Saturday, December 10, 2011

Bennett losing Waitakere - wear it as a badge of honour Paula

Sue Bradford stood for Mana in Waitakere to play up welfare hysteria. Carmel Sepuloni was the feasible Labour candidate able to represent the anxieties Bradford stirred. Labour also did some shitty things to stir up fear and paranoia among beneficiaries. In the face of these two influences it is hardly surprising that a welfare-reforming Minister half serious about the job would lose electorate votes.

Sepuloni and Bennett were both single mothers on a benefit when they were younger.

Sepuloni fights in the left corner that tends to idealise DPB rcipients, their needs and motivations. She wants higher benefit payments, greater state assistance for training and education while on the DPB, and no work-testing. Hers is the social development vision that sees single parents as an inevitable part of the social fabric in need of state help to lead succesful lives.

Bennett fights in the right corner that has cognisance of all groups on the DPB but focuses on the young, vulnerable and lifestyle recipients. Bennett wants welfare to be the safety net it once was rather than the career (too respectable a word) choice it has become. She has no blinkers on and has managed to stay staunch (unlike Katherine Rich), while retaining her humanity.

Surely she will retain the portfolio. She deserves to.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Newspaper or junkmail?

Is it any wonder newspaper circulation is declining when they resemble junkmail more and more? Who wants to pay for what often gets thrown in the bin before it ever crosses the doorstep anyway?

In the first ten pages of today's DomPost page 4 is 100 percent ads; page 5 is 50 percent; 6 is 80 percent as is 7; 8 is 100 percent; 9 is 80 percent; 10 100 percent.

Throw in the ads on the first three pages and the total advertising space is over two thirds.

"Disgracefully simplistic, emotionally manipulative"

Karl du Fresne rips into Bryan Bruce's child poverty documentary describing it as "a disgracefully simplistic, emotionally manipulative programme." His column was published in the DomPost on Monday.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Only Greens can now do hysteria over "privatisation"

On the back of ACT's Confidence and Supply Agreement the Greens have been crying foul.

Privatising welfare not the answer: National and ACT’s moves to corporatise welfare will cost New Zealand more money for worse outcomes, the Green Party said today.

Labour cannot take this line of attack because during their term the Ministry of Social Development was contracting out services left, right and centre.

Radio Rhema asked me to do an interview on the subject with Aaron Ironside and have subsequently used a soundbite in their Shine TV Headlines (starts 00:34).

As I said in a previous post the Ministry already contracts to 150 employment services providers.

Hone 'Mana' Harawira on Whanau Ora and "shackin' up with the Devil"

Harawira puts the boot in:

The Maori Party is on the road - asking their members to let them go back into coalition with National because both Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples are desperate to not leave Parliament with the dodgy record that they have at the moment (Pete also said that he needs his ministerial salary to pay the mortgage on his new house).

Turia’s flagship was Whanau Ora. Launched after a big build-up by the Prime Minister himself, Whanau Ora got maximum publicity and became a new phrase in the public domain but in fact got very little.

Originally proposed as a $1 billion Maori welfare restoration programme, jealous Government Ministers forced Turia to turn it into a programme for all New Zealanders immediately reducing its effectiveness.

And then the budget got slashed to $134 million forcing Turia to have discretionary funding pulled from Maori providers around the country to prop up Whanau Ora, leading many to cut staff and at least one major provider, Amokura, to shut up shop all together. Before Whanau Ora came along, Amokura was one of Tura’s favourite Maori providers. After Whanau Ora it was dead.

Whanau Ora will limp on because Tariana is tough, but with limited funding it has become one of those programmes that Maori say is ‘designed to fail’.


Watch for the Maori Party comeback. They are donkey-deep in a 'damned if they do and damned if they don't' position.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

ACT's C & S welfare concessions

As part of the confidence and supply agreement ACT has secured the following:

The implementation in this parliamentary term of the Welfare Working Group recommendations 27: Parenting obligations, 28: Support for at-risk families, 30: Income management and budgeting support, and 34: Employment services.

