Friday, July 22, 2011

Angry today

Sometimes after I have a letter published in the paper people react. First I get a message of encouragement left on the answerphone supporting the views expressed. Older man.

Later my 12 year-old answered the phone to someone who has been ringing me since 2001. The caller gives me only her first name. Was a time her son would get on the other extension and they would harangue me doubly. An elderly lady who goes on and on without taking a breath about walking a mile in her shoes, unfairness, rich capitalists,etc etc. Yesterday she knowingly visited it on my daughter. That makes me very, very angry.

Then this message was put on an older post (alerted through e-mail). Probably a further response after searching my name:

The minimum Wage for a 40 hour week is too low.The person on this could also get accommadation benefit and working for families etc if they are elligible.You didnt mention this.Have you ever lived on this amount Lindsay?Where would you live?Would you want to live in a bad,crime ridden neighbourhood with children in your care?How would you like to live with a drug dealer across the road?A convicted paedophile next door who has just got out after 18 months in jail for raping his step children.His wife likes to invite the young children of the street in for biscuits and lollies?I bet you would not.That is the choice some have.Money can help you live in a better area and your children are then able to attend a better school.Life is nice in Eastbourne.Life is nice when you have a nice husband who cares about his family.Life is nice when nothing bad has happened to you or your family.I dont believe in long term welfare for single parents but I do believe in appropriate help to enable people to become independent.But I also dont think children should have to live in crime ridden neighbourhoods.

In essence I agree with this comment. Children having to live in crime ridden neighbourhoods and attend schools with children who are learning their criminal parents ways, but little else, too quickly is appalling. Yes, wages are too low and taxes are too high. More wealth redistribution through the labour market instead of via the government would improve that.

And I agree that I am lucky I live where I live and am married to who I am married to. But is that a reason not to speak out about the problems that the commentor accurately describes? I go into these neighbourhoods so I know they exist. And to a large extent they exist because of long-term welfare.

So detractor and I are actually on the same page. He or she just doesn't think I have any business writing to the newspaper expressing my views publicly. Perhaps he or she would prefer I buried my head in the sand I am lucky to have at the bottom of the street and forget about what life is like for some children. Adopt the ' I'm alright Jack' approach to life? Yes?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The cost of teenagers who end up in prison

This fact is contained in a report released by CYF yesterday:

"The estimated cost to society of the one percent of teenagers who end up in prison is around $3 million each over their lifespan."

There are very roughly 420,000 13-19 year-olds.

4,200 end up in prison.

At a cost of $12.6 billion.

I imagine the cost is based on youth and justice services, policing, incarceration, benefits. The time they spend locked up or on a benefit will probably span decades so $3 million looks entirely reasonable.

And this largely male group will father more offspring than average adding to the next generation of criminality and costs.

Slack, biased reporting

From Page 2 of Monday's Dominion Post:

A leading paediatrics academic has slammed the Welfare Working Group for not considering the well-being of children.

In an open letter to the Government, Professor Innes Asher said important issues were overlooked in the report and she urged that several of its recommendations be rejected.

Welfare cuts in 1991 drove children into poverty, not parents into work, and the same mistakes should not be made again, she said.

"The unpaid work of nurturing needs to be given high value - not just job-seeking and paid work. Parents of babies and young children should not be labelled job seekers."

The Welfare Working Group, led by Paula Rebstock, suggested current benefits be replaced by a universal Jobseekers Support allowance and that all but the very sick be forced to look for work.

It also recommended beneficiary parents be forced to look for work once their youngest child was 14 weeks old, the Government has ruled that out but it was not clear whether it would set a later age, such as 12 months. The current requirement kicks in once a youngest child is three.


My response published today under the headline Poverty is not the problem:

Dear Editor

A recent piece about Professor Innes Asher's open letter to the government which "slammed the Welfare Working Group for not considering the well-being of children," contains a number of inaccuracies about work-testing proposals and current arrangements for sole parents. The 14 week recommendation applied to beneficiaries who continue to add children to an existing benefit. The "current requirement kicks in" when the youngest child is 6, not 3 as reported.

Innes Asher believes that material poverty is putting children of beneficiaries at risk. However, the poorest New Zealanders are actually Asians. Asian children are not routinely beset with health and other social problems.

The reason the WWG targetted sole parents is because at least a third began on the DPB as teenagers. Their chances of leaving welfare are the lowest;and their children have multiple disadvantages primarily caused by familial dysfunction, not poverty.

Increasing benefit payments - Asher's solution - will only lead to more people going on welfare. This has been shown by numerous overseas studies.

The problem for children is not poverty. It is the often chaotic, unstructured and unsafe environments that long-term welfare enables.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Someone I admire

My volunteering went into suspension when I got back into my art full time. But I keep in touch with one ex-client - now a very good friend. When I met her she had never had a job, had been on the DPB around 20 years. I would spend a morning with her once a week initially on practical stuff, getting the household functioning etc. The trust built between us gradually. On my birthday we went to the local pub, played pool and drank raspberry lemonade and hot chocolate. She has a really mean right arm and while a much flashier player than me not as consistent. But you can picture the incongruity of the two of us - someone who had lived on the streets as a teenager while I'd enjoyed (took for granted) a cossetted upbringing.

