Saturday, October 24, 2009

Abortion - I can't bring myself to do it

I support the right to choose. But personally I cannot choose the termination of life. It's an emotional, deep-seated impulse. But I faced it this week. And I am not trying to be flippant.

Daisy is pregnant again. We wanted her to have one litter and then we would spey her. But while she was still nursing her kittens, and unable to have the op, she got knocked up again. So I rang the vet and asked for some advice. They could spey her now. No problem. And the kittens she is carrying would be aborted during the process. Well I knew that is what they would tell me. Booking her in was really the purpose of my call. But then I couldn't do it.

So here we go again. Take two.

NZ does not exist in a microcosm

Reform UK has just released a report proposing ideas for reforming the current social security system. I thought the opening sentence was spot on;

Responsibility has drained away from the British welfare state, leaving a poisonous blend of entitlement and apathy.

A summary of proposals is;

> Abolish middle class welfare and benefit gimmicks, with immediate cuts that would save £14 billion. Further savings, including from migrating individuals from the state pension onto personal protection accounts, should be made as part of a medium term plan to restore the public finances.

> Hand benefit rules and operation to social enterprises and companies, funded through employee national insurance contributions.

> Develop flexible Personal Protection Accounts, building on the success of ISAs and the introduction of auto enrolment and personal accounts for retirement savings in 2015.

> Where possible, replace social security benefits with private provision, with private insurance being a potentially useful but largely underutilised tool, particularly for disability but also in other areas.

Of particular interest, however, given the overdue debate NZ is now having over ACC, and last week's Auditor General report showing MSD was not succeeding in reducing Sickness and Invalid benefit dependence, is further discussion about insuring for accidents and disability, and international activity;

As well as savings for the costs of retirement, personal accounts have the potential to be used for a range of other social policy purposes. This is the approach taken in Singapore, where, alongside pension funds, individuals contribute towards personal welfare accounts that provide support for unemployment, accident or injury...

A variant of personal accounts has been in place in Brazil for several
decades and has been introduced by several other Latin American countries. Uruguay has a dual public/ private insurance system which covers, among others, old age and unemployment insurance....

The OECD has identified private disability insurance as a potentially useful but largely underutilised tool. Private disability insurance has become an important part of welfare provision in countries such as the Netherlands and Finland. In the Netherlands, for example, the introduction of experience-rated premiums for public disability insurance was a key factor in explaining the recent sharp fall in the rates of inflow onto disability benefits....

The use of private insurance in Switzerland and Canada has also had similar effects on reducing the inflow and costs of disability. These positive effects reflect the financial incentives facing private providers to avoid the liability from people becoming unwell and, if they do become unwell, not recovering as quickly as possible...

So anyone who thinks we should or will stick with our current approach has their head in the sand. Historically welfare provision debates and outcomes have occurred in an ongoing and international fashion. Labour's reversal of ACC privatisation in 1999 was merely a stalling of reform.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The culture of excuse-making goes on

Apparently because alcohol kills 50 times more people than P we should be 50 times more worried about it. If I were 50 times more worried it still wouldn't keep me awake at night.

According to Prof Doug Sellman launching Alcohol Action New Plymouth last night,
"Alcohol has become totally over-commercialised in New Zealand, encouraging a heavy drinking culture that leads to serious health problems, fractured families and increased violence and crime affecting thousands of people.

"Over a thousand people die every year from an alcohol-related injury or chronic disease and there are over 70,000 physical and sexual assaults perpetrated by people who are alcohol affected."

The reasons were clear.

"The easy availability of alcohol at all hours, low prices and continuous bombardment by very clever advertising and highly strategic sponsorship deals are key drivers of our dangerous drinking culture," he said.

Shades of Hone Harawira's attack on the tobacco industry.

I cannot share Prof Sellman's confidence - at all. At the root of alcohol abuse are psychological problems. You can make access to alcohol more difficult but that doesn't address why people want to drink so heavily. Blaming the alcohol industry is just a cop-out.

Add to that the triumph of collective responsibility over individual responsibility, whereby the adverse consequences of alcohol abuse are socialised across society, and we might start getting warm.

