Saturday, April 03, 2010

Raise the Super Age

I have only now found time to go back now (prompted by a comment from yesterday - thanks) and have a look at the IMF recommendations to NZ.

In there is an utterly sane and inarguably sound idea. The age for Super eligibility must go up. The IMF ensconces that more neatly;

10. To address longer-term pressures on the budget, early steps should be taken to contain the projected growth in health care and pension costs. Measures could include improving the efficiency of health care spending and linking the pension eligibility age to life expectancy.

Super makes up the biggest single item of government expenditure ($7.7 billion) and it is going to rise significantly as the population ages. I would like to see a young group (supported by their parent's generation) pick up this recommendation and campaign on it.

It would be very provocative to use the moniker RSA. Some will say it is disrespectful to returned soldiers who have fought for their country, paid their txes etc but most returned soldiers will get a Vets pension anyway.

Grey Power are very strong politically and they are a pain-in-the-proverbial socialists (though not all of their members are). I imagine they would be the foremost opponents. What a bun fight that would be.

This issue needs a real push with Guy Smiley promising to do absolutely nothing about it. It would be a real polariser and sitting on the fence would get more and more uncomfortable.


Friday, April 02, 2010

History repeating

I have been reviewing older issues of the NZ Social Policy Journals this afternoon and realised that under the National government (of the 1990s) the contributors brought a far less 'government must' attitude. For instance there was a contribution by Gareth Morgan, and a number of people who wrote publications by the NZBR around that time. During the 2000s it was predominantly left-leaning academics contributing. But here is a statement, 17 years-old, that caught my eye.

Breaking the dependency cycle is one of the two top priority outcomes for the Department of Social Welfare in the 1993/94 year, and a number of new initiatives have recently been undertaken aimed at facilitating the “welfare-to-work” process.

During the 17 years another generation has become dependent. What is National's latest stated goal?

"...aiming to break the cycle of welfare dependency."

Previews and going off on a tangent

Well I've broken even before the exhibition officially opens. Sigh of relief. Can pay off credit card. Two paintings sold yesterday. I find the previews quite a trial. Everyone wants to talk to you and you are constantly aware of not being able to do that. So many friends come and go without my even being able to acknowledge them. This is one of the reasons I was never any good at politics because I not only let myself get monopolised by people, I enjoy it. I get easily engrossed in conversations. But frequently about stuff other than my paintings.

There are always people who will walk up and say, "Are you the Lindsay Mitchell that writes to the newspaper?" That's good. People who don't agree with my views never approach me. When I confess I am they launch forth on what they know and their perspective. Fascinating.

For instance a woman yesterday who had worked for social welfare in the early seventies said to me they never needed to introduce the DPB. "I could get a woman on the emergency benefit if she needed it," she said. But now , "the underbelly has got too big." Of course she is right about the emergency benefit. This idea that pre DPB women were forced to give up children, forced to live violent relationships is not wholly true. Help was available but not of right. That's what changed and that's what opened the floodgates.

Another person I know well who also worked in the department late 60s and early 70s, a sole parent herself at that time, has said the same thing. They didn't really need to do that. Quietly working within the existing rules help was there where it was warranted. Consequently when it was introduced there wasn't any big fanfare. Media coverage in the Evening Post was relegated to something like page 18 from memory.

Contrast that to the current climate - 'Future Focus' being a perfect example - whenever there is the slightest hint of eligibility rules for the DPB changing it dominates the media for days.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Easter exhibitions

Solo 29 opens to the public tomorrow and there are 2 previews today. I have 12 new works on display and hope to spend quite a bit of time there pasteling. People very much enjoy watching an artist working. It's the school holidays so hopefully that will boost traffic. While I was down there laying out the work I took the opportunity to have a quick squizz at the National Portrait Competition showing nearby. Some great paintings on display (although I see the infamous Clayton Weatherston depiction has been removed.) So if you are in the city over Easter drop by and check out both exhibitions.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Sentences and orders being served soar

This graph appears to be telling me that the number of sentences and orders in place has jumped by roughly 50 percent since July 2007.

Corrections - currently one of the few growth industries in New Zealand.

You own your own life

Given the very sad passing of Margaret Page I thought this quote, from the Freedom Foundation's daily update was timely;

A man has the right to dispose of his life and his property in any way he chooses, without interference from anyone else. A man has no right to dispose of any other man's life or property, no matter what his personal rationalizations may be.

— Robert Ringer

MPs square off over welfare and child abuse

Over at Red Alert MP Carmel Sepuloni has taken enormous offence at National MP Todd McClay linking welfare to child abuse. It is a fine example of why it is impossible to have an objective conversation about this issue.

McClay's comments must have occurred during the debate on the Social Assistance (Future Focus) Bill,

Todd went down the wrong path when he disrespectfully brought Nia Glassie in to the debate. He went in to a rant abour how she was surrounded by people on benefits and therefore (in his mind) this led to her murder.

This was not only bad taste but it was offensive. Not only is the Govt trying to stigmatise beneficiaries as lazy; dole bludgers, ripping off the system BUT NOW they are adding – child abusers and even child murderers – to the stigma.

I have directed her to NZ research that shows children who are the subject of a care and protection notification are 4 times more likely to have a parent or caregiver on a benefit, adding;

You have to understand that ‘are more likely to’ can co-exist with ‘most don’t’. For argument’s sake;

8 out of 100 beneficiaries abuse their children.
2 out of 100 non-beneficiaries abuse their children.

Therefore beneficiaries are 4 times more likely to abuse their children BUT most don’t.

However, inasmuch as child murder usually occurs at the extreme end of abuse, it is more likely to happen when the parent or other caregiver is a beneficiary.