About two years into our relationship she rang to say she had gotten a job! I was almost disappointed because it would mean curtailing my visits. Naturally though I was as excited as she was but privately cautious about whether she could hold it down.

Three years on and she is still there. I pick her up from work at lunchtime and we go to the local McDonalds. She regales me with the latest gossip. Nearly got the sack when she got into a scuffle with an old enemy from the street days who recognised her at work. I say, workplace or not, walk away. That's the smart, clever thing to do. I am always trying to get her to redefine what is smart; how she can get the edge on someone. What works in her value system.

Now working she gets her family tax credit in a lump sum. Flush yesterday she had decided she needs to get her youngest daughter on-line. She recognises that the daughter is becoming disadvantaged school-wise. So I give her some advice about laptops, vodems etc. She doesn't have a landline so a pre-paid vodem will be perfect.
It's a buyers market, I impress on her. Make sure you get the best deal you can. Ten percent discount might be a hundred bucks left in your pocket. Imagine how many smokes that'll buy.(Yeah, yeah, maybe not in her best interests but as she always says, she can't be perfect. Better is enough.)

I get two texts in quick succession last night. Can't get the sim card in the t-stick. She has a telecom version I am unfamiliar with. I ring and am no help but she manages to sort through the initial problem on the 0800 number. Then she stumbles when trying to register. She has no e-mail address!! Of course she hasn't. This is the first computer she has ever owned. She can't get on-line to get an e-mail address if she can't register. Imagine the frustration. Mr 0800 can't talk her through this one. He keeps going on about dot com dot com she says.

OK. I will get you an address and ring you back with it. That I do and find myself explaining what @ looks like and how to hold down the shift key and punch in the number 2. Unfortunately she cannot even get back to the invitation to register now.

Tomorrow she will be back at ______'s getting them to show her how to use the equipment they sold her. It reminds me of the Plunket carseat service. I watched the women who ran that asking Pacific mothers if they knew how to install the seat. The Pacific people, as is sometimes their way, would compliantly, nod and smile without a clue. Probably did it myself but my English is strong enough to be able to follow written instructions. The Plunket people, happy to take the money, if at all in doubt, should have showed hirers how to use the seats safely.

Anyway, last nights episode brought the 'digital divide' home to me. I am very pleased that my friend is getting her child into a world that is totally foreign to her. And my admiration for the way she has increasingly assumed responsibilities over the past three to four years is genuine. Her childhood experiences would have sent most down a path they would never get off. Yes she had more than once been her own worst enemy but if her eventual move to greater independence and responsibility could be replicated across the country NZ would be a hell of a lot better off. She gives me hope and sustenance.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Disadvantaged youth report relies on incorrect data

A report about disadvantaged youth in NZ contains incorrect data.

The teenage birth rate for 2008 (December quarter) was 33 per 1,000 - not somewhere around 22.

The NZ Institute has relied on OECD data. I have previously written to the OECD pointing out their errors in this particular table but it remains uncorrected. The US total was also considerably higher at 41.5 percent.

Don't have time now to look at the other statistics. They may be OK but I have long since decided not to rely on the OECD Family Database. And the NZ Institute could have easily cross-checked the NZ statistic with Statistics New Zealand.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Transparent Labour strategies fall flat

When the Capital Gains Tax was a 'good news' story Goff was fronting it (and it was getting as much media chat and talkback before the official announcement as after). It struck me that Clark used to leave it to her Finance Minister Cullen to talk economic matters. But it was Goff constantly fronting on the 'game-changer' - the CGT.

Now it has failed to revive Labour in the polls, finance spokesman David Cunliffe is suddenly the face. Looks like a very transparent strategy. Strategies that treat people like fools deserve to fall flat. Probably more from the maladroit Mallard.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

A very disturbing account

If you have the time today watch the DVD Family First has just released about cases where parents have been dragged through the courts for 'assault' on their children. I saw the film at the conference and it has impact. After the film had finished three of the couples involvd actually took the stage. These are real people whose lives have become a disorientated nightmare.

These are people whose natural impulse was to tell CYF or the police exactly what had happened in the belief that reasonable fellow adults would be able to put their actions in context. That telling the truth would be the best course of action.

It wasn't. And if you have a look at what 10 lawyers are saying now, if CYF or the police turn up on your doorstep with an accusation of 'assault' on your child, or another, say nothing.

That is the world we live in. Our best and honest instincts must be surpressed because the state cannot be trusted. We rail against cases like the Kahuis where witnesses clammed up but are discovering that we must do the same. In the first instance at least.

So well-intentioned sorts who believe if you have nothing to hide the law can only be your friend, think again.