Sunday, February 18, 2024

National needs to go further

In today's State of the Nation speech Christopher Luxon talked repeatedly about getting young people off welfare. It seems that National has devised a traffic light system which will use increasing levels of sanctions - welfare deductions - when beneficiaries fail to meet their obligations. He uses the word 'tough' a lot.

In his speech he made the following observation:

"Kids born this year will be turning 16 in 2040."

Well, because I can tell you something about them,  let's look at the children born in 2022 who will be turning 18 in 2040.

By the end of their birth year 12,639 of them were dependent on a benefit provided to their parent or parents. That's 21.5% of all babies born that year. Over one in five.

Then consider that the link between a child's early entry into the benefit system and later benefit dependence in their own right, is strong.

MSD's own commissioned research showed:

 - Nearly three quarters (74%) of all beneficiaries up to age 25 had a parent on benefit while they were a child, and just over a third (35%) had a parent on benefit throughout their teenage years.

 - The greater the family benefit history the longer the client tended to stay on a benefit, particularly for the Jobseeker benefit.1

It's laudable to talk about getting 18 year-olds off welfare. Better still though to discourage their entry into the welfare system in the first place.

The focus of reforms must be two-fold. Dealing with 40,000 young people on Jobseeker right now is critical. But so is looking to the future and turning off the tap that feeds inter-generational dependence.

Labour's soft-on-sole-parents approach has to go. That means ending the nonsense of not naming fathers and reintroducing work obligations for parents who add children to an existing benefit.

But more broadly, the cash-for-kids scheme has to stop. The assistance provided to unemployed parents who refuse jobs  should be through 'money management' - a system used for youth beneficiaries. The rules are:

    -your rent or board and things like your power bill and any debts will be paid straight from your payment. You won't get this money yourself.

    -you will get paid a weekly allowance of up to $50 into your personal bank account.

    -any money left over will be put onto your personal payment card. This is like a debit card that you can use to buy your food and groceries at approved stores.2

Until cash incentives that equal incomes from work are removed, the inter-generational problem will continue to plague New Zealand. Yes, there will be downsides to money management. But will they be any worse than the devastating social outcomes that come from unconditional welfare?



Thursday, February 08, 2024

Labour hid developing welfare crisis

When National became government in 2008, Finance Minister Bill English's determination to understand the extent of benefit-dependency led them to commission Taylor Fry to produce annual actuarial reports. These were duly published at the MSD website every year but ceased when the government changed in 2017. Now however, an Official Information request by the NZ Herald has revealed that the reports actually continued - only their publication ceased.

In my columns I have referred repeatedly to the worsening depth of dependency using the sole measure available - one solitary statistic published in MSD's annual reports not typically subject to public scrutiny.

So while I am not shocked by the content of the latest Taylor Fry report, the detail is staggering.

According to The Herald:

    "... recipients of the main Jobseeker payment [are] now expected to spend an average of 13 years on a benefit."

    "Sole Parent Support clients are projected to spend an average of 17 working-age years on a benefit (up from 12.5 years in 2019), but the upper quartile of this group – about 18,700 people – are expected to spend more than 25 years in the system."

    "...about 2000 teens on the Youth Payment or Young Parent Payment [are] now expected to spend an average of 24 working-age years on a benefit – a 46 per cent increase from the 2019 estimate. About 500 of them are expected to be on income support for more than 38.5 years, almost the rest of their working lives."

Against a scenario of "record low unemployment" - which Labour leader Chris Hipkins campaigned vigorously on - these increases are unfathomable. Unless one weighs up the amount that benefit incomes have increased by over the same period. Unsurprisingly paying people more not to work means they stay on welfare longer. A child could figure that out.

That was compounded by a raft of actions which included diverting case managers away from an employment focus to checking beneficiaries were receiving their full and correct entitlements;  abolishing early work requirements for sole mothers who added a subsequent child to an existing benefit; temporarily suspending medical certificate requirements and the annual jobseeker reapplications; significantly reducing the use of sanctions to enforce work obligations; and generally fostering a sense of entitlement due to gender and race victimhood. 

