Saturday, June 28, 2014

Bye bye Bobby Womack

One of my all time favourites, Bobby Womack has just passed away aged 70. The Poet 11 was his best work. From that album here's American Dream:




"Horrible arrangements"

A version of the following column appeared in this morning's DomPost. An unorthodox view.

No matter how civilised a divorce is, it always makes children unhappy, says Penelope Leach, hurling a grenade into the cosy liberal consensus on the matter. The veteran child psychologist has infuriated fathers with her new book, Family Breakdown, in which she suggests that very small children whose parents separate should not stay overnight with the absent father (or mother). “You get situations,” Leach says, “where children are spending a week in Mum’s house and a week in Dad’s house and all kinds of horrible arrangements. I call them horrible because we do know that they are desperately wrong for children, who need the security of a place called home and who, when very little, shouldn’t be taken away overnight from what is usually the mother – the person they are attached to.”
Leach’s view flies in the face of evidence which shows, consistently, that it is better for the child to have regular contact with both parents, though she is right and brave to point out that divorce, which now affects nearly half of all marriages, is too often about the selfish interests of the parents, with children seen as property to be haggled over.


Friday, June 27, 2014

Very low tolerance for misuse of welfare funds

This is an intriguing story. 

Indiana spends $250 million on TANF (largely equivalent to our Sole Parent Support) in a population of 6.5 million. NZ spends 7 times more for a population 31 percent smaller.

But what really surprised me was the small numbers that followed.

$120,000 withdrawn from ATMs in no-go places like liquor stores in 2012.

$45,000 spent developing technology to stop it.

$400 a month to run the system.

These are highly motivated and efficient bureaucrats.

Of course there is nothing to stop people withdrawing cash elsewhere and still spending it on things like alcohol and tobacco. But TANF spending is already very low because the US moved towards a system of emphasis on in-kind assistance over cash. A lot of federal and state funds are spent getting people into work, job subsidies, Medicaid, food stamps, utility payments, housing subsidies, childcare etc. There's not that much cash splashing around.

Cutting Down on Welfare Abuse in Indiana

June 26, 2014
What has kept welfare recipients from spending taxpayer dollars on alcohol, slot machines and strip clubs? Very little, writes Jillian Kay Melchior for National Review, until Congress passed a bill in 2012 outlawing the use of benefits at such places and encouraging state governments to institute similar controls.
Indiana has been especially successful in its crackdown on unlawful use of welfare funds:
  • The state passed a law requiring ATM vendors to block withdrawals of cash benefits at certain restricted locations.
  • The Indiana Family and Social Services Administration spent $45,000 to develop technology that can match electronic-benefits-transfer (or EBT) transactions and track EBT users who have received warnings from the state's Alcohol and Tobacco Commission about unlawful withdrawals. Now, the technology costs less than $400 per month in monitoring, including staff time.
  • Welfare recipients who withdraw cash at an unlawful location receive a strongly worded letter, followed by a letter and investigation after their second offense and action by the local prosecutor after their third offense. Beneficiaries found guilty of unlawful withdrawals face a $500 fine and up to 60 days in prison.
The state began a major media mail campaign to inform residents of the new rules affecting Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) recipients. The new rules have been effective:
  • In 2012, Indiana TANF users withdrew more than $120,000 from ATMs with their EBT cards in liquor stores, strip clubs, tobacco shops, casinos, resorts, golf clubs and amusement parks.
  • In 2014, fewer than 15 first-time EBT violations have taken place each month, according to Indiana officials. Additionally, there have been less than 5 second-time offenses each month and only two third-time violations in all of 2014.
Of the $250 million in the state's TANF program, officials have identified less than $6,000 in unlawful fund use.
Source: Jillian Kay Melchior, "Welfare Abuse Almost Quelled," National Review, June 24, 2014.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Inter-generational welfare dependency

The statistical evidence for inter-generational welfare dependency is thin on the ground. But MSD has just released its Benefit System Performance Report (what a couple of weeks for reports).

Here's one finding that caught my eye:

About 90% of new 16-17 year old beneficiaries have been supported by main benefits at some time in their childhood
A lot of focus has rightly gone on young entrants because they have the greatest forward liability. Not just because of their age but the factors that contribute to their early reliance. When I delve into the actual report I may find data about just how long these newcomers had spent on their parent's benefit.

