The launch of Maori and Welfare resulted in quite a few interviews (with more to come), and a great deal of discussion on talkback, most of which seemed positive when I was able to monitor it. Disappointingly, but probably not surprisingly, John Key and Paula Bennett ran for the hills.
But how did Maori respond?
At the launch of Maori and Welfare last Monday, a number of Maori leaders were present and asked questions after I had spoken. I don't believe I offended anyone present; some agreed with my description of the problem privately but there is also a sense off weariness and wariness about what to do. John Tamihere was on the list of expected attendees and I was sorry he couldn't make it. We have talked briefly on radio before and he apparently gave the paper positive publicity on his Radio Live programme the next day.
Although we had hoped to have the Minister of Maori Affairs attending, Pita Sharples, another commitment prevented that happening. It now appears the Maori Party, or Tariana Turia at least, has decided to ignore me according to the closing sentence in the following report from the Wanganui Chronicle which says Tupoho find my paper insulting. This is my response sent to the editor, and copied to the Maori Party MPs adding that I was sorry on both of our behalfs', theirs and mine, that the paper has been misinterpreted. But it sadder still for young Maori because the status quo is not a happy prospect;
Tupoho say that my paper, Maori and Welfare, is insulting to Maori (Wanganui Chronicle, 22nd July.) It certainly wasn't intended to be.
Statistics show that at least half of Maori single parents currently on welfare started on a benefit as a teenager. My opinion is that many young women default to welfare because their alternatives are not bright, having failed to acquire qualifications or skills. The same could be said of the non-Maori population. The Maori teenage birthrate however, is more than three times that of non-Maori and the teenage birthrate in the poorest decile areas is ten times higher than in the wealthiest. A majority of teenage mothers go on welfare and many stay there for years. Long term dependence on welfare has been shown to produce poor outcomes for both mothers and children in terms of education and health.
My paper explores the historical discrimination and separatism Maori experienced as a reason why welfare has had a disproportionate effect on that ethnicity. Maori were more vulnerable to the damaging aspects of welfare because they have been historically economically disadvantaged. Welfare incomes can equate to an unskilled wage but they create a false economy. Although money flows into a poor community there is no commensurate economic productivity. People are not engaged in producing goods or services. Communities stagnate.
Each year the inflow of young Maori people into the benefit system continues unabated. Stopping that must be a priority for Maori. Hence my suggestion that the DPB be replaced with strictly temporary assistance signalling a strong message that welfare can no longer be viewed as a lifestyle. The paper does not recommend cutting off assistance to those already in the welfare system. It also discusses ways in which Maori could find their own solutions via organisations like Urban Maori authorities if that is what Maori want. There are 6 or 7 suggestions put up for debate. Loans instead of benefits was part of a separate proposal, 'opting-out', which although canvassed, I specifically stated may not best suit most Maori at this time.
Even in a recession there are opportunities. For instance NZ has a chronic shortage of childcare yet 50,000 single parents on the DPB have just one child. They could be employed in community or workplace crèches caring for 3 or 4 other children. Before the DPB Karitane hospitals routinely employed young single mums as staff who could combine their child care responsibilities with work. We just aren't being creative enough when we approach the problem of welfare.
In my work with beneficiaries as a community volunteer I have seen lives transformed by moving off a benefit and into work. It isn't just about financial independence. People gain a great deal from the purpose and friendships that working brings to their lives.
Finally, the paper was extracted from a larger body of work about welfare and the general population. It would be a mistake to give the impression that I consider welfare a problem only for Maori. It is a problem for anybody that gets trapped early and finds getting out nigh on impossible. I cannot accept that anybody believes we do young people a favour by letting this happen.
11 minutes ago