So stop taking offence and start asking whether there is a link between welfare and child abuse.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

How ambitious is Heather Roy?

Is Heather Roy really angling for leadership of ACT or is she being cornered into appearing so by the media?

Having a female/male co-leadership situation is so PC. She is reported as saying that it has worked for the Maori Party and the Greens. But in what way?

In terms of actually achieving votes the single leadership of National and Labour has been far more effective.

Turia on the welfare reforms

Interviewed on Radio NZ this morning Associate Social Development Minister Tariana Turia made it clear she does not support National's DPB reforms but has to vote for them as minister. So does Sharples. But the rest of the caucus is another matter.

Initially she says she does support benefit reform (makes some interesting comments about people not understanding where benefit money comes from) but then makes it clear (as in the past) that she is only talking about the unemployment benefit. Her problems;

1/ The timing - where are the jobs?
2/ Single parents should be allowed to stay home until their children have "completed schooling."

Regarding the timing, I have blogged before about where the existing and looming shortages lie and demand will come as the baby boomers age. But as well manufacturing is picking up. Plus there is a lag in introducing reforms. If we put them off because of present circumstances, when circumstances change the new rules aren't in place.

Paying single parents to stay home until their children complete school - and if she had been asked to clarify that I am sure it would have been high school - is absurd, although, in law, what currently happens.

So how is this going to pan out? Tariana would not guarantee all her caucus will vote for the reforms. Have we heard anything from ACT about the reforms? Is their support guaranteed, bearing in mind the reforms (depending on which is under the spotlight) are a rehash, a continuation of current practice or could arguably make intergenerational dependency worse? What are the numbers needed?

If 3 Maori Party MPs and ACT didn't support the legislation, even with Peter Dunne's 'aye' the vote will be tied. Can legislation be passed under a tied vote? I don't know the answer to that.

Then again the ACT ministers of government may also be obliged to support the government in which case it is a done deal. But perhaps they should be holding out for change with more teeth - like limiting benefit eligibility to the number of children dependent when the benefit was granted. Or basing work-testing on a set period of time from when the benefit was granted, rather than on the age of the youngest child. In effect, time-limiting it. After all, ACT always claimed to be the campaigners for welfare reform and time-limits were very much part of their earlier policy.

The legislation has its first reading in parliament this afternoon.

Monday, March 29, 2010

There is none so blind...

Tapu Misa has written about National's welfare reforms in her Herald column today;

You'd think then that someone like Lindsay Mitchell, a "welfare commentator" and tireless critic of the DPB, would be celebrating.

Actually, no. The benefit changes, she blogs, "are a waste of time"; they've either been tried before (and failed) or are "a continuation of current practice dressed up as a new approach".

She points out that National introduced the same work test back in 1996, with little change in the number of DPB beneficiaries.

As for making people reapply for the dole after one year, Mitchell says 84 per cent of those on the dole don't even reach one year, and anyway, the unemployment benefit isn't the problem when it comes to inter-generational welfare dependency.

Mitchell's problem is with unwed teenage mothers who keep swelling the ranks of the DPB. She says they're the ones who find the idea of life on the DPB too seductive to pass up.

Who would choose this as a lifestyle option? Not the seventh form girls at the Auckland private school I spoke to recently. They'd never even heard of the DPB.

But that's hardly surprising. The teen birth rate of girls in the poorest decile, girls who don't attend private schools, is almost 10 times that of girls in the wealthiest. Girls attending private schools have families with high expectations of them and opportunities abound. Girls in the poorest decile will have much slimmer career prospects and motherhood rates alongside reasonably well. This doesn't necessarily mean they make an active decision to get pregnant and go on the DPB or EMA (which they can do from 16), but the availability of a benefit most certainly influences their choices.

In his book More Than Just Race (2009), Harvard professor William Julius Wilson disputes the widely-held assumption that underpinned many of the 1996 welfare reforms in the United States: that there is "a direct causal link between the level or generosity of welfare benefits and the likelihood that a young woman would bear a child outside of marriage".

Wilson writes that there is no evidence for the claims that welfare payments provide incentives for childbearing, or discourage marriage.

But there is. Research for the US department of Human and Health Services by Anne Hill and June O'Neill showed that a 50 percent increase in the value of welfare payments and foodstamps led to a 43 percent increase in unmarried births. Numerous other studies, and not just American, have identified a similar association.

Women don't need to be dragged kicking and screaming off the DPB, they need good childcare and secure, well-paying jobs.

If women want "secure, well-paying jobs" they need to plan for them. Nothing has more potential to interrupt an education or absolve the need to get an education better than the certainty of a welfare income that pays more than the minimum wage.

As Auckland University associate professor of economics Susan St John wrote last week: "New Zealand's figures show clearly that when the job conditions are favourable and unemployment is low, benefit numbers fall."

So what did we see with the DPB during the economic boom? A drop from a 1998 high of 113,000 to 97,000 in 2008. The core of long-termers, especially those who start young and stay longest, wasn't touched.

A 2002 analysis by Bob Gregory, an economics professor at the Australian National University, showed that most Australian women were constantly trying to get off welfare, but most ended up back on the benefit within a short time.

My comments on The Standard most probably led Misa to Bob Gregory's research, the most astounding aspect of which is he estimated, in Australia, women stayed on welfare for an average total of at least 12 years. This did not include benefits they might transfer to when they no longer had dependent children in their care. Which supports my assertion that welfare has transformed into far more than a last resort safety net.

I am not sure what Misa is trying to achieve with this column. Work and strong families are an integral part of Pacific culture. A denial that welfare can undermine both is self-defeating. But if she doesn't want to see the evidence then a private girls school is absolutely the best place to go looking for it.