Friday, April 23, 2021

Children's Commissioner gets it right - and then horribly wrong

I posted yesterday about the child poverty stats and why they are a joke. While recalibration shows better reduction, nothing materially changes for children.  Here's the Children's Commissioner on the same subject:

“A different number behind a decimal point doesn’t change things for the thousands of tamariki and whanau doing it tough. Children who are growing up in a motel, or whose families are struggling to pay for the basics, still need big bold changes to unlock opportunities to live their best lives."


But then he plunges headlong down the leftist rabbit hole:

 “Government efforts to target poverty reduction, improve incomes through the families’ package, expand the school lunch programme and peg benefits to wages have created the strongest foundations for making progress on poverty in decades.

“Poverty and hardship rates, particularly among Māori, Pacific and disabled children are still unacceptably high.

“We want to see benefits raised in line with the recommendations of the Welfare Expert Advisory Group, and a major shift in the availability of social and affordable housing for whānau."

So his solution is greater dependence on the state. Bigger benefits means more children growing up on benefits. 

There is so much documented evidence, here and internationally, that shows benefit dependence - especially long-term - is detrimental to children's outcomes.

Benefits erode family cohesion and they discourage work.

I had high hopes for Andrew Becroft, who back in relatively sane times was outspoken about the young people who appeared before him in the Youth Court. He identified an absence of fathers as the most common factor in their troubled backgrounds. If he hadn't connected that to the state's encouragement of single parent families through the DPB then he must be wilfully blind.

Perhap he is. As Children's Commissoner he is now actively calling for more of the same medicine despite known adverse side effects outweighing any advantage.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Moving people off benefit is "the old paradigm"

MSD set up a division of case managers to work with people who enter the benefit system very young and/or are "entrenched" beneficiaries. They have a smaller caseload and can work more intensively on other barriers to work the client is experiencing.

A qualitative evaluation of the service has been published and (perhaps understandably)  there seems to be no overall data regarding how successful the programme was/is in getting people independent. 

"Time off-benefit for clients assigned to the ICS treatment group, as compared to those assigned to the control group (and who continue to receive services as normal), is the key metric by which the success of the ICS trial is assessed.7"

Go to footnote 7 to find:

"7 Ministry of Social Development: Intensive Client Support (ICS) Trial Evaluation: Interim 12 Months Evaluation, pg 23. Unpublished internal report." 

Perhaps the quantitative data will come later. We are told, "Of the 26 trial participants interviewed for this research, seven had achieved off-benefit outcomes, although three had subsequently returned to the benefit, one having lost their job, one returning due to an injury, and one due to seasonal work finishing."

Not flash. But the case managers evaluate their own success differently. Two views:

I must resist any pressure from certain staff who are still in the old paradigm of just moving people off benefit as quickly as possible. It’s not about numbers, these are people. They’re people who, if you don’t do anything with them, sure, will cost the government over their lifetime. But the downstream effects are not just one benefit for a lifetime, it’s use of the criminal justice system, their children’s failures and risks. Who cares if they stay on a benefit if it means they don’t go back to jail, if they can get help for their trauma in childhood, if they learn to read and write better so they feel more positive, if they are able to leave the house more. It’s about improving their lives to make society better. (ICSM)

Measuring success rates are quite difficult because who says they’ve done well, and how is that measured? And that’s quite hard for your personal development to go “Oh well I’ve got so many people, this person has been showing up to appointments” and so that’s an achievement to me. But my manager’s like “no, how many people have you got into work?” (ICSM) 

Isn't this illuminating?

On the one hand I have some sympathy for their efforts and priorities. And of course, behind the numbers are real people.

But it also concerns me that the damage the benefit system has done in some families and sectors is so great, self-sufficiency is now a secondary consideration. Just rescuing some people from themselves is enough.

If  'moving people off benefit' is the "old paradigm" have we lost the battle?

When I worked with beneficiaries I resisted trying to solve their problems by trying to get more WINZ money or a food parcel. I tried to help them find practical solutions or make better decisions. But I eventually identified that the biggest obstacle to them making changes was the guarantee of cash in their bank account every week regardless of how they lived their lives. Not uniformly but typically.

