Friday, October 17, 2008


Media Release
Friday, October 17, 2008

The Maori Party has announced it wants to abolish the unemployment benefit.

Welfare commentator Lindsay Mitchell said in response today, "While this policy has brought commendation from many quarters little analysis has been done on what it would actually achieve."

"In June 1999 there were 42, 074 Maori receiving an unemployment benefit. By June 2008 that number had plummeted to 6,588."

"Over the same period Maori receipt of the domestic purposes benefit has risen from 35,615 to 40,119. "

"While co-leader Tariana Turia is happy to talk about Maori men and their damaging reliance on welfare, she told election commentator, Gordon Campbell , just months ago, that reform did not apply to Maori women. This means it doesn't apply to Maori children either."

"Right now the DPB is a much bigger problem for Maori than the dole. That is because it encourages very young women to have babies they cannot financially or emotionally support; it keeps thousands of Maori children relatively poor; it deprives Maori men of their defining role as provider; it makes women vulnerable to free-loaders who do not want to support a family, preferring to spend the money they earn on themselves; it causes intergenerational welfare dependence, with female children more likely to depend on the DPB in turn and it increases the likelihood that children will suffer neglect and abuse."

"Only 8 percent of the 81,369 working-age Maori on welfare are on the dole. As it stands the Maori Party needs to focus on how to wean their people off those benefits where the numbers are still heading in the wrong direction. "

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Charter schools succeed where state schools fail

In the United States charter schools exist and succeed where others fail. They are still publicly funded but run more like businesses. To paraphrase Wikipedia, charter schools have been freed from some of the rules, regulations, and statutes that apply to other public schools in exchange for some type of accountability for producing certain results. (You've got to wonder why state schools aren't accountable). Charter schools are able to specialize and emphasise uniqueness.

Sounds like the results a voucher system could provide. Schools like KIPP, and in Sweden, Kunskapsskolan could operate here if we could get vouchers introduced. Given the results these organisations are achieving it beggars belief that anyone would oppose similar reform.

The demand for more educational choice in predominantly minority South Los Angeles is pronounced. The waitlist for existing Inner City Education Foundation (ICEF) schools has at times exceeded 6,000 kids. And no wonder. Like KIPP, Green Dot and other charter school networks that aren't constrained by union rules on staffing and curriculum, ICEF has an excellent track record, particularly with black and Hispanic students. In reading and math tests, ICEF charters regularly outperform surrounding traditional public schools as well as other Los Angeles public schools.

ICEF has been operating since 1994, and its flagship school has now graduated two classes, with 100% of the students accepted to college. By contrast, a state study released in July reported that one in three students in the L.A. public school system -- including 42% of black students -- quits before graduating, a number that has grown by 80% in the past five years.

Despite this success, powerful unions like the California Teachers Association and its political backers continue to oppose school choice for disadvantaged families. Last year, Democratic state lawmakers, led by Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, tried to force Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to sign a bill that would have made opening a new charter school in the state next to impossible. Mr. Nunez backed down after loud protests from parents in poorer neighborhoods.

School reformers in New York, Ohio, Florida, Connecticut, Utah and Arizona have faced similar challenges of late. Last year in Texas, where 81% of charter school students are minorities (versus 60% in traditional public schools), nearly 17,000 students had to be placed on charter waiting lists. Texas is currently bumping up against an arbitrary cap on the number of charters that can open in the state. Unless the cap is lifted by state lawmakers, thousands of low-income Texas children will remain stuck in ineffective schools.

Back in California, ICEF says that its ultimate goal is to produce 2,000 college graduates each year, in hopes that the graduates eventually will return to these underserved communities and help create a sustainable middle class. Given that fewer than 10% of high-school freshmen in South Los Angeles currently go on to receive a college diploma, this is a huge challenge. Resistance from charter school opponents won't make it any easier.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Turia still off the mark on welfare

Yesterday Tariana Turia was speaking in Flaxmere;

"I'm opposed to the dole. I don't think it is healthy for the spirit of our people, to be getting money for doing nothing."

Good. I agree.

But in May she had this exchange with Gordon Campbell;

Campbell: You’re saying welfare is bad for Maori, so we have to break the cycle by introducing a compulsory element -

Turia : We’re talking Maori unemployed. We’re not talking about Maori women on benefits.

