Saturday, January 16, 2016

I got breathalyzed at 1pm on Friday

I got breathalyzed at 1pm on Friday, January 15. The result was "no alcohol".

But a couple of things gave me pause for thought.

In the Lower Hutt  area, a very busy bridge has been temporarily closed for maintenance, and a major diversion is in place. This afforded the perfect place to launch a drink/drive operation. I said to my daughter after we passed, "There are 20 cops there, yes?" She agreed. Some are placed pre- and post testing area (presumably to prevent people u-turning last minute). There are 3 directly testing, with others milling behind, and others around the place any 'positives' are taken to. There were probably 4 police cars stationed alongside  other support vehicles in a large grassy roadside area.

Firstly, the traffic diversion was not working well. One intersection, unused to so much traffic, was backing up badly and begging for a set of lights or a points-man. I thought that would have been  useful job for the traffic police. But no.

Second, I've been thinking about Article 21 and 22 of the NZ Bill of Rights. Why am I and others being subjected to arbitrary detention by the agents of the state that we pay to keep us safe from crime? To monitor and deal with people who would actively abuse personal or property rights? Who would maim and kill and leave innocent people scarred for life?

Third, I am not convinced that the new lower alcohol limit is making any difference at the sharp end. But it has allowed for more tax extortion  and more criminalization.

Crime isn't low enough for me to be happy for  law and order resources to be used this way. I doubt it ever would be. The exercise smacks of picking low-hanging fruit to squeeze revenue from, and general persecution of other road users who aren't fully compliant with state requisites.

Safety appears somewhere  on the list of objectives but not at the top.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Returning the compliment

Today's DomPost reports that Australia is watching New Zealand's welfare reforms (p2). Their government is apparently looking to NZ "for inspiration."

We should return the compliment and look to Australia for inspiration also.

(It seems there are moves afoot to push it even higher.)

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Quote of the Day

As relevant as ever:

It is the highest impertinence and presumption, therefore, in kings and ministers to pretend to watch over the economy of private people, and to restrain their expense.…They are themselves always, and without any exception, the greatest spendthrifts in society. Let them look well after their own expense, and they may safely trust private people with theirs.

– Adam Smith,
An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations [1776]

Hat tip FFF

Misery index low in US

This is a new concept to me. I suspect a NZ version may be quite similar. While our current unemployment rate is higher than the US (Sept - 6% vs 5.2%) our labour force participation rate is quite a bit higher. And both countries have low inflation which, according to Brookings, voters don't worry about like they used to.

Maybe people aren't that miserable. Not as miserable as New Zealand's opposition politicians would like them to be anyway.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

'Don't blame child poverty on tobacco and alcohol'

Embedded image permalink

The child poverty activists are especially busy at the moment. They are using the above graph to show that the poor are not spending more money on alcohol and tobacco than the rich. It follows then that expenditure on alcohol and tobacco is not a 'blame' factor in child poverty.

It is my experience that the 'poor' often prefer cannabis to alcohol but is there any evidence to back this?

Yes. Ministry of Health data shows that in the poorest quintile, 7 percent of adults use cannabis "at least weekly" compared to 1.6 percent in the wealthiest quintile.

But back to alcohol and tobacco. The low income groups relevant to child poverty are parents, sole mothers especially.   But the elderly living on Super alone will feature heavily in the lowest income deciles in the above graph quite possibly lowering the average alcohol and tobacco spend. If you look at tobacco usage among one group particularly pertinent to child poverty ie Maori mothers, their smoking rates and tobacco spending are much higher (albeit trending down).

Take the latest smoking during pregnancy data for the Hutt DHB:

From Counties-Manukau DHB the picture is similar:

And referring back to the data about cannabis use, "Māori women were 2.3 times more likely than non-Māori women to have used cannabis in the last 12 months".

If the activists consider alcohol and tobacco expenditure relevant to the issue, so is spending on cannabis. Also a more detailed analysis of expenditure on alcohol and tobacco by families with dependent children is necessary to draw any sound conclusion about its contribution or otherwise to child poverty.

New pastel

Updating my artist blog with a pre-Christmas pastel commission, Danny and Katie. Here's how it evolves:

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Why suppress evidence of welfare abuse?

Bear with me while I go back in time. The relevance will become apparent.

In 2011 work was undertaken on behalf of the Department of Labour (now the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment or MBIE) which involved matching data from the Household Labour Force Survey or HLFS (the official source of our unemployment rate) and Ministry of Social Development benefit data.

If individuals on the HLFS also receiving a benefit were providing accurate information to both departments - Statistics New Zealand and MSD - the data should provide no surprises, right?


