Saturday, January 21, 2012

Rodney Hide hosts talkback

Rodney Hide co-hosted the Radio Live Willie Jackson and JT show yesterday, standing in for John Tamihere . Anyone familiar with the show expects Willie to get over-excited and combative and he was. That makes it nigh on impossible to have a measured discussion, which was especially so given the topic of conversation - the Ports of Auckland. But Rodney wasn't letting Jackson out-shout him. Freed up from representing a party or the government he was throwing the BS word liberally at his co-host. But in typical Hide-style following it up by explaining why.

Prior to that discussion, which dominated the programme, Willie asked Rodney whether Gareth Morgan should have paid for the Blanket Man's funeral. That's his business Rodney replied. Willie asked, "But did he do it for publicity?" "Yes" said Rodney. "Otherwise why would you ring the paper to tell them about it. If you didn't want the publicity you would pay for it anonymously." Quite.

Jackson canvassed the melt-down of ACT probing how Rodney had handled it. How tough it had it been emotionally.  "Nobody died," Rodney shot back, "Living through the Christchurch earthquakes is tough. Losing a loved one. That's tough." He was upbeat on the new opportunities ahead. I had a sense that his refusal to sob over spilt milk frustrated Jackson.

But he did relate a discussion he'd had with Don Brash about Don's publicly-stated goal of getting 15 percent of the vote as ACT leader. He apparently counselled Brash to scale it back and over-deliver. But Don was adamant that as he had taken National to however many percent of the vote in 2005 he could expect as much for ACT. Rodney said Don couldn't understand that it wasn't his vote.

Of course the tired 'R' words - raving right-winger, rich mates, red neck, racist, radical - labels were getting a fair airing from callers and Jackson. Rodney tried to get Jackson to see that it is he, Willie, that has a closed mind. That he was  raised on socialism and can't look at matters any other way. "There is no space in your head for different ideas." Then he called him a lefty-liberal pinko. It was quite jolly.

What I most enjoyed was Hide's lack of hesitation in calling-out talkers on real racism and ignorance. One man bemoaning foreigners taking all the jobs was reminded very firmly that when he needed medical care  he would likely find himself relying on a foreigner. And would be glad of it.

When asked how NZ First and Winston would work out he said Winston won't work. He doesn't work. He is lazy. The laziest MP.

It was mentioned that Rodney was at Lincoln University with David Shearer. He said he oversaw Shearer's PhD work.

That's most of what I can remember. With my on and off attention span it might not be totally accurate. I was listening through one earphone, writing an article and dealing with the odd customer simultaneously. If you want to check it out you can.

I look forward to him co-hosting with John Tamihere who is far more erudite  than Willie and a better match for Hide's intellect. Or even better. Hosting solo.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Families receiving welfare - NZ versus US

Attempting to follow the progress of the US welfare reforms can be difficult simply because Americans mean different things when they use the terms 'government benefits' and 'welfare'. It is correct to believe that there is far less cash welfare to families than before the 1990s reforms. But headlines like this, "Nearly half of US Households receive government benefits" appear to contradict that.

Not included in 'welfare' are benefits like unemployment (funded through payroll taxes), supplemental social security (funded through social security taxes) food stamps, housing subsidies and Medicaid (health provision for the poorest).

The last sentence of the following NCPA summary is the one that interests me most:

Nearly Half of U.S. Households Receive Government Benefits

The pool of Americans relying on government benefits rose to record highs last year as an increasing share of families tapped aid in a weak economy, says the Wall Street Journal.
Expanding government programs combined with the worst downturn since the Great Depression have led to an explosion in the share of Americans relying on outside help.
  • Some 48.6 percent of the population lived in a household receiving some type of government benefit in the second quarter of 2010, up a notch from 48.5 percent in the first quarter, according to Census data.
  • To combat prolonged economic weakness, Congress extended unemployment benefits to a record 99 weeks (up from the normal 26-weeks offered in most states).
  • The food stamp program was tweaked so it was more generous.
  • Americans flocked to Social Security disability, a last bastion of support for some of the long-term unemployed.
The largest chunk of benefits flowing to families came from means-tested programs.
  • In the second quarter, 34.4 percent lived in a household benefiting from food stamps, subsidized housing or Medicaid, among others.
  • That number is up from 32.8 percent a year ago (when a total of 46.8 percent of the population lived in a home receiving benefits).
  • The biggest increases came from an uptick in those turning to food stamps and Medicaid.
  • Nearly 15 percent of Americans lived in a household receiving food stamps in mid-2010; almost 26 percent had access to Medicaid.
Only a small share of the population accessed cash welfare benefits as the 1990s overhaul made it more onerous in many cases to receive and maintain those payments.  Some 1.9 percent of the population lived in a household that received welfare in the second quarter of 2010.

