Friday, July 27, 2007

Benefit dependency among drug users

An expanded version of this report about a study into 318 drug users included the fact that "two fifths were unemployed, sick or invalids". No surprises there. Substance abuse as a reason for being on a sickness or invalids benefit is contributing to the sustained rises in reliance on those benefits.

Here are the numbers for just the Invalid's Benefit 1997-2005;

The latest I have for the sickness benefit is 2004 when 2,418 people were substance abusers. So it's safe to say there are over 4,000 substance abusers on welfare. Bear in mind this is the number of people who have substance abuse listed as their main reason for being on a benefit. Others will be hidden away in categories like Depression.

And let's not forget the thousands who are reliant on the state as guests of HM.

His tune never changes

And why should it? Roger Douglas in today's DomPost;

The Government's monopolies in education, health, housing, pensions and insurance against accidents, sickness, unemployment and death should be replaced by competition wherever possible.

It should take responsibility for only those functions that had to be centrally controlled, such as foreign affairs, defence and justice.

What I don't understand is why he insists on constantly criticising Rodney, who is the most libertarian MP in parliament. A little less of that particular refrain would be nice.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

It's never long before...

...we get another awful case.
It's just too hard to understand what goes on in the minds of these people.

This govt is in trouble

The teacher's union, the PPTA, has taken a full page ad in today's DomPost attacking the government. It features a photo of a couple of students with a large headline 'Promise'. The photo is torn in two, intended to convey a promise broken.

"What happens when a government dishonours it pledged support for secondary education? Communities and families up and down the country feel betrayed. And young lives are stunted by being denied opportunities to grow and fulfil yheir promise."

Strong, highly emotive stuff.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Matt Robson confirms ACT MPs doing a good job

From latest Robson-on-politics;

NZ media coverage of ACT Party

Because I have been overseas for the last month I have had to rely on the website versions of the newspapers and other outlets instead of turning on the TV or picking up the paper for NZ news.

And, you know, one thing that really struck me is how much media coverage the ACT Party gets.

"Act has every reason to be optimistic about the election next year," the NZ Herald website told me in a story on 8 July.

On 9 July, the NZ Herald had an article on members' views on the ACT Party's new co-operation agreement with the Labour Party.

On 10 July, the NZ Herald even had an Editorial dedicated to the ACT Party. It basically served to warn Mr. Hide that should he work with the government to advance Australasian regulations over so-called therapeutic products - then, well, then, "many National supporters must question whether Act is worth saving."

(I was surprised by that because for literally decades the NZ Herald has run literally thousands of stories on business leaders demanding Australasian-wide standards and regulations - because that reduces businesses' costs of doing business in both markets.)

"National's leaders, seeing Act willing to provide the final drops of oil to lubricate Labour policies, may feel far less inclined to entertain its policies when they hold power. If so, Act will cease to matter as a political influence," the editorial continued.

An interesting perspective. When did ACT matter as a political influence? I thought ACT had been in Opposition since the day it entered Parliament in 1996. It held neither influence in the National-led government of 1996, not the Labour-led governments since 1999.

On 20 July, the NZ Herald told us that Act won a "significant victory in Parliament" by somehow forcing a victims' rights amendment to be incorporated into the Criminal Justice Reform Bill.

I cannot understand this last story - it doesn't tell us how the vote went. But if it is true that the Criminal Justice Reform Bill is only being advanced with ACT support, then it is meaningful. But if what actually happened is that NZ First changed its position, then the story is just ACT propaganda i.e. ACT's "spin" on what actually happened and completely confusing to readers wanting to understand what is actually happening in their Parliament.

So how much support does ACT have again?

There is only one other big newspaper owner in the country, the Australian-owned group that produces papers like the Dominion in Wellington, the Press in Christchurch and the nationwide Independent business newspaper.

When I am in Auckland, I don't see these papers. But when overseas looking for news on New Zealand, I see them via the Web. The ACT Party gets equally strong coverage in those papers as well.

So how much support does ACT have? In the 2005 Election, ACT got 34,469 votes compared with the Progressive Party's 26,441 i.e. 1.5% of votes cast versus 1.2%.

