Saturday, April 16, 2022

PM: "Come to New Zealand, we're kind."

 The Prime Minister is off overseas tomorrow. RNZ reports:

Ardern will be making local media appearances and leveraging off New Zealand's Covid-19 response. She noted research suggesting those abroad now see the country in a more favourable light.

"They see us as people who look after others, and that's a really important message to send," Ardern said.

"Come to New Zealand, we're kind."

Kind of what? Kind of authoritarian? Kind of conformist? Kind of pathetic?

Jacinda said there would be no vaccine mandates. Thousands breathed.

Then she said there would. Thousands lost their livelihoods.

With nothing left to lose they went to parliament to appeal to her.

Not only did she steadfastly ignore them. She sneered and then smeared them. 

But let's shove aside the mental images still raw from the end of the protest. 

And all the hardship the government response to covid wreaked on the economy.

Covid aside, under Ardern, New Zealanders have experienced so much additional stress.

She has actively made life less tolerable for:

Farmers (unworkable regulations, new taxes, SNAs and encouraged division between rural and urban interests)

Landlords (often unnecessary onerous regulations and loss of tax exemption on mortgage interest)

Employers (more sick leave, higher legislated wages, extra public holiday and family violence leave)

The customers of farmers (all of us) are no better off. Farm produce gets more unaffordable.

Tenants are paying higher rents and now the pool of rental properties appears to be shrinking.

Employees are struggling with inflation that has both international and domestic drivers (not least the hyper spending by government on a burgeoning bureaucracy.) In a high inflation environment the poorest - and their children - hurt the most. They have the least disposable dollar.

The ratio of income to house prices - and newly legislated LVR lending restrictions - means many young people believe it is impossible to buy a home here.

The next migration outflow is imminent and unavoidable.

But... back to the PM's trip. She said, "Now is the time to get out and about, to support our exporters, and so we're willing to take on board the risks."

RNZ originally headlined their article PM says "Now is the time to get out"

An editor guarding their funding source has since changed it.

But I say it to my adult children all the time.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Sepuloni stonewalls serious questions

This morning SEEK, the foremost advertiser of jobs in New Zealand, advised that March listings were up 27% on March last year and 2 percent up on last month. Job ad levels are at a record number.

Applications per job had, however, fallen significantly.

Last week in parliament ACT MP Karen Chhour put the following questions to the Minister for Social Development and Employment, Carmel Sepuloni:

8. KAREN CHHOUR (ACT) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: Does she believe that jobseeker beneficiaries who fail to meet their work obligations should have their benefits reduced; if so, why were work-related benefit sanctions in the last quarter of the last year less than half what they were in 2019?

Hon CARMEL SEPULONI (Minister for Social Development and Employment): Only if it is appropriate to do so, and as a last resort. The Ministry of Social Development (MSD) has changed its way of working during COVID-19. Staff are more proactive with clients and offer more phone engagements, in line with the alert and traffic light settings. The member will notice the number of people sanctioned for failing to prepare for work has remained steady over this time period, and almost all the drop-off in sanctions is for failing to turn up to an appointment. This reflects the changed environment due to COVID-19, as well as increased Government investment in front-line work-focused case management. I'd also like to point out the big drop in the number of parents with dependent children who are sanctioned. This fell from 1,980 in December 2019 to 579 in December 2021. MSD are working more closely with clients to understand the reason for their non-compliance and make it easier to re-comply if they have children. Our new ways of working have been successful. Last year more people moved off a main benefit and into work than any time since electronic records were kept, a trend which is continuing in 2022. 


Sepuloni claims sanctions for failing to prepare for work are "steady" but sanctions for those failing to participate in work dropped 62.5 percent from 1,200 to 450. For context the denominator is 368,172 so the fraction is, in any case, tiny.

 But let's deal with the last part of the answer.