What are they?

Recommendation 27: Parenting obligations

a) The Welfare Working Group recommends that every recipient receiving a welfare payment who is caring for children be required to meet the following expectations:
i. ensure their children are attending school when they are legally required to;
ii. ensure their children participate in approved early childhood education once their child reaches three years of age; and
iii. ensure their children complete the 12 free Wellchild/Tamariki Ora health checks, which include completion of the immunisation schedule, unless they make an informed choice not to;
and that failure to meet these expectations after efforts to address reasons for non-compliance would result in the recipient’s income being managed by a third-party or some other means, such as a payment card; and
b) The Welfare Working Group recommends that systems be put in place to measure and monitor the compliance with the expectations set out in a) above.

Recommendation 28: Support for at-risk families
The Welfare Working Group recommends that:
a) all teenage parents under the age of 18 and other parents of at-risk families be required to participate in an approved budgeting and parenting programme and that access be provided to these programmes free of charge;
b) an assessment of risk to the well-being of children should form part of a more systematic assessment of long-term risk of welfare dependency and provide a basis for intervention through participation in intensive parenting support;
c) at-risk families and whānau with complex needs be provided with wrap-around services, preferably by single, integrated providers which address family and whānau needs as a whole. These programmes need to be responsive to Māori through culturally appropriate, holistic, and whānau-centred solutions. In addition, they need to meet the needs of other parts of the community, such as Pacific, migrant and refugee communities; and
d) at-risk families participating in an intensive early intervention parenting programme have access to quality early childhood education and childcare services from 18 months of age, as currently provided through Family Start.

Recommendation 30: Income management and budgeting support
The Welfare Working Group recommends that in situations where a parent receiving welfare has shown they have a clear need for budgeting support due to repeated difficulties in managing their budget, such that their child or children’s well-being is put at risk:
a) the person be given access to budgeting support services;
b) Government consider using a third party to manage the person’s income, on the understanding that that this income management would cease once the person has demonstrated their capacity to manage their assistance; and/or
c) this may entail provision of a ‘payment card’ programmed for use only on essential items, to ensure that children’s needs are properly met.

Recommendation 34: Employment services
The Welfare Working Group recommends that:
a) employment services be based on contestable, outcome based contracts; and
b) contract referral processes and contract payment structures be designed to financially incentivise contractors to achieve positive outcomes for those with greatest risk of long-term dependency.

A lot of this is already in place.

Private contracted employment services that work with the hardest to place. At August 2011 150 service providers were contracted to assist around 15,000 clients to find employment.

Contracted budgeting services. In 2009 83 members of the NZ Federation of family Budgeting were contracted to MSD to provide budgeting services.

Payment cards is National's policy for young beneficiaries. Once they are available I have no doubt they will be extended to other beneficiaries as per the Australian operation.

Beneficiaires are already sent to parenting programmes. I had a client who went on one (which seemed of dubious quality.)

Analysis of the Family Start programme based in Christchurch showed some gain for children of beneficiaries but not for parents. As I blogged a couple of days ago intervention that is not wanted (compulsory) can further entrench parents in a siege mentality which may put their children at greater risk. So I am very dubious about complusion. I concluded that post with the following:

But I keep coming back to two broad propositions for the state, which will continue to monopolise the problem for some time yet. It has got to stop incentivising childbirth and start incentivising prevention. Stop paying people to have children and start paying them not to. And it has got to stop counselling against adoption and get more children into stable and loving homes from the outset.

The massive escalating intervention - private, public or a mix - is usually too much, too late.

The concessions extracted by ACT represent more intervention and more paternalism which it can be argued are necessary on the back of an extensive benefit system that pays young women to become mothers.

They do not represent a reduction of the benefit system itself.

National's policy of worktesting mothers when their youngest child is 5 (or 1 if the child has been added to the benefit) better represents a reduction in the availability of benefits. ACT should have (and may have) pushed for the age to be lower, afterall they have extracted the promise that parents on benefits must ensure their children participate in approved early childhood education once their child reaches three years of age. Or time limits which was always part of their policy in the past.