In the latest Roy Morgan Poll (published on 11 July, 2007) ACT registered 1% support versus the Progressive Party's 1%. In the TVNZ July 5 poll, ACT registered 0.3% compared with 0.4% for Progressive. (In the electorate vote, Progressive was 0.8% versus ACT at 0.2%).

So given that there was just 0.3 of a percentage point in difference between ACT and Progressive's 2005 election result, and nothing in the polls between the two parties now, and that Progressive is represented in Cabinet and in key portfolios, and therefore actually contributes to government decisions, of course you would expect at least equal coverage in the media for Progressive, right? Yeah Right!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Clamour over cleavage

What a to-do. The Washington Post has published a piece about Hillary Clinton's cleavage (you'll be disappointed with the photo) and the feminists are up in arms. Actually it's quite interesting just how much one can find to say about the significance of this development. Not me. The person who wrote the story. I couldn't care less.

Here's what the feminists are saying though;

Mainstream media coverage of women politicians has hit a new, unbelievable low. On Friday, the Washington Post ran a prominent article analyzing Senator Hillary Clinton's cleavage.

Let the Post know that this kind of demeaning coverage will not be tolerated. Senator Clinton is a distinguished member of the Senate and quite possibly the next president of the United States. Instead of writing about her strategy to end the war in Iraq or her plans to reform the health care system in this country, the Post devoted a feature story to analyzing her breasts.

Let's stop this ridiculous coverage now, in the early stages of the campaign, and demand that Senator Clinton is treated with the same dignity and respect as her male competitors.

Male candidates are treated with dignity and respect?? Well, I'll be.

"Low quality votes"

Stephen Franks has a post about low quality votes.

I asked [ The justice and Electoral Select committee] what purpose was served by wailing about low turn out among young people,for example, and coaxing out low quality votes. How dare you call someone’s vote “low quality” was reaction. What else do you call reluctant votes from deeply uninterested and often profoundly ignorant voters.

Now research has shown that health boards disproportionately feature people whose names begin with a,b,c or d simply because their names head the ballot. Ticking the first name that appears is a perfect example of a "low quality" vote.

National's welfare agenda equals status quo

"Setting welfare agenda" is the title of a piece by National MP Judith Collins published in today's DomPost. In it National's welfare policy is revealed as copying Australia's work-for-the-dole scheme.

Collins says, it is time to stop telling people what they can't do, and start challenging them to consider what they can. Labour aren't doing this, apparently, as evidenced by their axing of the Activity in the Community programme.

However Labour's whole thrust in recent years has been work as the default. The drop in numbers on the dole is partly a result of this. A social security bill soon to be passed states as its guiding principle, work in paid employment offers the best opportunity for people to achieve social and economic well-being.

In essence then National and Labour are singing from the same song sheet - once again.

I do not know why Labour have dropped their own work-for-the-dole scheme but there will be good reasons. For instance, the schemes remove jobs from the private sector as with Collin's suggestion that work-for-the-dole participants should be involved in "planting native seedlings and beautification of parks" or "renovating a heritage-listed hall." Or they duplicate the volunteer work traditionally performed by retired folk. Or they are hellish difficult to administer, especially if participants are less than willing.

With under 30,000 people on an unemployment benefit (compared to nearly 115,000 five years earlier) it is questionable whether the "welfare agenda" should focus on the dole anyway. 89 percent of beneficiaries are on other benefits, namely sickness, invalid's and DPB. Even if half of these beneficiaries were to be put into work-for-the-dole schemes we are looking at around 120,000 individuals.

If this is setting the agenda, it is pie in the sky. Where is the serious analysis of the current situation and subsequent priorities? One gets the impression National is promising to resort to its comfort zone - managing problems instead of fixing them.

Only in May, in the same newspaper, National's deputy leader Bill English wrote, "Our prospects of climbing up the ladder (OECD) in the next few years aren't good. Recent economic growth has been fuelled by more employment, more debt, and working longer hours. There aren't more people to bring into work, so there's no more growth from that source."

On the face of it National appears to have accepted that beneficiaries won't provide a source of future paid employees yet are prepared to direct them into schemes intended to make them work-ready. That doesn't make sense.

The single largest group of beneficiaries is on the DPB. Young unskilled and uneducated women get on this benefit and stay there, often for years. There is no argument that being raised on welfare is not the best option for children. The government accepts that yet does nothing about stopping a constant stream of teenage newcomers to the DPB. They need to turn off the tap. Make it clear only short-term emergency assistance will be provided to people exiting relationships and none to people who intentionally have a child with no form of future, financial support. Adoption should be encouraged, not discouraged, which is CYF's current philosophy.