When I was young I used to get in trouble with alcohol. I remember waking up in bed with some guy appalled to find myself there. Gutted. But I didn't blame the alcohol. And I didn't blame him. I blamed myself.

Today there are a lot more girls like I was but it seems to me they can't look at themselves and take it on the chin. They blame their behaviour on drinking (abetted by people who would blame accessibility and promotion of alcohol) or they blame the guy and cry rape. What they need to feel is a massive dose of shame, remorse and guilt so as not to do it again. That is how human nature works.

I am afraid Prof Sellman is just contributing to the culture of excuse-making.

I won the bet!

Well, actually, I haven't won the bet yet but I won the bet. Let me explain.

Last Sunday Des Coppins had a draw open to all callers to his Trackside programme. The prize was a bet that the TAB put up. It's a double. Whobegotyou (hot favourite) to win the Cox Plate tomorrow and Viewed (last year's winner) to win the Melbourne Cup, November 3, If they both come in the return is $1000. And I won it.

But I haven't won yet....

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Auditor General's Report

I have now had chance to read the report.

In 2007 MSD instigated a new approach to sickness and invalid beneficiaries. It involved more intense case management and a classification of beneficiaries into three groups - ready to work (don't know why this group isn't on the Unemployment Benefit) ready to plan to work and won't return to work.

GP certifying certificates were redesigned to acquire more information as to what suitable interventions might be and any other helpful input the GP could offer.

The AG's report is a evaluation of the results and it isn't good.

I am not going to quote extensively from it but essentially MSD isn't monitoring the changes, there are inconsistencies of practice across regions, GPs don't fill in the certificates adequately, GPs are very unimpressed with Work and Income case managers, particularly their availability to discuss matters, regional health and disability commissioners are under-utilised, the benefit numbers have continued to climb since 2007 and increased contact between beneficiary and Work and Income is patchy. Much of it is instigated by the beneficiary when extra financial help is required rather than the case manager fulfilling new guidelines.

15 recommendations were made.

Of course none of this addresses the underlying primary causes of ever-growing dependence on these benefits (and neither is it intended to). But all parties have been found wanting - accept the beneficiary.


I was caught on the hop yesterday when I received a call from Radio Live asking me to record an interview about my earlier press release regarding National's broken promises. Although I was in a carpark and didn't have the release at hand that wasn't a problem. The problem emerged when the first question related to an Auditor General's report released yesterday. I hadn't heard about it or read it. Which is what I said. I don't bluff. Anyway the interviewer was telling me that Paula Bennett was saying that the problems with the sickness and invalid benefits were of Labour's making. Well, sure. But National campaigned on a whole lot of policy ideas about how to fix the problems and haven't implemented one. I rattled them off. And so it went.

When I arrived home late last night I naturally googled said report and was astounded to find Paula Bennett saying:

“This report confirms the changes we promised before the election are heading in the right direction."

BUT YOU HAVEN'T FULFILLED ONE OF THOSE PROMISES. And the numbers are continuing to head in the wrong direction.

That has been confirmed by your Ministry.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Blue vs Red - I may as well be colour-blind

Sus kindly sent through a letter she received yesterday from the Minister for Social Development, Paula Bennett. Representing National, in the blue corner we have ;

"I think we all agree that children should be provided for, whatever their family situation. If we penalise the caregivers for moral reasons, I can only see this impacting upon the ability of the state to help the children of these caregivers.

The benefit system, including the Domestic Purposes Benefit (DPB), is designed to supply a level of income support to enable parents to provide for their children. Benefit entitlement is based upon a person's individual situation. I could not agree to withholding money from people looking after children. It is the children that would suffer from that type of decision.

You might be interested to know that the vast majority of DPB recipients are in fact sole parents who have been married or in a relationship and who have lost the support of their husbands or partners for a variety of reasons.

As the Minister for Social Development and Employment, I will be looking into solutions that assist people into getting off the DPB and into work. Our policies will support parents while also recognising the value of paid work."

The following are excerpts from letters I received from former Minister for Social Development, Steve Maharey. Representing Labour, from the red corner we have;

"Income Support in the form of DPB contributes to the needs of children, and towards the valuable task of childcare, and is intended to provide a good start in life for children. Children are our country's future.......The government and the law cannot discriminate on moral grounds

The majority of DPB recipients are separated or divorced from a legal or de facto spouse (63% in 2001).

