Saturday, January 05, 2008

Attacking symptoms

National welfare spokesperson Judith Collins is worried about the amount of debt beneficiaries are getting into and the rising number of staff tasked to manage the problem.

Under National the problem wouldn't improve, it would get worse. Why do I say that?

One of the biggest contributors to debt accrual is sanctions. Under National policies more sanctions were imposed. For example benefit payments were reduced for non-compliance with work tests. Under Labour sanctions still apply but with full backdated reinstatement on compliance. This was done specifically to reduce indebtedness.

Work and Income operates like a bank. When clients need something extraordinary they apply for a grant or benefit advance. When their benefit won't cover costs they apply for extra hardship assistance. Some grants have to be repaid, others do not. Some debts arise out of overpayment. Some from fraud. The system drives the debt.

The debt problem has become this large because SO many people rely on Work and Income. But again, like spending $45,000 for TVs for prisoners, this is just a peripheral issue. It's a symptom of the problem. Again this is National attacking symptoms, not the condition.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Media Release
Thursday, January 3, 2008

According to a recently published Ministry of Social Development report, one third of surveyed sole parents receiving the DPB expressed no interest in looking for work. The report, The 2002 Domestic Purposes and Widow's Benefit Reform: Evaluation Report also found that since the controversial removal of work testing in 2003, the 'exit rate' for recipients whose youngest child is 14 or older has dropped.

"There is no surprise that other factors associated with the fall in this group's exit rate (the rate at which people leave the benefit) included being a teenager when the oldest child was born, having already spent a large proportion of their time in the benefit system and being Maori or Pacific. What should worry the Ministry, " said welfare commentator, Lindsay Mitchell, "is the number of very young newcomers has not decreased. In September 1999 there were 2,687 18-19 year-olds on the DPB. By September 2007 the number had increased by 15 percent to 3,093. Additionally there are typically six or seven hundred 16 and 17 year-old teenage parents receiving the Emergency Maintenance Allowance at any given time."

"Most of the Work and Income's resources have been focussed on getting more amenable cases into work or training, Meanwhile nothing has been done to discourage the inflow of those mothers who will stay the longest in the system."

"Some case managers reported that the Personal Employment and Development Plans, which replaced work-testing, have made little impression on women who have been on the benefit for six to twelve years who use the new system 'to their advantage'. Others said that their clients showed no interest in keeping a copy of their plan or binned it on the way out. The report states, 'There was a general feeling among case managers that for many people, having a copy of their PDEP was not something they valued highly.' "

"While the number of sole parents on the DPB has dropped, the reasons are complex and may have little to do with the reforms. This is acknowledged by the authors of the report. The drop may be an effect of low unemployment, the Working for Families incentives and the ageing population. Certainly the removal of full-time work-testing for those with children aged fourteen or older has had a negative impact."

What next?

It just gets worse, this cacophonic clamouring for an accident-free utopia. Now we need courses in using ladders.

"What do you do for a living? I teach people how to climb ladders. Really. Does it take long? Oh you'd be surprised how long it can take when I am paid by the hour."

Accident Compensation is accident insurance. We pay our premiums, we have no choice. Pay out and spare us the lectures.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Petty politicking

Wouldn't it be refreshing if we got some serious analysis from National about the reasons why the prison toll continues to climb, our imprisonment rate is well above the average for the developed world and Maori are grossly over-represented.

It is hard to get excited about $45,000 being spent on TVs and Play Stations. This is just typical petty politicking.

If you study overseas research of the kind New Zealand has never undertaken, it is quite clear there are risk factors for becoming delinquent and ending up in prison. Once acknowledged, efforts to reduce them can begin. If similar research was conducted here I have no doubts the results would be similar.

I wonder about why NZ hasn't emulated international studies and can only conclude that those capable of conducting such research, those who could gain access to the information required, namely academics, are not inclined to. The conclusions would inevitably result in a focus on Maori and that would never do.

What we are sorely lacking is some Maori leadership brave enough to take it on themselves to try and understand the causes of crime beyond 'dislocation' and 'poverty'. Where is it?

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Mr Status Quo

Well I may as well start the new year the way I intend to continue. I began the morning with a groan reading the DomPost. I even used the 'g' word which I always reprimand my children for. Say golly or gosh or goodness. But I had an excuse. The subject being John Key and his proclamations for New Zealand. How bad a prime minister is he going to be?