There are 7252 Maori on the dole. Around two thirds are men.

However, there are around 73,000 Maori on other benefits. I estimate almost two thirds are women, most on the DPB.

There is a very clear line in Turia's mind between being paid to 'do nothing' without kids and being paid to do nothing with kids. So the message is clear. If you want to be paid to do nothing, make sure you have a child who is dependent on you. Hence the disproportionate incidence of child neglect amongst Maori. That neglect gives rise to later problems like learning difficulties, truancy, early pregnancy, alcohol and substance abuse and problems with the law. (None of which is exclusive to Maori but Tariana talks exclusively about Maori).

I cannot take her seriously until she acknowledges that the problem of welfare extends beyond just the dole and Maori men.

If it was only the dole causing the kind of social dysfunction experienced disproportionately by Maori then matters would have improved dramatically over the past decade. They haven't.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Serious debate or big-time brawl?

Some readers will be old enough to remember a popular New Zealand TV show called 'On The Mat'.

It featured bawdy big-time wrestlers and was full of faux anger, irate indignation and pretend pain. But audiences loved it. People bought it. People believed it.

I wonder if tonight's debate between Clark and Key will satisfy the same shallow emotions? After all the two main parties are essentially caricatures of true opponents. They'll strut and glower, feign animosity and moral superiority; one may even take a pummelling, but at the end of the night they'll walk off together, with our money in their pockets.

Extending the welfare mentality

My son will turn up at university the year the parental income threshold goes completely. That's $153 a week for you, young man. What for? To vote Labour, that's what for.

We understand the concept of debauching beneficiaries with easy money, and easy credit, yet are so quick to extend the process. This is a mind-numbingly foolish policy.

Monday, October 13, 2008

First sign goes up

Disability and benefits

Reading about health issues or listening to people wax on about them bores me witless. The Dominion Post has a resident health columnist by the name of Chris Kalderimis. He knows how boring health is so he gets people's attention by rather cynically using photos of dead guys - recently dead - to discuss what killed them. Last week it was Paul Newman, to discuss lung cancer and smoking (even though we don't know whether Paul Newman smoked) and today it is Rob Guest and stroke. Casting a reluctant eye over the text (only slightly less reluctant than the one I cast over political news) I noticed this statement;

"In New Zealand stroke is the leading cause of disability..."

Being reasonably familiar with the leading reasons why people rely on disability benefits this rather floored me.

More recent figures are most certainly available but the following are those I can quickly lay my hands on.

At July 2004 1,435 people were receiving a sickness or invalid's benefit due to having suffered a stroke. That's 1.2 percent of all the people on those benefits.

Either there is a massive number of people who have suffered strokes who are not relying on welfare or there are thousands of people who are on benefits who do not suffer from what this doctor would class as genuine disabilities.

It's not a politically easy business questioning the number of people who rely full time on a sickness or invalid's benefit but given there are now over 130,000 whereas in the 1940s (post-war),1950s,1960s and 1970s there were never more than 20,000 some serious attention is overdue.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Early puberty in the NZ context

I believe this guy, Professor Peter Gluckman, is onto something. Not necessarily with his collectivist call for action - parents need to take more responsibility - but with his theory that the earlier onset of puberty is a fairly significant problem.

A Swiss study showed that children who went through puberty earlier were more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, be more anxious and depressed and have sex earlier. "In boys, the attempted suicide rate was five times higher in those who went through early puberty than those who went through it at a normal age, which is a frightening statistic. Nothing I know of comes close as a risk factor for teen suicide," said Gluckman.

Being Maori also presents a much higher risk factor than being non-Maori, but not 5 times higher. Look around you and it is pretty obvious that Maori and Pacific males and females often develop younger. I hadn't thought of it in terms of a 'national crisis' but greater awareness of it can only be good. I know of two Maori boys who took their own lives - both over a girl. Such a sad, sad waste. And if it isn't suicide, it is some other response which lands them in trouble.

There is a theory - I read about it in a James Belich book - that many of our contemporary social problems stem from the time education became compulsory and teenage boys and girls were put together in secondary schools. Until then they hadn't routinely mixed on a day-to-day basis.

Well, we can't go putting that one back in the bottle. But with ever-increasing early puberty and day-to-day exposure to the opposite sex the potential for problems is heightened. Yes. I definitely think he is onto something.