In response to the discovery of the reports, former MSD minister Carmel Sepuloni says she did not recall being briefed on the research by officials.

She then had the utter gall to state:

    “What these trends show are an absolute need to create and maintain sustainable pathways to employment … National have talked a big game in opposition and now they need to show us their plan to get people into work.”

"These trends" are the direct result of bad policies implemented by Sepuloni who then kept their devastating impact hidden.

Though it shouldn't be Sepuloni primarily carrying the can. It was the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern who appointed Cindy Kiro to lead a bunch of leftist academics and activists to produce the most ill-advised welfare policy recommendations imaginable, many of which were implemented.

Ardern's unique brand of 'kindness' morphed quickly into cruel incompetence.

As Taylor Fry's analysis apparently suggests, people on benefits tend to have more precarious family, living and financial situations with worse life satisfaction and more contact with police and mental health services than they otherwise would.

Crucially, the longer people stay on welfare, the harder it is to get off.

Monday, February 05, 2024

A terrible trend in desperate need of turning

When did you last read a headline in MSM about more children being raised on welfare? Yet latest Ministry of Social Development benefit statistics (1) show at the end of 2023 the number reached a new high of 222,500.

I predicted this would happen when Jacinda Ardern became Prime Minister, making herself Minister for Child Poverty Reduction to boot. In a nutshell, I believed that her plan to increase benefit income would only draw more parents onto them. She began by introducing the Best Start Payment of $60 per week for newborns - her simplistic solution to income inequality being ever more state redistribution of wealth. This was followed by increases to basic benefit rates; removal of financial penalties for failure to name liable fathers; pass-on of child support and increased family tax credits.

In effect she decided to pay parents more not to work by further closing the gap between income from the state and income from employment. In fact, for a sole parent with a couple of children,  there is now no gap between income from a benefit (with all the add-ons like accommodation supplement and family tax credits) and an average paying job. By April last year the average benefit income for this family type was $1,057 weekly. (2)

So, even against a backdrop of low unemployment, it is no surprise that the number of children in benefit-dependent homes has risen. Why does it matter? If these children have been technically lifted out of poverty, isn't that a good thing?

For one, homes where no-one is employed lack routine and discipline. Who gets the kids up and ready for school?

Look at the stats (3&4) for Northland: lowest regular school attendance at just over a third (34.2%) and highest dependence on a single parent or jobseeker benefit (14.5% of working-age population). Christchurch has the highest regular attendance at almost a half (49.4%) and second lowest reliance on the same benefits (6.4%). Mere coincidence?

But the more insidious aspect of benefit-dependent homes is the lack of appreciation for education. Who needs to be literate and numerate when WINZ puts money in your bank every week       regardless? In the absence of teachers, this attitude is the main message being sent and received.

Yes, some people fall on hard times and need a period of financial help. But they are not seduced or sedated by benefits long-term. They pick themselves up and get back into the real world taking their children with them. New National MP James Meager (5) talks about watching his own solo Mum on a benefit, "...juggle three kids, part-time work, correspondence school..." She drove home the importance of education. She inspired her children. But the same MP also says, "Too many children in our country will grow up without that opportunity."

He is right. It is a statement of fact. Too many children will never experience living with a parent who works. The expected average future years on a benefit (6) measured from a point in time is now 13.6 - up from 10.7 when Ardern became Prime Minister. Another mere coincidence?







Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Nobody's Child

On the face of it I have some sympathy for Mr Singh who claims to have worked hard in prison to turn his life around and has passed drug tests since leaving there in September. But, due to violent neighbours, he has rejected a lodge where Work and Income placed him and is currently living in his car. His case manager has run out of patience and delivered some harsh words to Mr Singh, now seeking new accommodation, in a phone call Mr Singh recorded and gave to RNZ.

As I said, I have some sympathy for this character. But, if I can find it, why can't his immediate family?  If not a brother or father, he must be somebody's son. Why isn't a family member offering Mr Singh a bed? Mr Singh says he has family with whom he is "ready to reconnect". But to all intent's and purposes he is presently Nobody's Child, along with many thousands of other New Zealanders relying on complete strangers to provide them a liveable income and home.