On maintaining the welfare state;

"It's not only the provision of welfare for people in need, it is a statement about who we are. That we don't have overt signs of poverty. That for all the frustrations we may have about the odd individual who might rip the system off we are prepared to back it because we look at New Zealand as a better country than those who don't have it."

"The vast bulk of core services will be delivered by the state and while we do want to introduce choice it is equally important that we deliver really well. So rather than a view that we say there is no role for the public health sector or we want to diminish that in some way, our view is to say we are frustrated by the fact that it is not delivering performance for what's being spent - so how do we fix it?"

It's all more of the same political claptrap we have heard from both Labour and National for donkeys. The problem isn't the state, it's just the way the state's doing things. A position not unlike that taken by those who maintain communism wasn't a problem, it was just the way it was implemented.

If National doesn't want to diminish the role of the public health sector then it doesn't want to boost the role of the private health sector. Status quo.

If National is prepared to tolerate the welfare state being ripped off and still back it then they are not interested in reform. Status quo.

There will be no fundamental change under National. The intergenerational welfare comatose, the crime it creates, the gap between poor Maori and the rest of society, the wretchedness of having to build more prisons to accommodate our high levels of violent crime, extraordinarily high rates of depression, addiction, and teenage pregnancy - do they matter?

I guess they don't because there are, according to Mr Key, no "overt signs of poverty". Perhaps he really does believe this is as good as it gets. I think that is the most charitable interpretation I can put on his words. In which case he really is Mr Status Quo.

Monday, December 31, 2007

The power of the state is ugly

Occasionally something will drive me to blink back tears of sadness and frustration.

The story of the malformed baby from Samoa is one such case.

The community raised $100,000 to get her to NZ after a plastic surgeon said it was worth having a look at what might be done for her. The Immigration Department, after taking their own advice, refused her entry to New Zealand.

Nobody is asking the government for money. A young baby has zero chance of becoming an over-stayer. All her parents want is a definitive assessment which they cannot get in Samoa. But Immigration says the child cannot enter the country.

Witness the power of the state at its worst.

Today's Taranaki Herald has written on the subject. Well said;

Miracle baby deserves our help
Taranaki | Monday, 31 December 2007

Rules, rules, rules.

Some people and organisations live by them and follow them to the very letter. And not even Christmas or compassion can sway them from adherence to that tight, strict path, says the Taranaki Daily News

Our immigration department is one such organisation.

Even though it has been revealed to be extraordinarily incompetent in its application of those rules, with largesse and officiousness thrown around in equal abandon when it considers cases involving Pacific Islanders, there's still no room for leniency for a little girl named Miracletina.

She's a four-month-old baby born in Samoa with incredible, pitiful deformities: no top to her brain, no eyeballs, a double cleft palate, no fingers, deformed feet and spina bifida.

It's a miracle that she has survived, and family have fed the baby girl against doctors' advice. But not only has she survived, she is healthy, can raise her head and responds to family members.

Now she needs our help.

And we have slammed the door. Thanks, but no thanks. Sorry, says our immigration department, we've looked at your case and it doesn't meet our criteria. Nothing we can provide will do any good.

Fair enough, you say. Our hospitals and medical specialists are over-burdened enough, without taking on the cases of other nations' citizens, no matter how touching and needful.

But these are not people coming to us for a handout. This is not a family and a community who have simply tossed their hands into the air and said they've done all they can do and now it's up to someone else to sort out the mess.

The family have raised the not insignificant sum of $103,000 in the Baby Miracle Appeal in Samoa and New Zealand. That's people in this country who have pledged to help this child, this family to deal with what is an awful misfortune; helped towards a campaign to send this unfortunate child and her family to New Zealand, if even just for an examination.

But still our officials say no.

We believe that's not on, and the immigration officials need to take a cold, hard look at themselves.

This family doesn't want charity, although they definitely deserve it.

They have made a huge effort to help themselves, which already puts them above the many others in this country happy to get something for nothing.

This family is saying to New Zealand that there is something you can provide that will be of some good.

And that's hope.

Given what we have in this country compared to what's available in many Pacific Islands, surely that's not too much to ask, is it?