Officials are looking at the best means by which sole parents can be supported and encouraged to balance their work and family responsibilities. The idea is to get alongside them, talk to them about what they want to do with their lives, then help them get there."

Any discernible difference/s?

The overriding message from both is that as long as children are reliant on an individual, the state is obliged to provide the individual with an income. Therein lies the problem.

And regarding the past relationship status of DPB recipients, obviously the vast majority have been "in a relationship". But the Minister knows nothing about what type of relationship unless the recipient states that they were separated from a marriage or divorced. The latest information I have shows only 3,249 recipients were divorced and 29,622 were separated (I am assuming from a marriage because it wasn't from a de facto). Leaving the "vast" majority in the unknown category. The identifiers rely anyway on the accuracy of the recipients own description. For a variety of reasons that accuracy may be dubious.

The DPB is not, on balance, good for children. It can't be when it has created, in the space of a few decades, a whole new demographic of doubly disadvantaged kiddies with no in situ fathers and no money. I am very tired of those people with an ability to do something different simply defending it.

Change the rules

I was wondering whether regional reliance on the unemployment benefit matches regional unemployment rates.

(June 09 benefit data is used because the most recent HLFS data available is June 09.)

This is what I found;

No bloody correlation whatsoever.

So what is this chart telling me?

On the face of it, one would expect that where the unemployment rate is low, reliance on the Unemployment Benefit would also be low.

For example Nelson has low unemployment and a low ratio of dependency on Unemployment Benefit.

Northland, on the other hand, has a high rate of unemployment and a low ratio of dependency on Unemployment Benefit.

Or, expressed another way;

Nelson has low unemployment and a high ratio of dependency on other benefits.

Northland has a high rate of unemployment and a high ratio of dependency on other benefits.

Is it safe to conclude then, that people will rely on other benefits (SB, IB and DPB) regardless of the unemployment rate?

That is, anyway, what recent history tells us. We hit the lowest level of unemployment in the OECD at one point but reliance on other benefits was largely unchanged or growing.

The implication of this is very important. It seems obvious that people are on other benefits for other reasons. Granted. But when it comes to trying to tackle their dependency we are told, but there are no jobs so we can't do anything.

Hon PAULA BENNETT: This Government is committed to helping sole parents into work. We intend to change the work-testing rules to incentivise those parents to get a part-time job when their youngest child turns 6. However, I am committed to setting up domestic purposes beneficiaries to succeed, so we will hold off on making the changes until the economic conditions change and there are jobs for those people to be getting those sorts of opportunities.

But for many unemployment didn't cause their dependency and employment won't necessarily solve it. Many of these people are going to continue on benefits long term regardless.

BUT, Bennett is so hung up on what to do about existing beneficiaries that she is too distracted to think about how changing the rules would effect potential beneficiaries. Can't change the rules because there are no jobs for us to enforce new rules. Doesn't matter. Change the damn rules as a deterrent if nothing else. Change the rules in anticipation of an economic upturn. Get on with it or dependency will be allowed to just keep on growing.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Working-age benefits rise by 21 percent

The number of working-age beneficiaries has risen by 21 percent over the last year.

Here's a breakdown by September 2009 total and annual rise;

DPB 107,658 up 9%
Invalid's Benefit 87,615 up 2%
Sickness Benefit 56,384 up 17%
Unemployment Benefit 60,660 up 161%

All 326,811 up 21%

Some comments;

- Take out the unemployment benefit and the rise in all other benefits is still 8 percent.

- The rise in other benefits is more of a concern than the rise in unemployment because people stay on those benefits much longer.

- The 9 percent rise in DPB represents around 15,000 more children on welfare.

- The combined total of Sickness and invalid benefits represents a new high at 144,000.

- If National had delivered on the election promises I identified yesterday some of the rises may have been contained.

Flawed defence of ACC

There is too much wrong with Tim Hazeldine's defence of ACC's viability in today's New Zealand Herald to take any comfort from his she'll-be-right reassurances. First he likens the cost of funding the results of accidents, to the costs of raising children. We need not possess the total cost up front, he argues. It would be "foolish" to treat children as unfunded liabilities.

