Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Responding to Marama Davidson's dogma

Green's co-leader Marama Davidson just keeps digging the hole she is in deeper. First she showed her bitter antipathy towards white CIS (same gender as birth) men. Then she walked it back to all men. 

Last night on TV1 News she said, “…overwhelmingly it is men who are the biggest threat to women and children when it comes to violence and I needed to make that clarification.”

Marama is the Minister for the Prevention of Family and Sexual Violence and says she wants us to have these “hard and uncomfortable conversations” (which is reminiscent of what Metiria Turei fatefully wanted when she publicly confessed to ripping off the benefit system.)

But back to Marama. Forget for a moment the offence intended and taken, is her revised statement true?

If Police, Corrections or Oranga Tamariki stats are put up as evidence, the court would find in her favour. More men are in prison for family violence convictions than women; police arrest more men than women for family violence and more men commit physical abuse against children than women (though not “overwhelmingly”. If other forms of abuse are considered women outdo men. Take for instance a quote from MSD gang research which revealed, “The alleged perpetrator of abuse or neglect of gang member’s children was more often recorded as the child’s mother than the gang member father.”)

Sticking to the term ‘violence’ though, a vital point must be made. The NZ Police state:

"Most reported family violence is committed by men against women and children, although women, like men, can assault children. A growing number of men say that female violence against them is not treated as seriously as male assaults on women. International research indicates only about 20% of family violence incidents are actually reported. So a lot is happening in our community that the Police don’t know about."

The majority of family violence goes unreported.  So what do we know about unreported violence? One source is longitudinal studies. In New Zealand the best known of these is the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Study which has followed a large cohort of children born in the early seventies and continues to publish data.

It looked specifically at physical partner violence when the cohort reached their early twenties. The United States justice department published the findings and compared them to their own:

Women were the greater perpetrators of physical partner violence which included choking, hitting, shoving, throwing objects, threatening with a knife, kicking, biting, shaking, etc. 

Are the results reliable? According to the brief, “Couples’ responses to the interview showed that agreement about whether specific abusive behaviors had happened was poor, as has been suggested by previous research. Study members and their partners did not agree about whether, for example, one of them had tried to strangle the other. However, agreement improved dramatically when the individual items were summed into scales that counted the variety of different abuse behaviors performed in the past year. Although members of a couple may not recall exactly the same acts, they can agree on whether or not abuse took place and on the extent of the abuse. Agreement was even stronger when random measurement errors were removed statistically.”

This is thirty years ago though. To check for any substantial change a 2016/17 version of the US National Family Violence survey is available. Again, the symmetry between the genders is strong.

For women, 42% reported experiencing any ‘physical violence’ by an intimate partner in their lifetime. For men the rate was 42.3 percent. (Women were more likely to experience sexual coercion or stalking than men.)

As well as evidence from the Dunedin project, Professor David Fergusson directed the Christchurch Health and Development Study which tracked 1,265 children born in 1977 and in 2005 found that men and women reported similar experiences of victimisation and perpetration of domestic violence. According to the Otago Daily Times

University of Otago Professor David Fergusson, an expert on domestic violence, said the public perception that men were the perpetrators of most domestic violence was the result of biased publicity.

"The proper message is that both gender groups have a capacity for domestic violence [and] women probably perpetrate more assaults on children then men do," Mr Fergusson said.

Unfortunately, Prof Fergusson is no longer with us, but I can attest to his frustration at being routinely ignored by politicians and feel duty bound to recall his work in this area.

The more recent longitudinal study, Growing Up in New Zealand may in time provide a source for actual experience of partner violence but at this stage the participants are only just entering adolescence.

Then again, with ministers like Marama Davidson it’s unlikely to be used to further our understanding of the real world. The last four days have shown that her negative view of men is fixed and she won’t be searching for any evidence to the contrary.

Excitable dogma may be an asset in an activist but not in a minister. She should go.

Saturday, March 25, 2023

The disconnect between unemployment and welfare dependency

The disconnect between the unemployment rate (3.4% or 99,000) and the number of people on a benefit (11.3% or 353,904) has many scratching their heads. I get asked about it a lot. There are some differences in concepts, parameters and other nuances but keeping it simple...

At December 2022 the Jobseeker Work Ready (JS-WR) total was 98,766. Pretty well on the mark.

But this leaves a quarter of a million working-age people over and above the officially unemployed count and receiving an income from the state.

They are either too sick to work or have child-minding responsibilities.

Now to put that into long-term perspective consider the following graph:

In 2010, when the effect of the GFC was evident, just over 12% were on a benefit. Now it's 11.3% but the proportion made up by the underlying layers remains roughly the same (albeit with different labels.)

Most working-age welfare benefits were introduced in the late 1930s and for the next thirty years recipients comprised just 2 percent of the population and were overwhelmingly widows and invalids. The explosion in welfare began from the mid-seventies.

Getting to my point, while unemployment fluctuates the underlying core of sick people or sole parents is entrenched. The economy has to carry this population whether times are good or bad, whether there are jobs or not.

WHY this situation has developed - or been allowed to develop - could fill a thesis. But many of you will have lived through the entire period and can probably share some valuable observations. Feel free.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Gloomy outlook for young people on benefits

Yesterday MSD issued some insights into how young people (16-24 years-old) are faring in the benefit system. Searching for some good news, their first key finding described how young people "have recovered much faster from the economic effects of the pandemic compared to the Global Financial Crisis."