Some other findings:

  • While the number of people on Jobseeker and Sole Parent benefits has also been declining at a faster rate than the 2012 valuation projected, there has been a higher than expected rate of transition from Jobseeker – Work Ready to both the Jobseeker – HCID state and to Supported Living Payment.
  • A higher than expected rate of transfer to Supported Living Payment is also occurring from both Jobseeker – HCID and Sole Parents.

Essentially what this is describing is migration from work-tested unemployment benefits to non-work-tested disability benefits. It's the backlash to setting tougher work expectations.

The Future Focus changes were introduced from September 2010. They require reapplication for unemployment benefit every 52 weeks and place part-time work obligations on sole parents whose youngest child is aged five or more and full-time obligations if youngest child is aged 14 or more.
Both of these initiatives have led to a shorter average time spent on benefit for Jobseeker and Sole Parent clients of approximately one and a half weeks. There is no indication to date of an increase in the time spent off benefit for either group, which suggests greater focus is required to ensure off benefit outcomes are sustained.

More underwhelming results. If, for argument's sake, a sole parent is currently spending an average of 8 years dependent, the reforms have shaved off just a third of a percent.

Generally benefit numbers fell between the reporting dates - June 2012 and June 2013. Hence the estimated liability cost falls. But most of the decrease is in Jobseeker and Sole Parent and these are often the easy- to- place people. Many would have been temporarily unemployed due to the GFC. The 2014 (295,320 in March) numbers are still above what they were in March 2008 (255,754).

Doing National's job

National do little to explain or defend their 'child poverty'  position publicly. They'll answer questions in the house (which few people listen to) but don't strenuously explain why an employment strategy to reduce child poverty is the only effective choice. Avoidance of emotive, easily misconstrued or misunderstood issues might be a deliberate strategy.

Muriel Newman has never lost her determination to make change happen. And we regularly work together on expressing a view that is distinct from the Left.

My latest NZCPR article discusses Child Poverty in New Zealand, by Jonathon Boston and Simon Chapple.

This week’s NZCPR Guest Commentator, welfare researcher Lindsay Mitchell, has carefully read the book and shares her analysis with us. She refutes the claim that child poverty is the result of the benefit cuts in the nineties, demonstrating that supplementary assistance has risen at a faster rate than wages since that time. In particular she points out that increasing benefit levels would reduce the incentive to work.
“In my view, this is the crux of the matter. To maintain a margin between incomes from work and incomes from welfare, benefit payments should stay at their current level. However, greater efforts to get beneficiary parents into employment are paramount.
“It is particularly disappointing that the authors went back only to policies of the early 1990s to explain why child poverty increased so rapidly. I would take them back to 1973. After the domestic purposes benefit was introduced, the annual number of ‘unmarried births with no resident father’ grew from around 3,000 to reach around 12,000 by 1991. The numbers reliant on the DPB had rapidly grown to 97,000.  With a relatively generous benefit payment available the employment rate for sole mothers plummeted over the same period. When the state could no longer afford the same level of generosity and cut benefits, child poverty soared. Nevertheless, it was, and remains, the change in family structure that drove up child poverty.”

Muriel  takes on the Owen Glenn Report here.

The People’s Report is the first tranche of Sir Owen Glenn’s $2 million inquiry into child abuse and domestic violence.[3] Set up in 2012, the final report of the inquiry is expected to be published before the end of the year as a policy Blueprint.
While there will undoubtedly be some worthwhile policy suggestions from the inquiry, this first report (which summarises the experiences of around 500 victims, offenders, and frontline workers) appears to have been largely captured by ideological interests.
Three examples will suffice.
Firstly, the study seems to suggest that colonisation is a cause of domestic violence. It states: “Māori were once a people who held in high esteem their tamariki (children) and wāhine (women) because of the treasured roles they had in their whānau, hapū (sub-tribe) and iwi (tribe). Nevertheless, colonisation brought with it new ways, including privileging the place of men, which rendered women and children as their possessions. As Aotearoa was settled, new ways of treating children and women were introduced to Māori whānau and hapū, which included beating them. Some, but not all, Māori chose to adopt these new ways in their whānau as they were pressured to become assimilated with colonialists.”
It goes on to say,  the experience of colonisation is responsible for domestic violence, in that “these experiences broke down their wairua (spirit, soul) and their mana (status, control), making people feel whakamā (ashamed, embarrassed) and whakaiti (belittled) – some of which has survived in successive generations”.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A life we cannot comprehend

From time to time there are conversations and calls to talkback that justify why I listen. When the debate gets gritty most calls demand attention. But then one call will stop you still. It happened on Leighton Smith's show today.