Child poverty stats

Child poverty stats are a joke.

If grown-ups get collectively poorer, children get richer (relatively).

Never has this been better illustrated than by a just-announced Stats NZ cock-up.

They have recalibrated recently released child poverty stats and they are better than initially thought. How convenient.

Treasury , "identified several respondents incorrectly reporting the superannuation payments they received, resulting in double counting their income from superannuation, which has also been resolved in this corrected release.

The corrections resulted in a change to the median income for the year ended June 2020, which is used to provide the thresholds for child poverty reporting. The median equivalised disposable household income for the year ended June 2020 before housing costs are deducted reduced from $42,486 to $41,472. After housing costs are deducted, it reduced from $32,579 to $31,717."

If the threshold goes down, fewer children fall below it.

None of this makes children materially any better off.

But it might make the PM puff her chest out.

Stand by.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Benefits stats and some aberrations

 Here's National on the March quarter benefit stats:

Labour Mislead on Negative Statistics Again

Labour’s celebratory social media posts touting a “record 32,880 people moved into work” are disingenuous and only tell one part of the story, National’s Social Development & Employment spokesperson Louise Upston says.

“What Labour aren’t telling us, is that more people were put on a benefit than moved into work across the same time period. That’s 46,437 additional people moving on to benefits.

Yes, it is correct that 46,437 grants of benefits occurred during the March 2021 quarter.

But during the same period there were 60,573 cancellations of benefits.

That's net 14,136 fewer people on benefits. And for a March quarter 32,880 moving into work is a record for the last 6 years. 

That is what Labour is crowing about.

Now if you want to make comparisons to when Labour took office, or the degree of dependence in respect of how long people are staying on benefits, that's another matter....

 If I was putting a question to the minister I'd be asking what happened to the blue lines. Why no cancellations due to benefit reviews or health improvements?

I went into the data tables for a look:

Something very odd about those two categories.

As far as I am aware benefits are still reviewed annually. Most have to be re-applied for after 52 weeks.  And one assumes that a failure to present a medical certificate for  benefit requiring one would typically lead to X amount of cancellations as per past March quarters.

Maybe some porcedures went West during Covid and just haven't been reinstated since.

Benefit increases we don't hear about

MSD has just released a report into how Labour's Families Package has affected incomes of parents with infants in the first six months post-birth. The first table compares mothers with children born in 2017 with mothers with children born in 2018. It uses data from a 3 month cohort pre July 1. The reason for this is that the Best Start payment didn't kick in till July 1, 2018.

Those recieving the largest increase in absolute terms were beneficiary, and by ethnicity, Maori.

Then the study examines the effect of the Best Start payment post July 1 which is "in addition to income gains from other parts of the Families Package":

The Best Start payment is $60 weekly in the first year but it may be offset by adjustments to other assistance. For instance:
...some families receiving a benefit or with a low income lost Temporary Additional Support – this is a payment of last resort that is withdrawn dollar-for-dollar as income from other sources, including Best Start and other Working for Families tax credits, increases
• some families appear to have also lost Accommodation Supplement income

Nevertheless the net increase in incomes for all mothers, but especially mothers on a benefit, is considerable.

The  study also examined whether the 4 week extension to Paid Parental Leave had the intended effect of allowing mothers a longer bonding period.

"The size of the effect on months with no wages and salaries appears small [0.21 of a month] relative to the four-week extension in paid parental leave made available to parents in 2018. One possible explanation is that recent inflation in house prices and rents worked in opposition to the policy reform."

Pretty much a policy fail there. 

The next report will be of great interest when the effect of increased incomes on the health and well-being of the children is assessed.

Another policy fail is entirely possible.

Also, look out for the Child Poverty Action Group and other anti-poverty advocates kicking up a stink when the first recipients of Best Start (3 year entitlement) lose the income from July 1 this year. That's what they did when the Winter Energy payment stopped last year.

With friends like that Labour doesn't need enemies.