Monday, January 23, 2023


Hot on the heels of media nonsense about Ardern's departure - for instance, it was driven by misogyny despite many of her harshest critics being females - comes the fawning over Sepuloni.

In the NZ Herald Thomas Coughlan writes:

Sepuloni’s elevation to the top may challenge this. She’s Social Development Minister and may keep this role after the reshuffle (she’s excelled, so far).

And at RNZ Jane Patterson says:

The MP for Kelston, Sepuloni has been a steady pair of hands in the social development portfolio and makes history as the first Pasifika deputy prime minister.

For starters emergency housing is in the social development portfolio. The take-over of motels leading to social mayhem (think Rotorua) has been a tragedy for those housed in them and those in their surrounds. The waiting list for public housing has sky-rocketed since Sepuloni has been Minister.

EVERY main benefit has seen increased numbers since 2017. Covid played a part, but the upward trend was established before 2020.

Never before has New Zealand seen demand for both skilled and unskilled labour at current levels yet 11.3 percent (up from 9.7 in 2017) of the working age population is benefit-dependent.

Compounding this, the average length of time people are spending dependent has gone up.

Sepuloni has driven some extraordinary changes that defeat what the last Labour government was trying to achieve. No longer requiring mothers on the benefit to name fathers of their children is a prime example.

The increases to benefit rates and other financial supports have eaten away the incentive to work as the difference between income from work and income from a benefit dwindles. Previous Labour governments resisted linking benefits to wage inflation but Sepuloni did exactly that in 2020. 

In fact, this Labour government has implemented many of the Green Party's welfare policies including diminished use of sanctions to enforce work obligations.

Her own ministry's annual reports acknowledge the department is not moving in the right direction in a number of areas.

Worst of all Sepuloni has overseen a rise in children living in unemployed homes. The damage to their outcomes is well researched and documented. But unheeded by this government whose sole focus has been to lift incomes with their fingers firmly in their ears over the unintended consequences of paying people to do nothing ... except have children.

If all of the above is "excelling" I hate to envisage what failing looks like.

Sepuloni has not been a great Minister. That the media are painting her as such demonstrates ignorance and bias. The only thing that has kept the social development portfolio largely away from the headlines is the comparatively worse performance of police, education and health.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

December benefit stats give cause for concern

The latest benefit stats have just been released and while the Jobseeker numbers have declined, not so numbers for the other two main benefits - Sole Parent Support and Supported Living Payment:

Number and proportion of people receiving Sole Parent Support at the end of the last six December quarters.

Number and proportion of people receiving Supported Living Payment at the end of the last six
December quarters.

The rise in what used to be called the Invalid benefit (now Supported Living Payment above) is not insignificant. There are around 6,000 more people permanently unable to work due to illness. Almost half of the increase is due to psychological or psychiatric illness.

Given what we know about the level of mental illness within corrections facilities, I wonder how many of them are ex-prisoners? Recall that the prison population is down around thirty percent or 3,000.

There will almost certainly be a contribution from the under-performing health system as waiting lists continue to be a major problem.

As for the increase in sole parent reliance, it shouldn't be happening. Not with the amount of work that is currently available. The last Labour government leaders - Clark and Cullen - were very keen to lift the workforce participation of sole parents to the same level as partnered parents.  Clark was a particular type of feminist. She was interested in women empowering themselves through independence.

Ardern's Labour is different. Ideologically they are closer to the Greens. Remember Metiria Turei's championing of benefit fraud justified by motherhood and need? Labour has since implemented many of the Green's welfare policies as they relate to sole parents. The impetus to improve the lot of sole parents and their children through employment has dissipated. Which is a great shame.

Overall the total number of benefits in place is down from December 2020 but still up 22 percent on December 2017:

Number and proportion of people receiving a main benefit at the end of the last six December quarters.

Importantly, the benefit which people tend to stay on the shortest time (Jobseeker) has lost numbers whereas the benefits where people tend to stay the longest time (Sole Parent and Supported Living) have gained numbers.

Not a good result.

Thursday, January 12, 2023

PM more self-delusional by the day

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is heading into the 2023 election campaign stating:

“Our record is growing Māori housing. Our record is growing Māori employment opportunities. Now our record is growing the Māori economy. I will happily campaign on our record.”

