Wednesday, October 23, 2013

CPAG: Paid work "a time-consuming farce"

 The Child Poverty Action Group has just released new data into the benefit sanctions regime which has operated since Labour introduced it and continues under National. Since 2010 however beneficiaries with dependent children can only lose 50% of their benefit which the Minister says has resulted in the number of people having their benefit cut entirely "reducing dramatically". That's not mentioned in the paper.

The use of sanctions to enforce what policymakers assume to be universally shared “social norms”(New Zealand Government, 2012, p. 4) is a new development... CPAG has argued elsewhere (Child Poverty Action Group, 2010) that trying to leverage outcomes in areas such as health and education is an improper use of the welfare system, which should be concerned with income support.

I would suggest that other agencies have found it difficult or impossible to "leverage outcomes" so using the benefit system is the next logical step.

In 2012 CPAG made an Official Information Act request asking what advice the Minister of Social Development had received in respect of the decision to impose obligations on sole parent beneficiaries. 17 According to an aide memoir dated 24 th May 2012, social obligations “reinforce and achieve important social objectives including better outcomes for vulnerable children and maintenance of law and order .” There was no supporting evidence that these “important social objectives” would be achieved, nor any explanation of why “maintenance of law and order” is an appropriate purpose for the welfare system.

Again existing "maintenance of law and order" is, at best, a partially unsuccessful affair. Many law breakers receive taxpayer-funded income support however. So to make that support conditional on behaving lawfully seems sensible and legitimate. "Appropriate" even.

Emphasising the reforms’ focus on achieving social goals rather than income support, the aide memoire notes: “By its nature, the benefit system provides an opportunity to improve social outcomes because it supports, primarily, lower socio-economic groups.” This highly loaded sentence suggests it is appropriate to use the benefit system to pursue better outcomes for “lower socio-economic groups” even though it is not clear who, exactly, is a member of this group or groups.

Anybody on a benefit is by definition a member of  a "lower socio-economic group". If they are'nt they are defrauding the benefit system.

The aide memoire cites a US study showing most welfare sanctions were for work test failures (61%) while only 15% were for obligation failures (such as children not attending school). This suggests that the behaviour of beneficiaries as a whole is not that different from the general population. Indeed, recent reports have highlighted “rich and poor families pulling their youngsters from school for travel” while the principal of a South Auckland school observes “older children sometimes missed school to help babysit or step in for parents who were working long hours” (Jones, 2013a). It is therefore difficult to see why beneficiary parents have been singled out for special treatment.

15% of all sanctions tells us nothing about the actual number or how it relates to the comparative population. Why not look at the data regarding the increased incidence of child abuse and neglect and then try the line, "It is therefore difficult to see why beneficiary parents have been singled out for special treatment." But I forget. CPAG don't accept that difference either.

Of all the benefit sanctions in 2012 (56427) only 15 percent (8286) applied to beneficiaries with children. Only 918 had their benefit suspended or cancelled. CPAG admits,
The majority of clients (520) who are sanctioned have sanctions imposed for up to four weeks, while a much smaller number (78) are sanctioned from 4-8 weeks, and a very few (25) are sanctioned for over 8 weeks.While the numbers are relatively small, the question remains as to how families cope with severely restricted incomes, especially over long periods.

CPAG nevertheless want to use this data to advocate that children of sanctioned beneficiary parents are in dire straits. That expectations and obligations upon their parents are highly unreasonable. That work is not the best way out of poverty. In fact, in some circumstances...

...paid work just becomes a time-consuming farce which is cost ineffective and harmful to the long term wellbeing of the children.

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