The scissor attack in a Pacifc Christian South Auckland school, following a myriad of other recent violent incidents, prompted the conversation we have ad nauseam : Why?

A quietly spoken Samoan lady described her upbringing as seriously sexually abused and physically beaten by her palangi father from the age of three. Farmed out to father's friends for sexual gratification.

Leighton asked, where was your mother? She had left. Deserted the family to the father's custody.

When she confronted her mother years later, her mother said, "Better you than me. You were bred for him."

It gets worse. The caller went on to marry and have her own family.  But when her mother told the caller's  husband about the abuse, he declared her "used goods"  and walked out. Left her to raise the children alone. Which she has done well by all accounts.

How vicious and inhuman and self-indulgent and evil some people are.

(If you cared to listen her call crosses from the end of the 10.15-10.30 am quarter to the next)

Monday, June 23, 2014

Mallard's rejection of a list placing

It's understandable that Trevor Mallard has refused a place on Labour's list. Being dumped down the list sends an ambiguous signal to the public. Does the party have so much faith in him they think he's a shoo in for the electorate? Or do they not want a bar of him if he can't win the electorate?  I doubt it is the first. And bet Trevor does too. By refusing a place, the depth of the disrespect doesn't go public. And he salvages some pride. And frankly, why should he play their game? In fact, why not exercise some utu?

As a voter in Hutt South that's how I see it.

If voters want Trevor as their MP there is now zero utility in a Labour Party vote. They must give him their electorate vote leaving the party vote free for the government they want. It is not inconceivable that centre right voters would plump for Mallard (he isn't particularly left-wing) and give their party vote to National.
He'll be hoping that's the case. But it does nothing for Labour's total seats.

Yes, if he'd been low on the list a  party vote may also have been ineffective BUT most people won't check where he is. They will just know he is on it. This way Mallard can make a big deal about the electorate vote being the only one that will return him.

Trevor's choice is the right one for him. It's the wrong one for Labour.

Isn't this a great election?


In the interests of fairness and promotion of quality fiction, Trevor's version of events:
Mallard, the Hutt South MP, said he made the decision not go on on the list before the moderating committee met "in order to give people like Kelvin [Davis] a chance to be higher".
He said he did not pull his name based on where he expected to be put, saying his caucus ranking of 17 out of 34 MPs gave an indication of where he would fit on the list.
"It just gives him an advantage."
The decision was made in light of this year's changes to electorate boundaries which he says caused him to lose "more than half" of his 4825 majority in Hutt South.
"I've never ever taken an electorate for granted but I also really like being a constituency MP and only being a list one has no appeal at all."
Never stopped him using the list insurance in the past.

Conservative Party policies

The Conservative Party launched yesterday with an emphasis on these policies:

The headline policies of this campaign will be:
1. That referendum become binding on government,
2. That we stop dividing the country on the basis of race. All New Zealanders should have equal rights and privileges under the law
3. That we stop discounting justice. Those who commit crimes do the time they are sentenced to, with longer sentences for violent crimes, and a requirement that prisoner’s do some hard work to repay victims and society.
4. Simplify the tax system, closing loop holes, and the introduction of a tax free threshold that provides a tax break for all New Zealanders, not just the wealthy.

1/ Tyranny of the majority

2/ Absolutely although I would prefer to see the word 'responsibilities' substituted for 'privileges'.

3/  I like the idea of shortened sentences for good behaviour and demonstrated efforts to rehabilitate. On the other hand we have a serious problem with paroling dangerous people. I recently visited someone in prison who talked about the number of people he knew would re-offend on release. They were hellbent on pay back.

4/ Another I can't disagree with.

I hope Christine Rankin does stand. She's colourful and outspoken.

Update ACT criticises The Conservative Party tax policy here.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Discussing Child Poverty with Jonathon Boston

On National Radio today discussing child poverty with Jonathan Boston. There are interviews with three Year 13 students who have experienced low incomes in childhood, followed by an introduction to the book and our discussion (18.50).