Between them there is still no resolve to actually stop the welfare incentives that give New Zealand the second highest teen birthrate in the developed world.

Monday, December 05, 2011

More half-truths from Labour

In response to John Banks getting the Associate Education Ministership Labour's Education spokesperson Sue Moroney says:

John Key has used a bogus agreement with ACT to bring in education policies promoting bulk funding and privatisation that National were working on before the election, but did not tell voters about, Labour’s Education spokesperson Sue Moroney says.

“News today that the confidence and supply agreement between ACT and National includes plans to push on with a trial charter school system will come as a shock to most Kiwi parents.

“The ‘charter school’ proposal is bulk funding in drag. It is a model that has been blamed for the decline in educational achievement in Sweden.

An overview of trends in government in Sweden 2011 contains the following:

In Sweden, the proportion of pupils at compulsory school attaining the set knowledge targets, i.e. passing in all subjects, is rising.

On the other hand, surveys carried out in the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) shows that the proportion of 15-year-olds with poor reading ability increased from 12.6% to 17.4%, while the pupils' results in mathematics and science deteriorated, between the 2003 and 2009 surveys.

The proportion of pupils eligible for the national study programmes at upper secondary school decreased, mainly among pupils whose parents'education ended before upper secondary school.

The proportion of young people aged 20–24 who have completed upper secondary school in Sweden rose from 86% in 2000 to 88% in 2008. The corresponding EU averages were 77% and 78%. The proportion of Swedish pupils leaving upper secondary school with basic eligibility for higher education rose from 85% to 91% during the same period.

The number of students attaining first and higher degrees and diplomas in higher education, as well as PhDs, in the period 2000–09, increased. At the same time, the level of achievement in basic higher education fell slightly.

A mixed picture but hardly an all-out decline.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Child victims - no cut and dry answers

Three stories drew my attention today. Child death and child neglect and child neglect.

For ten years I have racked my brain over what can be done to either improve the lot of children who are born into circumstances of material and spiritual impoverishment, or reduce the likelihood of it happening in the first place. Initially I looked at the problem theoretically and philosophically, then I got involved at a political level, then a practical level for a number of years. And still I find myself without a single hard and fast answer.

I was prompted to reflect on this after a conversation yesterday with someone who continues to work for the community organisation I was a volunteer for. She told me that it has expanded significantly but wasn't necessarily more effective. Government funding was good but they were now getting compulsory referrals from CYF making the job different and difficult. In the past referrals came in on a voluntary basis which meant clients were amenable - well, initially at least. So the need is growing but the private/public mix isn't the silver bullet.

Scene-set. The CYF caseworker refers dysfunctional families to a community organisation that can provide volunteer mentoring. The government saves taxpayer money by harnessing an unpaid workforce. But to the dysfunctional family this new intrusion presents just another hurdle they have to jump over to continue to receive a benefit (or perhaps keep custody of a child). That's my take on it anyway. Every client I ever had in 5 years was on a benefit.

The idea that people need to meet criteria to receive state support is inherently a conservative one. What pains me about it is it legitimises state support where it shouldn't. But even worse it pushes already damaged people further into a 'them and us' mindset, a feeling of sullen resentment and alienation which drives an instinct to rebel and reject. That manifests in the way they treat their children.

So not only are we back to square one but possibly minus square one. The children are probably even more vulnerable than they were before extra pressure was brought to bear on (usually) the single mother.

Time pressure doesn't allow me to return to my volunteering and on the basis of what was described to me, I wouldn't want to.

But I keep coming back to two broad propositions for the state, which will continue to monopolise the problem for some time yet. It has got to stop incentivising childbirth and start incentivising prevention. Stop paying people to have children and start paying them not to. And it has got to stop counselling against adoption and get more children into stable and loving homes from the outset.

The massive escalating intervention - private, public or a mix - is usually too much, too late.