This is the crux of New Zealand's heavy dependence on welfare. This is primarily why almost 12 percent of working age people rely on benefits.

What started from the reasonable idea that the elderly needed an income once unable to provide for themselves, has evolved into catch-all for familial indifference.

What do I mean?

Way back in the day families were ordered by the courts to take responsibility for members unable to take responsibility for themselves. The law was known as the Destitute Person's Act. Some  orders could involve quite distant connections. I doubt today many would be comfortable with being  ordered to take financial responsibility for a wayward nephew or alcoholic aunt. But on the flip side of the coin, why should complete strangers be expected to assume responsibility?

There must be a middle ground. And there was. For decades New Zealander's reliance on welfare benefits created by Micky Savage in 1938 never exceeded 2 percent of the working age population. But that middle ground relies heavily on a shared value of personal responsibility, a requisite we have strayed well away from. Personal responsibility means taking care of oneself and one's family, " sickness and in health." Granted, there are situations where this is simply not possible but they are exceptional.

Today many thousands are on welfare because they had a relationship break up. (Mr Singh's own problems began, he says, with that very occurrence.)

This immediately brings to mind benefit-dependent single mothers, yet many of the liable fathers are also unemployed and willing to stay that way as income from working only gets sucked up by child support. There are armies of young people who could be living in the family home but prefer to live 'independently' on Jobseeker and accommodation support. Even if a parent discourages this, the system does the opposite.

Some might argue that only the rich can afford personal responsibility. But the current obscenely-loose definition of 'need', and consequent array of unchecked benefits only keeps the poor poor. I would argue that any parent can earn enough through work to house and raise their child. In recent decades thousands have done, and continue to do so, proving my point.

If the country does not soon recapture a widespread commitment to personal responsibility, the collective financial burden - along with the many unwanted social consequences - will continue.

In the absence of any reason why a sense of personal responsibility would re-emerge, it will fall to government to make it happen. The only way to achieve this is to begin removing the crutches. No more sole parent benefit; time limits on the unemployment benefit and raising super eligibility to a realistic age would make for good starters.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

The danger of the Treaty debate wearing us down

Screeds have been written about the Treaty of Waitangi. And there's more to come as division over race and rights ramps up.

Its content and meaning are getting lost in the crossfire and the danger of 'contestants' talking past each other looms, if not already happening.

When matters get murky, and misunderstandings abound, there is also a danger of observers getting worn down and disengaging. To avoid this happening personally, I made a mental list of what really aggravates me. In no particular order:

    1/ Maori spiritual and religious belief being embraced and promoted by a formerly secular public service.

    2/ A separate health system 'by Maori for Maori' that's a duplication and indulgence. Every individual that interacts with the health system now faces nurses and doctors etc of various ethnicity and birthplaces.

    3/ A child who cannot be cared for by its natural parents having a substitute picked primarily by race.

    4/ Cultural reports that use colonisation to excuse criminal behaviour and result in sentence discounts.

    5/ The cultural practice of 'rahui' which block public access to public property.

That's not a long list. But each of these concrete bones of contention has arisen from Treaty 'creep', one way or the other. For instance, regarding item 1, the practice of reciting karakia (Maori prayers) is defended by the public service as "cultural acknowledgement" adding:

    "The Public Service is committed to building and maintaining capability within organisations to engage with Māori and understand Māori perspectives. The Public Service Act 2020 (the Act) section 14 recognises the role of the Public Service to support the Crown in its relationships with Māori under Te Tiriti o Waitangi | the Treaty of Waitangi. To this end, the new Act includes provisions that put explicit responsibilities on the Public Service Commissioner, when developing and implementing the public service leadership strategy, to recognise the aims, aspirations and employment requirements of Māori, and the need for greater involvement of Māori in the Public Service."1

Obligations under the Treaty must flow one way. No other prayers are required or permitted at the commencement of public service meetings. 

Back to my list. Wanting an end to each of the above can, in no way, be described as racist, or hysterically, 'white supremacist'. An end to these practices would be consistent with an end to racism. Not the reverse.