Some rigorous gate-keeping should also be applied to the sickness and invalid benefits. Some on these benefits have genuine reasons to be but increasingly, others have caused the incapacity which then prevents them from holding down a job. There used to be a rule that prohibited their eligibility. Re-adopt that rule for future applicants. One of the major contributors to the escalating number on incapacity benefits is mental ill-health. Perhaps more focus should be going on mental healthcare in the community. Being isolated and on welfare seems not much better than being in one of the many homes or hospitals that used to care for these people.

Above all, a government needs to make it absolutely clear that welfare is no longer a lifestyle. There is no question that many people have been treating it as such. Some of them will now have to be carried under the old rules and expectations as they have made themselves unemployable. But a good many are only using welfare temporarily and will move on in time.

If we ever want to return to a situation whereby we have thousands instead of hundreds of thousands unhappily dependent on the state for their survival, some radical changes are needed. They are not going to come from a National government.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Take the cop test

Do you really, really, really want to be a cop?

Didn't think so.

But you might want to win a video I-pod. I entered and don't even know what one is. Take the cop test and be in to win.

(ps don't tell the truth about whether you have any criminal convictions because it counts a 'yes' as a wrong answer. I guess the right answer is to lie. I'm not sure what exactly that tells us about the Police.)

It is broken

Today's editorial in the Taranaki Daily News and my response below;

If it's not broken no reason trying to fix it

The crimes can be shocking: young children, some as young as 13, involved in violent crimes. Even murder.

As a society we struggle to comprehend how this can happen: where did we go wrong, what have we become? And often we want to hit out, isolate and punish these young criminals, says the Taranaki Daily News.

But NZ First's move to lock up kids for all manner of crimes is way off the mark (excuse the bad pun).

Ron Mark's Young Offender (Serious Crimes) Bill is so far off the mark that principal Youth Court judge Andrew Becroft has slammed it as "abysmally drafted".

That's a nice way to say that it's just plain wrong. Wrong because Judge Becroft says family group conferences and the Youth Court are working to keep these kids on the right path. And wrong because he believes the crisis Mr Mark highlights of problem teens running amok is simply not there.

"Where is the statistical evidence to suggest offending by 10 to 13-year-olds is spiralling out of control?" he asks. He believes figures in fact show youth offending remaining relatively steady.

It's also wrong because children who commit the most serious of crimes can already be sent to adult courts and sentenced to jail.

Bailey Junior Kurariki is a classic example, jailed after becoming one of the country's youngest killers at age 13.

What could possibly be achieved by turfing out a system that successfully deals with young criminals in the community, not in courts, and gives them a chance to redeem themselves, and replacing it with harsher penalties for kids and a system that sets them up for a life of crime, putting them among hardened crims.

Mr Mark's bill passed its first reading because of an election deal with Labour. Let's hope that's as far as it gets.

Dear Sir

I am befuddled by Judge Becroft who spends a lot of time trying to allay public fears that youth offending is worsening (eg his published paper 'Putting the headlines in context') but on another occasion will freely admit that a sub-group of teenagers is becoming more violent. (Taranaki Daily News, May 7, 2007). 13 year-olds do not suddenly become nasty little pieces when they turn 14. Logically then we need, in certain cases, to be heavier handed at an earlier age, not by putting children in adult prisons but by detaining them in youth facilities - for the sake of public safety.

Neither am I reassured by Becroft's claim that statistics do not show increased offending. Our youth justice approach and philosophy for the last one hundred years has constantly shifted the goalposts. We increasingly trivialise criminality (what kids were put into the care of the state for in the early 1900s wouldn't turn a hair on anyone's head today) and increasingly divert children from court. Hence over time the available statistics remain relatively stable while underneath that facade is a steadily worsening situation.

Ron Mark's bill might not be the answer but as he says, neither is the status quo.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

More political interference

While National are consumed by Benson-Pope's role in the dismissal of Madaleine Setchell and planning their parliamentary attack next week, some time should be devoted to asking what Ken Shirley's appointment to the RMIA has to do with Winston Peters.