I really don't have a lot of stomach for this. Most Māori are working and law-abiding like most non-Māori and the constant racial identification of people only feeds resentment and division.

BUT if the Prime Minister wants to crow about what she has achieved for Māori let's look at what she hasn't achieved for Māori.

Since 2017, the Māori percentage of all people on main benefits has risen from 35.9 to 37.2% - in raw numbers from 99,351 to 128,502

Māori now make up 38.6 percent of those on a Jobseeker benefit - up from 37.6 %. Again, in raw numbers (despite the drop in the unemployment rate) there are over twenty thousand more Māori on the Jobseeker benefit than there were in 2017 (45,357 to 65,706).

The percentage Māori make up of the Sole Parent Support benefit has risen from 47.8 to 48.2% or 28,413 to 35,151.

Possibly the worst statistic in terms of Māori children's future prospects, absenteeism - as defined by attending school less than 70 percent of the time - has risen from 10.5 in 2017 to 23.8 percent in 2022 (term 2).

The Māori share of the prison population continues to climb - 50.7 to 53 percent (although the actual prisoner numbers have dropped due to Labour's policy to drive down the prison population by admitting fewer criminals and releasing earlier).

Finally, in a by no means exhaustive list, the Māori share of the public housing waiting list has grown from 44 to 49.6 percent or 3,389 to 14,130. A massive increase in raw numbers.

The data is summarized below:

If this is the Prime Minister's idea of achieving for Māori, then she is even more self-delusional than I'd previously entertained.

And if she is returned on this record then we are all deeply in trouble. All of us together.


Thursday, January 05, 2023

The price of reducing poverty

The benefit system was originally about providing secure income for those genuinely unable to work. That inability to work did not include causing one's own incapacity or having dependent children.

It has since evolved to become a government tool for equalizing incomes between the employed and unemployed and advancing other ideological goals like the financial emancipation of the female parent from the male parent.

To some degree benefits have become an alternative source of income for those uninterested in the obligations and constrictions involved with being employed. Those who disagree with that statement argue nobody would willingly choose to live on a meagre benefit income. 

That may hold water for single people. But the latest incomes monitoring report from MSD shows a couple on a benefit with two or more children receives over $800 weekly after housing costs. Additionally,

In real terms, total incomes after housing costs of people supported by main benefits were, on average, 43% higher in 2022 than in 2018.

Which brings us to the gap between income from benefits and income from work.

Until 2016 wage growth outstripped inflation hence the growing gap. Since 2019 benefits have been indexed to wages. Previously they were only indexed to inflation. Accordingly, the report notes the 2022 "main benefit increases reduced the gap". That is, income from work became less attractive.

As well,

...there are still reasonably poor financial incentives to increase the level of hours worked for many low-income families. This is because when earnings increase, their income support payments are withdrawn relatively quickly. High childcare costs and low take-up of in-work assistance can also have a negative impact on financial incentives to increase hours of work.

Little wonder worker shortages are endemic.

So, the income support/benefit system is contributing negatively to the economy in that regard.

But worse, it is being used by the Prime Minister to achieve her primary goal of reducing child poverty. 

According to the report, using Labour's chosen measures which show percentage drops since 2017, she has been successful in this endeavour.

What is omitted from this report is the increasing number of children reliant on benefits. 

Is this increase a reasonable trade-off for reducing child poverty? If the higher incidence of neglect and abuse for children growing up on a benefit is acceptable, then the answer is yes.

I disagree. The increase may even be described as the exploitation of children to make the Prime Minister look good. There is no reason why the welcome downward trend for state-dependent sole parents would have reversed bar financial encouragement.

Another finding from the report throws a further spanner into the works for redistributionists.

Asian households feature the lowest percentage of children experiencing material hardship - around 4% compared to the Pacific rate of around 24%

And yet when it comes to income support:

Eligible families with Asian parents had low estimated take-up in recent years. The late 2010s was a period of rapid growth in the Asian population of Aotearoa New Zealand. Low awareness, uncertainty about entitlements, administrative, personal and cultural barriers to claiming, or reluctance to claim payments among recent migrants may be factors explaining the trends. 