Individually we each have our own objections to what has developed. Not just over the past six years, but decades. There can be no doubt that over the coming months and years the debate will intensify. It may be far more effective to list and talk about practical concerns than argue the original- versus- evolved meaning and intent of the Treaty. The latter course is rapidly descending into the realms of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. By all means a redefinition of the articles or replacement with a constitution should be an option. But if that relies initially on a referendum then the arguments that persuade will be much closer to home - through letters-to-the-editor, talkback, social media, around the dinner table and at the pub.

I noticed a neighbour is flying the national Maori flag. I am assuming as a show of support for Maori. But what does that mean? They agree with TV1's John Campbell? They are virtue-signalling their 'non-racist' credentials?

I support Maori. I support them to look forward instead of back - which most do. I support them to get a decent crack at the cherry like everyone else. To get equal opportunity but understand that doesn't guarantee equal outcomes.

But above all I support a set of rules we can all live with free from fear or favour. None of the items on my short list would pass the test.


Tuesday, January 02, 2024

Cracking down hard ... on people with hangovers

A sneaking suspicion is crawling up my spine.

In a reaction to ram-raiding (which has now morphed into aggravated angle-grinding); to cold-blooded murders by a home detainee; to brazen trolley-filled supermarket shoplifting; to defiant silence  from witnesses of child abuse deaths;   New Zealanders voted for a crack down on law and order.  The issue was second only to inflation on the list of the voter concerns in the run-up to the 2023 election. New Police Minister Mitchell has sent a public message to old Police Commissioner Coster - Quit with the tolerance of crime.

Since the election police visibility on our roads has ramped up. For instance, on a bypass road running between a golf course and a military facility the speed limit recently reduced from 80kmph to 50kmph. Of a morning, frequent sirens blast as police catch unaware 'speeders' as if shooting fish in a barrel.

Now we learn forty five people were arrested on New Year's Day leaving Rhythm and Vines for drinking and driving. Well actually drinking, sleeping it off and driving. The three check-point operation was run in the morning.

The age-old sensible slogan will have to be amended to 'Don't Drink, Sleep and Drive.'

OK. People with hangovers probably aren't the safest drivers behind the wheel. But then neither are people with fatigue, who chose not to sleep. 

"No driver has the right to put other people's lives at risk; every person in and around your vehicle relies on you being in full control of it" says the police area commander. Quite.

But all of this smacks of window-dressing:  Look at us. Look how tough we are. Look at all the resources we can summon up to catch people doing 55kmph in what was for years safely a 80kmph zone. Or to hobble the hungover.

In reality the police have much bigger, nastier fish to fry. But the temptation will always be, when pressed, to chase after low-hanging fruit.

Anyway. That's my suspicion. The demand for a 'tough on crime' approach will be executed but not in quite the way we anticipated.

And there will be no room to complain. Commissioner Coster need only reply, "You asked for it."

Let's hope I'm wrong.

In the year to November 2023 there were 347,068 crimes comprising assault, sexual assault, abduction, robbery, burglary and theft reported to police. Up 35,644 (or 10 percent) on the previous period.

Legal boundaries must always be drawn somewhere but sometimes crossing them is a minor breech. 

Policing and punishing minor misdemeanors does nothing to prevent innocent people from becoming victims of serious crime.

Thursday, December 07, 2023

Oh, the irony

Appointed by new Labour PM Jacinda Ardern in 2018, Cindy Kiro headed the Welfare Expert Advisory Group (WEAG) tasked with reviewing and recommending reforms to the welfare system. Kiro had been Children's Commissioner during Helen Clark's Labour government but returned to academia subsequently.

In 2019 the WEAG reported back with 42 recommendations including:

Recommendation 11: Remove some obligations and sanctions (for example, pre-benefit activities, warrants to arrest sanctions, social obligations, drug-testing sanctions, 52-week reapplication requirements, sanctions for not naming the other parent, the subsequent child work obligation, and the mandatory work ability assessment for people with health conditions or disabilities).