The number cancelling a main benefit to move into work is a somewhat meaningless figure without accompanying grants: 

Graphing the Ministry's data shows that in March 2022 there were still more grants of a Jobseeker benefit than cancellations of a main benefit to move into work. In March 2021 the reverse was true. So the situation has actually deteriorated. Additionally, more Jobseeker benefits were granted in March 2022 than either of the two prior months.

Karen Chhour: If someone on jobseeker support does not have an exemption for health reasons and refuses to fulfil a suitable job vacancy, should they be able to stay on their full benefit with no consequences?

Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: Every person's situation on the benefit is different, and it's important that the Ministry of Social Development and the case managers recognise that. We also need to begin from the starting point of assuming that the vast majority of people who are on benefit do want to work. MSD's job is to support them into the job opportunities that are available, that are best suited to them, and work to ensure that the work they take up is sustainable and meaningful for them and good for them and their whānau.

Working is actually about 'earning a living.' A lot of work is not sustainable simply because that is the nature of jobs today. Not everyone can find a long-term secure job that fulfils them in every way. Thousands of people do work that they'd prefer not to. That's the reality of life. They do find reward though in having workmates, in supporting themselves and being occupied.

Karen Chhour: Is it fair to use hard-working Kiwis' taxes to pay for 106,000 work-ready jobseeker beneficiaries when many industries are crying out for labour, with some having to shut their doors due to understaffing?

Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: What is not fair is to use the politics of divide and rule by trying to pit those "hard-working" New Zealanders against people that are on benefit. Many of us in this House would have had a stint on benefit at some point in time. We're no longer on it. We didn't have the intention to stay on it. We always had aspirations to get out and work for ourselves and our whānau, and that is what the vast majority of beneficiaries also have. There's also a cohort of New Zealanders who struggle to get into work for a range of other reasons, including health conditions and disabilities, and for far too long they have been under-invested in. It's not just about expecting the person on benefit to get off benefit and go and work. It's about a Government being committed to breaking down the barriers to them being able to take up employment.

I surely won't be alone in seeing the irony in a Minister from the current government accusing a member of the opposition of using the "politics of divide and rule." Labour and the Greens are steeped in identity politics which pits the interests of one group against another. New Zealand is being increasingly divided along race, gender and age lines. And the Prime Minister's notorious response to a question about whether the vaccine passes were intended to create two different classes of people - "yip yip" - is, unfortunately for her, unforgettable.

Karen Chhour: Why, when so many businesses need staff, have the average future years on a benefit risen from 10.6 years in 2017 to 12.4 years in 2021?

Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: I saw some recent information that came through to my office yesterday that actually saw there's been a reasonably significant increase in the number of New Zealanders who were exiting benefit and still in employment six months later. This is what we've been focused on since day one in Government—is not just seeing getting people off benefit as the win, which the previous Government saw as a win, regardless of where they went, but actually supporting them into sustainable, meaningful employment so that they are able to continue to work for them and their whānau and, hopefully, with the right support, not return to benefit.

"...some recent information"? That's hardly a rigorous response. If the information isn't referenced, it isn't subject to scrutiny.

According to the latest MSD Annual Report, the "percentage of clients who remain off main benefit having secured sustainable work" (for 26 weeks) decreased from 70.6 in 2016/17 to 68.7 in 2020/21. 

If Labour had successfully focused on a goal of "exiting benefit and still in employment six months later" benefit numbers would be well down. They are not. They grew in every year of the government's first term and eased only slightly between 2020 and 21.

Incidentally Chhour's data comes from the same source. It is damning.

If the "vast majority" of people on a benefit want to work, have aspirations to support their whanau, why, in a job rich situation, has the expected time they will spend dependent grown by seventeen percent?

That remained unanswered.

Parliament is a difficult listen these days. Ministers do not answer questions - particularly supplementaries - and when the opposition MPs complain to the speaker their objections are brushed aside with mealy-mouthed assertions that the question has been addressed.

The only positive comment I can make is that Sepuloni isn't the worst offender.

How bad is that?