So the benefit system cannot be credited with low Asian hardship. Something else is protecting their children. Probably the self-reliance and work ethic of their parents.

The government can fiddle all it wants robbing Peter to pay Paul under the guise of 'fairness and equity'. But the downsides to this interference are corrupting incentives which will continue to blight New Zealand's future.

Sunday, December 18, 2022

NZ's rarely-reported plummeting prison population

Appalling crime story after appalling crime story gets reported.

But media rarely report on the big decline in New Zealand's prison population.

There are various possible explanations for the reduction including demographic change, policy changes in police and justice procedures, and/or less imprisonable crime being committed. Government politicians claim less crime is being committed, especially by youth, "according to the statistics". But the statistics they use - apprehension, prosecution and conviction - rely on those activities actually occurring. If the police are instructed not to pursue a fleeing vehicle, then the ensuing apprehension etc. is less likely to happen.

When Labour became government Kelvin Davis stated a goal of reducing the prison population and set about doing so. This is one policy goal they've actually achieved. But at what cost?

The prison population reduced by over twenty percent between September 2019 and 2022. It could be said that one in five people who should be in prison are not so it's hardly surprising the country is experiencing a "crime wave". But that proposition is barely provable.

What we can usefully look at is how New Zealand compares to two very similar countries - Australia and the United Kingdom.

The first chart shows the change in numbers:

The large difference in prison population numbers disguises the degree of change so I've plotted percentage-change separately:

The last grouping shows that between 2019 and 2022 Australia (-4.8%) and the UK (-3%) also saw prison population falls but they are much smaller than NZ's (-20.7%)

The deviation implies NZ's decline is very much a matter of policy and not the social and demographic factors that affect prison populations.

You will note from the first chart that the NZ prison population is starting to climb again. A campaign to attract more staff to Corrections has been high profile. The government may now be abandoning their experiment.

Tragically it is too late for some though.

Bill English may have been right when he described prisons as a fiscal and moral failure. They certainly don't rehabilitate every inmate. They don't even come close. Far more needs to be done within prisons in that regard.

But prisons serve another purpose. They protect the public from dangerous people. That aspect of their place in society seems to have been overlooked in recent years.

Thursday, December 01, 2022

New Zealand - No longer a secular state

 An ODT opinion piece recently parodied the rapid adoption of Māori names for government departments. It drew attention to the renaming of the Earthquake Commission as Toka Tū Ake EQC which apparently "reflects the whakapapa of our nation." The name-change decision was made by the Minister and cabinet.

The Commission site contains a section about their new Māori name.
In the beginning, Ranginui (sky father) and Papatūānuku (earth mother) were joined in such a strong embrace it created darkness. When their sons separated them to create light, Ranginui grieved so much for Papatūānuku that his tears flooded the land. Their sons turned Papatūānuku over so their parents would not face each other and see each other’s sorrow.
Rūaumoko is the youngest, unborn son of Ranginui and Papatūānuku. He was turned toward the earth in his mother’s womb. His brothers gave him fire so he could warm himself in the darkness. Being so closely tied with his mother, Rūaumoko felt her pain at the separation. When he stirs, he expresses his anger through geothermal currents, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions. As we live alongside Rūaumoko’s rumblings and Ranginui’s tears, EQC’s role is to help make our homes stronger, ensure new homes are built on better land, and provide support when damage occurs.
Are these characters any different to Adam and Eve? Creation myths sit at the basis of religious belief. Imagine then Christian biblical stories and imagery appearing on Ministry websites to explain their reason for being and values. It would not happen.
In a 2013 Otago University lecture Andrew Bradstock said:
"...there is a shared perception here that religion is principally for the private not the public domain. This was given a degree of official endorsement in July 2010 when a draft report on “Human Rights in New Zealand Today” was released by the Human Rights Commission. This carried a statement that “Matters of religion and belief are deemed to be a matter for the private, rather than the public, sphere.” The wording was subsequently changed following complaints (though the text is still on the HRC website), but it would be hard to dispute the claim that we generally feel more comfortable if individuals or organisations, when speaking publicly, refrain from parading openly any religious convictions they may have."
Doesn't the promotion of Māori mythology fall into the domain of parading religious convictions?

