Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The distortion of the DPB

Yesterday beneficiary advocate Paul Blair was back in the news claiming the Ministry of Social Development is acting illegally. He is trying to get people who have been relegated from an invalid's benefit to a sickness benefit to come forward and form a body that will take the department to court. Mr Blair describes himself as a qualified barrister. Listening to him interviewed by Sean Plunkett this morning he lacks the discipline and gravitas one might associate with that of a practitioner of the law.

Mr Blair has nevertheless succeeded in his past endeavours to bend MSD policy to his will. In 2004 he and two other fathers took a case against the department described by the NZ Herald as follows;

Three Rotorua beneficiaries have forced a law change for single parents with split custody of their children through an out-of-court settlement with the Social Development Ministry.

On October 1, 1991, a law was introduced to stop two parents living apart, but who had split custody of their children, from both getting the Domestic Purposes Benefit.

One was eligible for the sole-parent benefit and all the benefits that went with it, while the other was entitled to the unemployment benefit.

Rotorua beneficiaries advocate and sole parent Paul Blair argued that this was not fair as the parent receiving the DPB was entitled to earn more when working than the parent on the dole.

Parents on the DPB were also entitled to childcare subsidies, a non-recoverable training incentive allowance if attending a course, and did not have to be work-tested.

Rotorua sole parents Leon Broughton, Richard Amoroa and Mr Blair started legal proceedings in the High Court at Rotorua against the chief executive of the ministry more than a year ago.

In the out-of-court settlement, the ministry agreed the second parent in split-custody cases would be entitled to the emergency maintenance allowance, paid at the same rate as the DPB and with similar advantages.

Justice Alan McKenzie ordered the ministry to review the plaintiffs' benefits, pay any arrears, treat all similar cases in the same way and review cases as far back as December 12, 2000.

This is an utter distortion of how the DPB was intended to operate; the state paying for the mother (or father) to care for the dependent children while the liable parent contributes to this payment through earned income.

Another Court of Appeal case, the Ruka Case, also saw the original intention of the DPB distorted by a ruling that stated where a women was living in a relationship with a man who was abusive and not financially or emotionally supportive she could not be legally described as 'living in the nature of a marriage'. Therefore she could continue to receive the DPB. Thousands of past decisions were scrutinised under the new ruling, overturned and financially recompensed. Note now that as long as a man is violent and doesn't support his partner she can stay on welfare. A bitter irony given an original aim of the DPB was to enable women to leave abusive relationships.

Of course there are many other ways in which eligibility for the DPB has been distorted. These are just two of the more counter-productive examples.


Berry said...

The New Zealand Law society website provides details you may want to consider, briefly:
-One has a law degree (LLB)
-One then completes a one year (or 6 months, depending on delivery method) practice course, in many jurisdictions referred to as 'bar exams"
-One then undergoes a variety of checks before being allowed to be admitted as a "barrister and solicitor of the High Court"
-One then obtains a practising certificate from the NZLS.
-Only at that point is one allowed to refer to him/herself as a "lawyer"
-After further scrutiny and proof of experience, one can become either a "solicitor/barrister" or "barrister sole" operating on one's own account.

The NZLS website contains a register of those being registered and in what role.

A Anthony Paul Blair in Rotorua appears in that register, may be the same person, maybe not.
That person had not been admitted in 2004.

Lindsay Mitchell said...

If he says he is a qualified barrister I accept that. He just doesn't live up to my expectations of how a qualified barrister would comport himself.

Berry said...

Further to the above, while I agree this is a "distortion" of the idea behind DPB (and welfare in general), all that the people in this case did was asserting (and assuring) an entitlement that followed from the way the law was drafted, and this was recognized by the court.
I think the only relevant issue is what the real purpose of the law was, and that is where your own assumptions may lead you astray.
While common sense and the traditional understanding of "welfare" is just that, the real underlying purpose of this sort of legislation is not actually that at all, but an ideology driven idea that seeks to separate parenting from the traditional concept of family and that seeks to create direct and unmitigated relationships between all individuals (including children) and the state. That the consequence of this includes the distortions that you point out is simply something that the collectivists under us take for granted, and hence they also allow the sort of situations that you point out to continue.
Only a revision of the concept of the welfare state on philosophical grounds can reverse that trend. As long as politicians refuse to grasp that nettle, expect ever increasing distortions to continue and thrive.

Anonymous said...

So essentially, his case is that the MSD is willfully misinterpreting the law to save money?

Sounds fair enough - they're happy to go to court if the shoe is on the other foot.


Lindsay Mitchell said...

Bez, My non-legalistic assumptions may lead me astray but sometimes they are based on actual outcomes.

For instance when the CPAG took MSD to the Human Rights Tribunal for discriminating against children of beneficiaries whose parent did not receive the In Work payment, the Tribunal found that discrimination was occurring but that it was justified.

What I don't understand is why at other times the discrimination is found unwarranted (or at least expected to be found unwarranted hence the out of court settlement) as per Mr Blair's first case.

I don't think he has a case. If the GPs are prepared to reassess a person the case manager decides which benefit the client is entitled. That is consistent with the current law.

"Several changes to the administration of sickness-related benefits were introduced from September 2007, aimed at ensuring that clients were receiving a benefit most appropriate to their needs. These changes included:

* a requirement for more detailed medical information on medical certificates
* allowing case managers to make the decision about whether clients should receive a sickness-related benefit, Invalid's Benefit or other assistance based on medical information provided, discussion with the client, and where required, advice from Regional Health Advisors and/or Regional Disability Advisors."

Labour changed the rules and National appears to be applying them.

Berry said...

Lindsay, my argument was indeed "legalistic", but that was precisely my point. As soon as one approaches social concerns through the state by way of legislation, then any argument about entitlements will become "legalistic".

Essentially therefore we must philosophically reconsider the concept of 'welfare' and see it in its original light, as 'charity'.
Ultimately I would strongly argue for a system where charity is mainly a privatised affair. Reality shows time and again (and you yourself had a good example recently) that people in real and genuine distress will always find charity from others.
Also, the more money people can privately retain of their own money (i.e. without the government taking it), the more they will be prepared to give to charities of THEIR OWN choice.
I agree there must be some safety net/emergency solution, but that can be restricted in duration, and be supplied by way of loan or otherwise, i.e. a payment to assist a person in need to get organised and to get their life back on track.

Mo said...

I agree there must be some safety net/emergency solution, but that can be restricted in duration, and be supplied by way of loan or otherwise, i.e. a payment to assist a person in need to get organised and to get their life back on track.

yes obviously what a person who is in a financial/life emergency, the vast majority of such situations are caused by debt, needs is more debt.

Berry said...

Well Mo, are you suggesting that the rest of the population picks up the tab for those peoples' irresponsible choices then?