Latest figures from the US Government Accountability Office show the following:

Only 5 percent of the families receiving cash assistance are two parent so the figures relate mainly to single parent. 1.9 million families just happens to coincide with around 1.9 percent of the US population (x 1.9 million families by 3/ 308 million total population). If we compared NZ DPB figures from June 2010 using the same formula the result would be 7.6 percent of the total population (x 112,000 families by 3/ 4.4 million total population) . Much higher despite our unemployment rate being considerably lower - 6.6 percent (NZ) versus 8.5 percent (USA).

(My calculations do not take into account a number of details and are non-specific but they serve the purpose of making a broad comparison between the two countries.)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Guest Post: Cuts to CalWorks

Cuts to welfare budgets have become a reality across nations. A reality that NZ has so far avoided. Elaine Hirsch looks at cuts to California's Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) programme, CalWorks:

Scheduled Cuts to CalWorks

The state of California was among the hardest hit by the bursting of the subprime housing bubble and the events which followed: a global financial crisis, national recession, and a weak economic recovery. As a result, annual revenue plunged and the budget deficit exploded, reaching a peak of $40 billion for the fiscal year 2009-10. Since taking office in January 2011, Democratic governor Jerry Brown has sought to impose fiscal discipline on the budgetary process through a combination of cuts to social services and higher education. Among these were cuts to CalWorks (California’s welfare program) the program which moves poor families from temporary financial assistance to work.

According to the non-profit advocacy group
California Budget Project, these changes include an overall cut to CalWorks of about $1 billion (16% of its budget,) an 8% cut for direct cash assistance to needy families, a lowering of the earning limit for enrollees (from 112% of the poverty line to 88.7%,) a reduction of the lifetime cap from 5 to 4 years, and cuts to welfare-to-work transitional programs such as child care and job training. The cuts are expected to have a significant impact on many families, especially parents who may be forced to drop out of state-funded job training programs without yet having secured a job. Although these cuts will hurt public sentiment in the short run, it will also be a source of motivation for individuals to seek out new education opportunities such as community colleges or online MBA programs. Another significant budget decision was the one year suspension of Cal-Learn, the program which paid for transportation and other costs for pregnant and parenting teens to complete high school.

Non-profits such as
Catholic Charities have struggled to meet the increased need. Its Los Angeles chapter, for example, saw a 21% increase in clients during 2008-09, and another 13% increase in 2009-10. The charity maintained its budget by increasing its appeals to foundation grants and private donations, as well as relying more heavily on volunteers. The United Ways of California is also preparing for greater demand for services, criticizing the proposed cuts and predicting that many California children would lose access to health care as a result.

Non-profit partnerships with counties are responding to the changes as well. The Community Services Agency, for example, which partners with Stanislaus County to administer the county's CalWorks programs (StanWorks), has used $3.4 million in state funding to hire an additional 41 employees to stem the tide. Positive responses from private-sector entities are a much-welcomed sight to see during times of fiscal deficits.

Though cuts to CalWorks have saved the state approximately $3.5 billion since 2008, including about $940 million projected for fiscal year 2011-12, the most recent budget cuts are only accelerating a long term trend. Since 1996, when legislation signed by President Clinton converted the federal welfare program into a block grant for states and implemented welfare-to-work standards for those receiving assistance, the percentage of the state's budget devoted to welfare has fallen by more than 50%, according to
Jean Ross of the California Budget Project.

Unfortunately, many of the federal law's provisions which were friendliest to needy families -- such as subsidized child care, job training, and other support for families in transition -- have been scaled back due to the new fiscal reality. It is highly questionable whether the budget can ultimately be balanced by cuts to social services that so many families depend on. Rather, the true measure of the state's fiscal health is its long-term economic outlook. The one number from Governor Brown's 2011 budget that politicians made the most of is 4, as in $4 billion in additional revenue projected over the next fiscal year. That's the rosy scenario the Governor is counting on to make the numbers work as the state tends to its future.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Poverty. The word for 2012.

Had enough of it yet? Take a deep breath because the word 'poverty' is going to sound like a stuck record this year.

I respect David Fergusson and the research he does but today's report from the NZ Herald made me baulk at a couple of comments:
"It could be that competent, bright families transmit their skills to their children and also earn higher incomes.

"It could also be that being bred in a high-income family provides children with role models and resources for both educational achievement and career success."

Is there any need for the "could" in either of those sentences? I know that academics have to split hairs and become almost paralysed by preciseness but the results sound antithetical to common sense.

Professor Fergusson said children being born in poor families today might face even worse outcomes than their parents born in the 1970s and 80s because of the greater disparity in earnings.
I agree with the first part. Children born today are more likely to be born to an unpartnered mother, more likely to lack a working role model, more likely to have a parent affected by drugs and alcohol and more likely to spend a longer time on welfare than if they had been born in the 1970s and 80s. But I wouldn't prioritise disparity in incomes (let's not call them "earnings" when many are not) .

 The study results are reported in a newsletter published by Children's Commissioner Dr Russell Wills, who has said that attacking child poverty should be the first of seven goals in an "action plan" arising out of a Government paper on vulnerable children.
There they go again. Come back to the fact that plenty of children in 'poor' families do well, especially those from Asian and Pacific families. Stop focusing on poverty per se but the differences between various poor families and the source of their incomes. You already know that when incomes are low and similar, the children from benefit-dependent homes have worse outcomes.