And it isn't just the Earthquake Commission.

The Reserve Bank postulates,
"How Tāne Mahuta can explain our financial system. Māori oral traditions tell us that Tāne Mahuta dug his shoulders into Papatuanuku (earth mother) and used his legs to push against Ranginui (sky father), separating them and letting the light into the world. With that light, Tāne Mahuta, guardian of the forest and birds, enabled life to thrive."
The Climate Change Commission explains its Māori name, He Pou a Rangi: Ingoa Māori:
"The simplest translation of He Pou a Rangi is 'a pillar of the sky'. The concept considers our role as upholders of the sky. We are honouring the sky and in turn, have a duty to care for it. Using 'He' Pou ('a' pillar) rather than 'Te' Pou ('the' pillar) recognises that we are one of many pou or organisations working together to address climate change. Pou can uphold, provide a point of connection, protect, and provide stability. In a te ao Māori view, pou provide a two-way connection, both upholding and uplifting what is above, but also connecting and grounding with what is below. Pou connect Ranginui, the sky father, to Papatūānuku, the earth mother."
There are many more examples occurring across various government websites and in the documents they generate. Law lecturer David Griffiths refers to, "...state concessions to indigenous Māori spirituality that are now commonplace in legislation and other governmental actions." That was sixteen years ago.
Ironically, and somewhat inexplicably, the developments have been accommodated by people who have no truck with Christianity - liberal atheists. The pace of change has accelerated under the woke left.
Back in 1996 Justice Heron argued 'the courts were “secular” institutions and he declared that “involving any person in a karakia against their personal wishes” was “insensitive and unacceptable” '.
Yet a recent meeting of state-employed health professionals with no Māori people in attendance still featured the obligatory karakia delivered by a non-Māori female. When asked why, the answer received was, "Their belief in equity." Was a Christian or any other prayer offered? No. So much for equity.

Just as people balk at the imposition of mythology to explain matters of science, there will be those discomfited by the routine practise of karakia (especially given the diversity of cultures and beliefs of those working within the New Zealand health system, which is almost entirely publicly run).
The solution is not to start offering sops to every other religious belief that exists in New Zealand. To put it crudely - two wrongs do not make a right.
The answer is to re-establish the traditional and necessary secularism of the state. In the United Kingdom where awareness and objection to the problem is more acute, an organisation has formed which maintains,
"Public services that are intended for the whole community, especially those funded by public money, should be provided in a secular context, open to all, without discriminating against anyone on grounds of religion/belief – either the people who are served or employed."
Amen to that - or whatever the secular equivalent is.

Monday, November 21, 2022

Am I the only person who reads MSD's annual reports?

Am I the only person who has read MSD's latest annual report?

It's a tedious business but surely a few checkers cast their eyes over it prior to publication.

I was casting my own over the benefit statistics by region when I stopped in my tracks.

According to the above table 77.3% of people on benefits in June 2022 in the Southern region (which encompasses Dunedin, Central Otago and Invercargill) were Māori.

That's extraordinary. 

I checked the other two South Island regions - Canterbury and Nelson-Marlborough-West Coast - to find similar proportions at respectively 71.2 and 77.7 %

This is astounding news to me. Māori make up 17 percent of the population nationally but lower percentages in the South Island. For instance, at the last census only 9.4% of the Canterbury population identified as Māori.

When a statistic is so out of whack the obvious recourse is to check it against another source.

MSD  regional data for Canterbury June 2022 shows Māori made up just 21.1% of all people on benefits whereas NZ European accounted for 71.2 percent.

The data has been inverted.

But the error isn't even consistent.

There are eleven regions and tables contained in the annual report.

The data is correct for just three - Northland, Auckland and Waikato.

What surprises me is that even faint familiarity with MSD data would set off alarm bells. It is simply implausible that 77 percent of beneficiaries in the Southern region are Māori.

If that's wrong what else might be?

I returned to the table above and took another look. Apparently, 26.9 percent of beneficiaries in the Southern region have been on a benefit for one year or less; 45.8 percent for more than one year. That sums to 72.7 percent.

What about the rest?

Of course this could all be dismissed as trivial errors.

