31, 2014?

4/ What was the average accommodation supplement paid in the 
period July 1 - October 31, 2013?

5/ What is the maximum amount available in accommodation supplement currently?

6/ What was the maximum amount available in accommodation 
supplement prior to July 2014?
Yesterday I received their response. Initially I was pleasantly surprised because they actually managed to get a response to me within the required time frame - or at least the month.

But essentially I am none the wiser for it.

I didn't get the answers to 3 and 4.  Table One data (based on individuals and a snapshot of the week at the end of the quarter) shows no lift in the average accommodation supplement paid between June 2014 and Sept 2014. However I find it quite surprising that there is no variation in the average amount paid over each of the periods provided. And I have to assume that Table Two (current at April 2014) is the answer to questions 5 and 6 and still applicable now. I must also assume that Table Two is the answer to questions 1 and 2 and no-one is paid above the published highest available rate. But a  little more thinking on this has made me remember that the Temporary Additional Support benefit can be used to cover
  • accommodation costs not covered by the Accommodation Supplement

And is available for up to 13 weeks but can be reapplied for after 13 weeks if there is an "ongoing deficiency of income". Not so temporary.

The most recent statistics I can find show a big jump in numbers receiving this benefit between 2008 and 2012

table TS.4: Financial assistance paid to clients granted Temporary Additional Support or
a Special Benefit
Financial assistance paid when Temporary Additional Support or Special Benefit granted Clients granted Temporary Additional Support or a Special Benefit1,2
2007/2008 2008/2009 2009/2010 2010/2011 2011/2012
Unemployment Benefits 10,066 26,502 47,178 46,401 44,227
Domestic Purposes Benefits 42,071 70,125 88,436 89,121 89,113
Sickness Benefits 28,135 44,139 56,669 57,219 59,224
Invalid’s Benefit 17,498 27,863 33,228 34,952 37,372
Other main benefits3 5,665 9,417 11,223 11,955 12,895
New Zealand Superannuation or
Veteran’s Pension
3,058 6,496 8,908 10,099 11,452
None of the above assistance4 10,783 16,842 20,370 19,767 19,406
Total 117,276 201,384 266,012 269,514 273,689

What I am trying to establish is, are WINZ/MSD  providing more assistance with housing costs but doing it quietly to reduce the risk that landlords will react and push up rents?

Finally I asked

7/ What policy advice regarding the accommodation supplement has been 
provided by the "expert group" referred to in the Six Monthly Report of the 
Ministerial Committee on Poverty 
MSD acknowledges that a document exists but has refused to release it on the basis that " is under active consideration. The release of this information is likely to prejudice the quality of information received and the wider public interest of effective government would not be served." 

 Anyone want to translate that for me?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

ACT still has the capacity to excite me

Alf Grumble has a post that is possibly satirical. Possibly deadly serious. Who knows with Alf and his 'constituents'. But good satire keeps the reader guessing. It's called,

Seymour should ask how many more votes ACT might get if it wasn’t so precious about corporate handouts

Alf  is apparently riled about David Seymour asking parliamentary questions regarding National hand-outs to business.

Yes. Seymour really did.

Businesses—Financial Support from Government 10. DAVID SEYMOUR (Leader—ACT) to the Minister for Economic Development: Is he concerned at the scale of corporate welfare in New Zealand under this Government; if not, why not?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Economic Development): I am always concerned about the scale and effectiveness of Government expenditure that I am involved in as a Minister, and in ensuring it is well spent. However, I do reject the rather pejorative term that was used in the member’s question.
David Seymour: Given that the Government has, among other things, invested in research and development, rugby games, railways, and yacht races, can he define anything that is outside the role of Government, or does he agree with former Prime Minister Helen Clark that the role of Government is whatever the Government defines it to be?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, there are a lot of things in life that the Government would prefer not to be involved in, but, nevertheless, the Government does have to balance economic and social considerations and so on. One of the examples that the member raises is the issue of research and development. I should think that that is a very important issue for New Zealand. Other members in this House spend quite a lot of time talking about the need to diversify the New Zealand economy. I (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) happen to agree, and, as a result, this Government invests hugely alongside firms in building research and development innovation to ensure that businesses do diversify and that we get strong new industries like information and communications technology and high-tech manufacturing, which are actually growing very strongly in New Zealand now.
David Seymour: Supplementary.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No, the member has two supplementary questions today and he has used those two supplementary questions.
If  'corporate welfare' is a "pejorative term" then so too must  'social welfare' be.

I said it before about Seymour. GUTS.