Suppose you and your spouse are in charge of a family of, say, three young children. That means you are legally responsible for bringing them up to school leaving age and morally responsible for helping them in further training or education after that.

Putting aside the obvious problem that being 'legally responsible' does not make any New Zealand parent financially responsible if they refuse to be, there are others.

Along with the costs of raising children there are benefits. Parents do not generally end up poorer than non-parents. That is because the lifestyle they adopt as parents tends to accrue wealth. For example, they buy bigger homes and save larger amounts of their income.

So there is a return on raising children that does not exist in funding long-term weekly compensation payouts to accident survivors, where much of ACC's liability lies.

Children are dependent for a limited time. ACC beneficiaries may be dependent for the remainder of their lifetimes. Given most serious accident claims are from young men, their reliance will likely span decades. Because of ever-improving medical technology and a seemingly increasing propensity to take risks (driven ironically by socialising the adverse consequences) the numbers dependent will only grow. This is also evident in the never-reversing growth in invalid beneficiaries that far outstrips population growth.

But Mr Hazeldine is not concerned about future ability to pay because it can easily be funded by government on a pay-as-you-go basis. He says, "...the Government's ability to raise revenue when needed is much more secure than any individual's future income".

Again this is a troublesome notion. Government's ability to tax relies directly on the individual's future income. If his future income is much less secure, then so is the government's. He frames his defence of ACC on the power of forced collectivity but uses the productive individual (the integral cog in the wheel) to demonstrate vulnerability and uncertainty.

There are problems with ACC, but they very much depend on how the issues are framed. Truly, New Zealand can have a decent, efficient, state-run accident compensation system without breaking the bank. Don't fret about it. Get back to figuring out how you are going to pay for bringing up those kids.

So Mr Hazeldine wants us to add ACC to all the other pay-as-you-go budgets like "Vote Health and Vote Education" (I note he avoided any mention of Vote Social Welfare) and not to worry about it. Go back to figuring out how to pay for bringing up your kids, he says.

Frankly the worrying I am doing is how my kids are going to pay for tomorrow's ACC costs, on top of the burgeoning health and welfare costs associated with our rapidly ageing population. Now is not a time for offhanded complacency.

Monday, October 19, 2009

National's broken promises

Media Release

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Information obtained under the Official Information Act shows that the National government has failed to implement the welfare policy promises it made during the 2008 election campaign.

Welfare commentator Lindsay Mitchell said that she had been provided with information from the Ministry of Social Development which confirms that none of the promises laid out below has been implemented. The first column shows the promises and reasons for them, as detailed in National's manifesto; the second column provides the information from the Ministry of Social Development confirming none of the promises has been actioned.

"National produced an 11-page benefits policy prior to the 2008 election and they have a mandate and responsibility to deliver. Probably the worst omission is a failure to introduce a part-time work test on the domestic purposes benefit. Australia introduced work-testing in 2006 and a report released by the Centre for Independent Studies last week shows that the number of Parenting Payment (Single) recipients has dropped by 21 percent. The report concludes the drop is due to a combination of movement off welfare and transfer to the unemployment benefit. By contrast, New Zealand's DPB numbers have risen by 6 percent in the past year."

"National also said it would 'address growth in sickness and invalid numbers' yet the total number has increased by a further 5 percent in this year alone."

"To win votes on false promises is fraudulent. National promised an 'unrelenting focus on work' but, after almost a year in government, is not delivering for its voters . Even worse, it's not delivering for people on benefits who need more carrot and stick to become self reliant."

"The welfare bill is the government's biggest at $19.4 billion a year or 30 percent of core expenditure. This is where National needs to be focussing its attention and honouring its promises."

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Garrett on gang meeting

Has David Garrett got this right?

So Pita Sharples used taxpayer money to host a meeting with Black Power and Mongrel Mob leaders. Taxpayer money is constantly being spent on gangs and their affiliates.

-Justice costs
-Rehabilitation services

What's another $6,000 if Sharples thinks he can achieve something?

What I want to know is, what did they talk about and what's the next move.