But if funding is to be race-based in any manner then accurate numbers are extremely important. 

The idea is bad enough. Poor execution of it is salt in the wound.

Sunday, November 06, 2022

PM's big idea is bad

My first reaction to today's following NZ Herald headline was incredulity:

One big idea - what PM Jacinda Ardern would do if money was not a factor

Why pose such a redundant proposition when governments are scrambling to spend less? Well, most governments.

But then I thought the answer might shed light on just how naive and ineffective the PM is.

Her big idea? Free early childhood education. 

“I’d make it completely free. Completely free. And when I say completely free, I’d also give choice to families about at what point and stage their child accesses it. Because for some we know it provides stability to kids that they might not have in their home life.”

Hang on. Back up. Isn't this putting the cart before the horse?

Perhaps you need to address why 'some' kids don't have stability in their home life.

You've already thrown a whole lot more money at the problem due to the first wrong diagnosis and now there are thousands more children in unemployed homes. Dare I say it, unstable homes.

But let's look at the evidence the PM might be inclined to take heed of. Evidence produced under her own administration.

Whether or not early childhood education improves outcomes for children is at best controversial.

In 2019 the Auckland University of Technology (AUT) prepared a paper for MSD which asked, ‘Is participation in Early Childhood Education related to child health and development?’ 

It reported numerous studies (including American, British, Australian) which found the larger the quantity of time spent in non-maternal care, the greater negative effects were. For instance, “A Swiss study has also found that the accumulation of time in group-based childcare specifically was associated with greater externalising (aggression, ADHD symptoms, non-aggressive externalizing behaviours) and internalising (depression, anxiety) behaviours at 7 years.”

AUT noted however, “The Christchurch Health and Development Study found that ECE participation over time was not significantly associated with behavioural outcomes in childhood and adolescence once sociodemographic factors, child-rearing practices and child characteristics were accounted for.”

Analysing recent Growing Up in New Zealand data AUT then concluded, “…more time in ECE per week was inversely associated with the development of emotional difficulties and peer problems.”

This finding, however, is not particularly robust.

Social, emotional and behavioural difficulties (via SDQ) were measured at 24 months. Children in full-time maternal care rated the highest level of ‘abnormal’ difficulties at 21.2 percent. Children in centre-based care recorded only 13.9 percent.

But the highest levels of abnormal difficulties also occurred with unemployed mothers (22.8%) and benefit recipient mothers (36.9%) – the group most likely to be parenting full-time.

The paper’s authors acknowledge, “parents who are employed are more likely to need, afford, and use ECE; this tendency will ‘select’ a particular group of children, many of whom may have different behavioural and health profiles to the converse group.”

Furthermore, in describing the limitations of the paper:

“It is possible that the positive association between child behaviour and ECE is in part due to children with behavioural difficulties being excluded from ECE (reverse causation). Unlike primary school, there is no requirement for early childhood education services to take children who have conduct or peer problems. It is also possible that parents with full time childcare responsibilities of two-year children may rate their behaviour as worse than the parents of children in childcare, because they see them all the time (so may be more aware of their behaviour) and also due to the increased stress of parenting fulltime… Given limitations in the data collection noted elsewhere, it is not possible to determine why attendance appears to protect against emotional difficulties and peer problems, and hence why this finding contrasts with previous research.” (my emphasis)

This inconclusive research could nevertheless be used as an argument to get more children from 'unstable' homes into ECE.

But, and it's a massive 'but', primary school is free (and compulsory) and attendance amongst children from transient (geographical and maternal relationship-wise), dysfunctional families can range from non-existent to patchy. Why would ECE attendance be different?

Probably some level of ECE for children from well-adjusted families is fine (though I still regret buying the 'socialization' idea with my first.)

The problem of children suffering 'abnormal' difficulties often associated with a benefit-dependent parent(s) will not be solved by ever greater removal of responsibility from the parent.  Broken families can't be healed by herding their children into daycare. An ECE teacher cannot be the mother who needs to bond physically and emotionally with her child through constant and positive touch and talk from day one. Free ECE cannot possibly fill the void that comes with not being a wanted child.

We should be glad there is no money for the Prime Minister to indulge in yet another distracting, poorly thought-out, bad idea.