But let's finish on a positive note:
Professor Fergusson said the study showed that income inequality and behavioural issues, such as parents' addictions, both had to be tackled to fix social problems. "For example, increasing the income of substance-using parents may be counter-productive since it will give them more access to purchasing alcohol or drugs," he said.
Which is a perfect example of why simply lifting the benefits of parents is no panacea. There is no guarantee the extra income will be used on the children. But that was the policy of The Maori Party, The Greens and belatedly, Labour. Thank goodness they lost.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Why do people get wound up about child abuse and neglect?

I am tossing up whether to make a submission on the government's Green Paper on Child Abuse and Neglect. 

I spent an hour or so looking over their "Children's Action Plan"  and my shoulders slumped, progressively.

On the front page of the website it says, "Every year an average of 10 children die at the hands of the people closest to them, the people they love and trust."

My first reaction was to the words "love and trust". Do we really believe children love and trust the people who abuse or neglect them to the point of death? Who wrote that bit of fluff?

Then I thought about the number. Ten. A lot more children die from drowning, transport accidents, cancer, etc than ten, yet child abuse and neglect is the issue that really gets people going. The monologue in my head says, that's because it is only the tip of the iceberg. We all know that thousands are living pretty shitty lives and will go on to become pretty shitty parents.

Or is it guilt? Because people buy the poverty-causes-abuse argument so feel somehow shame-faced that they have, others have-not, so they are, by implication, responsible? In many cases I suspect so.

But then there is the other group not buying into the proposition and feeling angry that they are getting the blame for "New Zealand's shameful statistics".  They are equally wound up.

Why do I get wound up? If I don't know how can I make a submission? People would think I should know by now. But the reasons have changed or taken different priority over the years.

Back in 2001 I would get highly emotional about what a child had suffered. Probably because I was a mum with a young child. That's the mindset mums of babies are in.

But now I am more clinical. I guess the overriding feeling is anger. And that isn't even directed at the useless perpetrators. What's would be the point of that? Punishment and string 'em up responses have never been my cup of tea. Unless fury and horror can be harnessed and provoked amongst the peers of the parents it only serves to create more them and us, alienation, resentment and greater risk for the children.

No. My anger is directed at the establishment. The academics, the professionals across the justice and social work arena, government agencies and politicians. Because of their wilful ignorance of elephants in rooms.

Self-interest in a civil society is good. It leads to the willing exchange of goods, services and IDEAS. But in a society funded by government it is bad. And those charged with the well-being of children are in a government funded society. Paid to talk, paid to analyse, paid to practice, paid to plan, paid to liaise, paid to make policy, paid to protect their own patch, paid to perform. They think they want to change the world but the very core of their necessary self-interest is dictated by responsibility to the state. This prevents change from happening. Because they are wedded to the idea that the state is the ultimate provider and no-one must want. They are horrified at the thought of just leaving people to find their own solutions. They can't accept that if the state fails to step into the breach someone else might. Or, even more radical, the breach might not even open up.

So I am on a different planet to those who say they want to hear me.

Stop asking me what I want the state to do. Bugger off and do nothing.  Even 'less' would be better. Perhaps I should submit a single sentence. In the case of child welfare and state intervention, less is more.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Farm pics...

...look like they need a caption. I want to do a rather grand Te Horo Turneresque landscape with cows. But son and I got a bit carried away with the close-ups. Is there a nicer, more peaceful way to spend time on a balmy summer's day than quietly sitting amongst the cow paddies and flies, inviting and allowing close inspection on both sides?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Colonisation and crime

Just a brief comment.

There are many reasons put up for why Maori make up half of the prison population in 2012. Some say it has to do with colonisation. Yet when colonisation was a nearer event historically, Maori were not  disproportionately represented in prison. I suppose the counter argument would go, the impacts of colonisation are compounding.

From the 1929 Official NZ Yearbook:

The following table shows the sexes and ages of distinct prisoners received into prison under sentence during the year 1927, and distinguishes between Maoris and others:—
Age, in Years.Excluding Maoris.Maoris.Including Maoris.
Under 20178211992512620322225
20 and under 253021031249..     4935110361
25 “ 30 “344123562422636814382
30 “ 35 “3161433014..     1433014344
35 “ 40 “311223338..     831922341
40 “ 45 “272202923..     327520295
45 “ 50 “266142806..     627214286
50 “ 55 “189819752719410204
55 “ 60 “14641501..     11474151
60 “ 65 “59160..     ..     ..     59160
65 “ 70 “362381..     137239
70 “ 75 “11112..     ..     ..     11112
75 “ 80 “6..     6..     ..     ..     6..     6
80 and over..     ..     ..     ..     ..     ..     ..     ..     ..     
Not stated3..     32..     25..     5

Maori made up 5.3 percent of the prison population and just under 5 percent of the total population. (Yes, many more Maori lived rurally and may have never come to the attention of European authorities.)

To view table in its entirety go here.