The major finding of the paper was that, "About 40% of people on work-tested benefits may not be meeting their labour market obligations, as they appear to be either working too much or searching too little."

Despite being expected to maintain an "unrelenting focus" on getting work - as prescribed by law -  1 in 3 unemployment beneficiaries reported to the HLFS no job search activity in the past 4 weeks; 1 in 5 reported no job search activity and no intention to seek work in the next year.

At the other end of the spectrum, "1 in 10 people being paid an unemployment benefit report to the HLFS that they are working more than 30 hours per week."

"The inter-temporal pattern suggests that as the unemployment benefit numbers decline in good times, the overall stock of unemployment beneficiaries contains a larger proportion of people who are not really seeking work. When unemployment numbers rise in bad times, there are a higher proportion of genuine job seekers among the stock of unemployment beneficiaries."

So 10 percent of people claiming an unemployment benefit were working full-time (a further check against PAYE records showed 4% earned in excess of $2,000 in the reference month); a third hadn't fulfilled their obligations to look for a job in the past month; and a fifth had no intention of looking for a job. That's what the beneficiaries told the interviewer from Statistics New Zealand anyway. What motivation would they have to lie? None that occurs to me. Though they could be motivated to lie to MSD in order to continue to receive benefit money.

Now here's the odd thing. The findings were never released.

The existence of the research only became known to me when the author referenced* it in a later publication. He did so because he believed the paper had been published. He left the Department of Labour after completion understanding that the paper merely required a ministerial briefing then would be made public. For that reason (and because the taxpayer had funded the work, he said)  the author supported my application to the Ombudsman to compel MBIE to release the paper after their initial refusal to do so. That process took over one year.

So why weren't the findings made public, and why the resistance to release the paper to me? I can only speculate as to why.

But here goes.

The findings were politically sensitive. They would be a bad look for a National government claiming to have tightened up on welfare, and powerful ammunition in the hands of the opposition. Possibly. But the data matching exercise extended back into the Labour years and the abuse levels then were, proportionately, even higher!

It is more likely that the government didn't want media broadcasting their data matching exercises far and wide. No, law-abiding Joe Public wouldn't particularly object. The 'nothing to hide, nothing to fear' attitude is rife in this relatively corruption-free country (rightly or wrongly).

But imagine a beneficiary reads or hears about how a survey they are being forced to participate in is being checked against their Work and Income records. For the welfare abuser, that would merely tip them off to lie more consistently to government departments.

Data-matching is being used increasingly but its effectiveness lies in keeping the public in the dark. There's an irony at work. Non-transparency is required to improve integrity of systems.

So ultimately that's where I find the most convincing rationale. But that leaves me with a dilemma.

As a long-time critic of the welfare system, the findings vindicate or illustrate my concerns about the rampant misuse of the system (which hurts  genuine beneficiaries and the taxpayers funding it). Do I want to make a song and dance about these findings though, if the information acts to assist those with the worst motivations?

Because of the time lapse is the issue even newsworthy? I ran it past a couple of wiser heads than mine and they thought it was, but the two parliamentary journalists I ran it past didn't.

You will form your own opinion.

There is no doubt that the National government has been more vigorous about detecting and stopping fraud but against the above revelations the numbers still look inadequate. From parliamentary oral questions in March last year ( note Jo Goodhew's description of the numbers as "a small minority"):

Benefits—Savings 6. Hon JUDITH COLLINS (National—Papakura) to the Associate Minister for Social Development: How much has the Government saved as a result of its benefit fraud initiative?
Hon JO GOODHEW (Associate Minister for Social Development): Since benefit fraud reform initiatives began 2 years ago we have saved the taxpayer over $60 million in future benefit payments. Only a small minority of beneficiaries take money they are not entitled to, but those who do cost tens of millions of dollars each year. These changes make it difficult to defraud the welfare system and hold people accountable for their actions.
Hon Judith Collins: How is the Government encouraging beneficiaries to comply with the welfare system?
Hon JO GOODHEW: Over the past 2½ years around 9,500 benefits have been cancelled after fraud was discovered. We expect to see fewer cases of benefit fraud as our case officers continue working closely with clients to ensure they declare their income and any changes to their relationship status. We have also identified 3,000 clients who have previously committed fraud. By managing these clients more closely, we can help to ensure that they do not reoffend. 

If the 2011 findings held true for current Jobseeker beneficiaries, as many as 48,000 people may be either failing to meet work-search obligations, or already working full-time and continuing to claim a benefit.

*The reference also stated, "... about 10 per cent of people whose welfare records showed that they were receiving a DPB reported being partnered or living as married." That data, however, was not included in the paper released to me.