Thursday, June 16, 2016

Make benefit system open slather

That's what barrister Catrionna MacLennan is essentially recommending in today's NZ Herald referencing the social security legislation rewrite currently underway. My comments are interspersed below in orange:

Here is how we could improve our social welfare law;

1. Delete the purposes and principles sections from the bill and replace them with the statement "The purpose of this act is to ensure all New Zealanders in hardship receive the help they need and it is the responsibility of the Ministry of Social Development to do this."

Define hardship.

2. Make the reduction of poverty the aim of social welfare, rather than the current focus on reducing the number of beneficiaries.

Even Labour believes (or used to believe under Clark and Cullen) that paid employment is the best way out of poverty which is why they created the In Work Tax Credit. The current focus is getting people into work to reduce poverty.

3. Write into the bill a recognition of the value of parenting. At present, our welfare system is preoccupied with ensuring as many people as possible enter the paid workforce. This is a short-term approach and fails to take account of the long-term value to the community of parents spending time with their children. In addition, casual, very badly-paid work means that paid work is no longer a guaranteed route out of poverty.

Parents on welfare are far more likely to abuse or neglect their children. Children in a cohort who had contact with the benefit system before age two accounted for 83% of all children  for whom findings of substantiated maltreatment were recorded by age 5. More welfare will not equal better parenting. 

4. Delete section 70A from the bill. This sanctions women who cannot name the fathers of their children by docking their benefits - initially by $22 a week and later by $28. The main people this punishes are actually the women's children. They are already growing up in a financially-deprived household and further reducing the family's meagre income exacerbates that hardship.

Abolishing this disincentive would  increase the single parent benefit bill in two ways. By paying existing mothers who dot not name fathers more, and going forward, recouping  less money from the unnamed fathers of whom there would be far more. There are already  exemptions made from the Section 70A rule in unusual circumstances.

5. Require the Ministry of Social Development to provide all beneficiaries with all the assistance to which they are entitled. Currently, people seeking help face major difficulties in obtaining their legal entitlements. Research demonstrates that those accompanied by an advocate have a better chance of receiving assistance. Hundreds of people have queued in recent years to receive help from Auckland Action Against Poverty at "Impacts" in Mangere and elsewhere. Voluntary groups should not have to do the job a government agency is funded to carry out.

See 7 below

6. Delete the phrase "long-term welfare dependency" from the bill. This makes welfare a burden, rather than the responsibility of the community and an investment in the future wellbeing of New Zealanders.

In other words  stop differentiating between those people who use welfare as a temporary support (for which they paid taxes)  and those who remain on welfare for years, if not their entire working-age lives, as a matter of choice.

7. Write into law a provision that grants, advances on benefits and other additional assistance are not recoverable by MSD from beneficiaries. If people were not in desperate need, they would not be receiving such help. Requiring them to repay these amounts - as in the case of people staying in Auckland motels at the moment - merely pushes them further into hardship.

This is exceptionally foolish. Here the writer says that people would not be receiving grants etc if they "were not in desperate need." Earlier however she says MSD are not providing "all the assistance to which they are entitled." Which is it? No requirement to repay grants and advances would be open slather.

8. Stop sending mothers convicted of benefit fraud on the basis of a confusing and inconsistently-applied legal test to jail. As these women are already single parents, sending them to jail has disastrous consequences for their children, who end up deprived of both parents. In addition, if the debt established against them cannot be repaid within two years, it should be written off. That is what happens in other parts of our legal system. Pursuing them for the rest of their lives for debts they cannot repay means they can never improve their families' financial position.

So no repayments for grants and advances, no repayments for fraudulently acquired benefits, and now, no jail terms. Why not just issue every beneficiary with unlimited credit, and throw the rule book out the window?

9. Abolish Benefits Review Committees and establish an independent process for reviewing the ministry's decisions.

10. Make benefit rates liveable, rather than keeping them very low to punish those who cannot - for many reasons - either find or perform paid work.

How many times does it need to be demonstrated that a single parent receiving a basic benefit, family tax credits and accommodation supplement has an all-up income above the minimum wage. The average sole parent with two children living in South Auckland is receiving around $670 weekly. If she takes in a lodger or shares with another sole parent the household income will be even more "liveable".

Even the Greens wouldn't adopt this policy prescription. It's quite insane.


Anonymous said...

Item 2 - Does MacLennan define poverty? (This is something you've frequently covered before).
And does she offer any suggestions how social welfare ~ i.e. taxpayers, to the State, reduce poverty?
Your analysis is spot on and far more useful and charitable than the hand-wringing drivel that MacLennan has spouted


Don W said...

Ben Franklin observed, The more you do for people the less they do for themselves, the poorer they become. The less you do for people the more they do for themselves the richer they become. So true . The decades of ever expanding welfare has created an ever expanding under class.

Allan said...

your comments are so true. If welfare was the way out of poverty it would have disappeared the minute it was introduced. All that has happened is this crazy Social Welfare system that we have has created further problems. The more money that you throw at it the worse the situation gets.

Anonymous said...

Your last three words sum this up.


Iain H said...

Thanks Lindsay - well put! Saw the article but couldn't articulate my annoyance at her crass stupidity.

Anonymous said...

The benefit system is already open slather - especially the benefits for the codger-bludgers (old white peoples hi tend to vote) and of course state schools, hospitals, and doctors

The solution is simple: stop the lot. Not one more cent in any of it. ECON101. Anyone who advocates for benefits in any way should be treated as if they were arguing that the world is flat, that there are chemtrails, or that smoking doesn't cause cancer or germs cause disease: that is, wirh absolute disdain, ideally disenfranchisement on grounds of mental

paul scott said...

Superannuation as is will reach braking point soon, and so will welfare. Mclennan's wording of her proposals are hard to believe from a Barrister. It's just latter day sexism affirmation anyway.