Most of these recommendations were adopted. For example single mothers no longer have to name the fathers of their children and if she has another baby while on a benefit there is no reset of her work obligations.

Yesterday, as Governor General, Dame Cindy Kiro delivered the Speech from the Throne on behalf of the new National - ACT - NZ First government and said:

“Having 11 per cent, or one in nine New Zealanders of working age on a main benefit, means too many people are dependent on the effort of their fellow citizens instead of being self-supporting."

According to the NZ Herald, the Speech also, "... promised the reintroduction of benefit sanctions..."

With her 2019 recommendations Kiro was instrumental in creating the conditions for the number of beneficiaries to increase.

In March 2018, when she began her welfare investigation, there were 273,387 beneficiaries. Now there are 367,152. What sat at 9.3 percent of working-age New Zealanders has risen to 11.5 percent; most worryingly 168,276 children in benefit-dependent families grew to 216,648.

What a rich irony to hear the architect of such  ill-advised reforms forced to describe their result, and advise their removal. One wonders if Ardern had considered this possibility when she appointed Cindy Kiro Governor General in 2021? It is doubtful. Foresight was never her strong point.

Dame Cindy Kiro will remain Governor General until 2026. But she has always been a friend and ally of left-wing governments. Perhaps she deserves kudos for professionally delivering a speech which must have personally rankled. At least she did it with dignity and grace. A lesson there-in for opposition MPs who have showed very little over the past two days.

Saturday, November 25, 2023

Oranga Tamariki faces major upheaval under coalition agreement

A hugely significant gain for ACT is somewhat camouflaged by legislative jargon. Under the heading 'Oranga Tamariki' ACT's coalition agreement contains the following item:

    • Remove Section 7AA from the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989

According to Oranga Tamariki:

    "Section 7AA is our practical commitment to the principles of the Te Tiriti o Waitangi/Treaty of Waitangi."

Make no mistake. Its removal will have major ramifications. Section 7AA is essentially the legislation that allows Oranga Tamariki to be a 'by Maori, for Maori' organisation. (In fact, the very name Oranga Tamariki may lose prominence given the coalition arrangement between NZ First and National agrees to: Ensure all public service departments have their primary name in English, except for those specifically related to Māori. Oranga Tamariki does not relate specifically to Maori but a majority of its clients are. In 2022 68 percent of children in state care were Maori.)

Back to Section 7AA. According to Oranga Tamariki the legislation's "end goal"  is to achieve the following:

    "Our vision for tamariki Māori, supported by our partners, is that ‘no tamaiti Māori will need state care’. This aligns to the calls being made by iwi and Māori that tamariki Māori should remain in the care of their whānau, hapū and iwi."

In the most recent report (2022), as  required under Section 7AA, then Minister for Children Kelvin Davis wrote:

    "All mokopuna deserve love and security, and to have access to their culture. This is a right and not a privilege. Ideally, they would be surrounded by their immediate whānau to be   provided this. When that is not possible, close or extended whānau or family is the preference. Māori are fortunate to have wider whānau, hapū and iwi networks to call on for such support."

The Chief Executive, Te Hapimana (Chappie) Te Kani, has been implementing a 'Future Direction Plan' which, "...  builds a strong foundation for the future of tamariki and rangatahi being within the care of whānau, hapū and iwi."

But the new Minister for Children, ACT's Karen Chhour believes the well-being and safety of the child takes priority over cultural considerations.

Many Maori children have links to non-Maori by blood. They are children with mixed parentage. Where there are conflicts over their care - who should or shouldn't step into that role - the non-Maori side of the equation must not be ruled out. That's what Section 7AA effectively does. For that reason it must go.

It is impossible to predict how its removal will play out but such a major disagreement between the Chief Executive and the new Minister will have to be resolved. The political opposition is going to be immense. And it will be ugly. Chhour has already had to withstand being told she is "not kaupapa Maori", to stop viewing the world through a "vanilla lens" and that she should "leave her Pakeha world." All distractions from her overarching goal to put the child's interests firmly first.

For my part I wish the new Minister every ounce of strength and courage.