The government response to covid drove a very steep increase in young people going on a benefit so naturally enough you would expect a fairly steep corresponding decrease. By contrast the GFC presented a gradual increase and decrease in numbers.

Note that by June 2022  54,900 young people on benefits is still well above their lowest level in late 2017 which coincides with the change in government and Ministers. Numbers on Sole Parent Support and Supported Living Payment are on an upward trend.

Next the report waxes lyrical about supporting young people to engage in education and gaining skills. Shame about the polytechnic reforms fiasco described by Otago Polytech chief executive as a "national disgrace."

But that's where any 'positivity' ends.

Apparently "longer-term trends" suggest young people will need more help with their mental health. This is where the truly eye-opening news begins.

"In the March 2010 quarter, 5.2 percent of young people had accessed mental health and addiction services, and this more than doubled to 13.3 percent by the June 2019 quarter."

By 2019 almost 40 percent of youth benefit clients had used these services. This immediately raises chicken and egg questions. While it is likely that the poor mental health precedes the benefit dependence, languishing on welfare is also not conducive to good mental wellbeing. Undoubtedly a two-way mechanism operates.


Notice too that this upward trend preceded any sign of the covid pandemic.

The next piece of information is even more appalling.

"When looking specifically at young people currently receiving a benefit, the 2019 Social Outcomes Model estimated that they would spend an average of 16.5 years receiving a main benefit over their future working lives; this increased to 19.1 years in 2021." 

An almost three-year increase in over just two years. 

This growing propensity to fail to achieve independence is because of "complexity" apparently. The greater the number of risks - eg. police, justice or Oranga Tamariki involvement, NCEA failure, school suspension or inter-generational welfare dependence - the longer the duration of stay on welfare will be. It is easy to understand that with youth crime and educational failure in the ascendancy these numbers can only spiral upwards.

The report culminates with a down-playing dose of self-deception which sadly seems all too familiar amongst today’s public service employees:

"While there have been rapid decreases in main benefit numbers for young people who receive a main benefit, some vulnerabilities remain."

The only "rapid decreases" to occur were after the ‘end’ of the pandemic and among youngsters who would probably never have been in the benefit system if it hadn't been for government's covid response.

Otherwise, the underlying trend is of growing reliance and greater dysfunction among young people living through crucial scene-setting years which may determine the rest of their lives.

What a sorry mess.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

"Welfare commenter claims the Govt shouldn't be taking credit for declining Jobseeker levels"

 Mike Hosking Breakfast Show, NewstalkZB:

"A welfare commenter claims the government shouldn't be taking credit for declining Jobseeker levels.

Data from Social Development, comparing June 2020 to June 2022, shows almost 25,000 fewer people are relying on Jobseeker.

But researcher Lindsay Mitchell says benefit levels spiked during the pandemic, and the numbers reflect a move away from COVID restrictions.

She told Mike Hosking other benefit numbers aren't declining.

Mitchell says there's growth in the sole parent support benefit, which she claims is a problem as it drives intergenerational dependency."

Listen here

Saturday, March 04, 2023

Racial discrimination in the public service

In a publication called "Engaging All New Zealanders survey report: Children in New Zealand Communities 2022" commissioned by Oranga Tamariki and administered by NielsenIQ, the results are presented in a fashion that makes Asian and New Zealand European participants almost invisible.

Just under 1,600 people aged 18 and over answered the survey. The results were then weighted to roughly represent the population. NZ European 71%; Maori 13%; Pacific 6%; Asian 15% and other <1 (The percentages do not tally to 100 percent as some respondents have more than one ethnicity.)

The participants were asked a range of questions relating to their attitudes towards the care and well-being of children. For instance, "Do people think Aotearoa New Zealand is getting better or worse at caring for children?" The group that answered 'worse/much worse' had increased from 28% in 2019 to 36% in 2022.

The data for Maori is provided and says, "37% of Māori feel we are getting worse/much worse, compared with 30% in 2019" but no other ethnicity's individual response is available.

There are two sections in the report dedicated respectively to Maori and Pacific responses which both include further analysis regarding gender and age.  There is none provided for Asian or NZ European. In fact, the word 'Asian' appears just twice in the entire report, and both instances are contained in a table detailing ethnicity of the respondents.

In a page of "What was said about the factors which contribute to a lack of thriving by children" there are seven quotes. Five are from Maori females. Only one quote was from a male and he was described as of "other ethnicity".

The methodology used to make comparisons between groups is, "When subgroup differences are mentioned, the results discussed are always in comparison with the overall/total result." That results in Maori being compared to everyone (including themselves!) rather than the more useful, Maori compared to non-Maori.  Further analysis of a more useful nature is not possible because the necessary desegregated data isn't provided.

An argument might be advanced that, as the majority of children who come to the attention of Oranga Tamariki are Maori then most interest should centre on Maori attitudes. But attitudes of those whose children are under-represented should be of equal importance. Comparison of attitudes could shed light on differing outcomes.

The surveyors claim to have engaged "All New Zealanders" but report on only some. The dismissive attitude taken to Asian interests is an affront. But it is typical.

Across the board, the almost exclusive focus of the public service on Maori and Pacific needs is increasingly evident (whether or not it is welcomed by the groups themselves). The diminishing goodwill and gathering resentment of the majority risks loss of participation and co-operation. Bureaucrats and politicians may not want to know what that looks like in practice, but they are going to find out. Disengagement with the forthcoming census might be about to deliver a nasty shock.

If people are to be asked what they think - or how they live - their responses must matter and must count regardless of their skin colour.

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Writing off beneficiary debt

There is a call from anti-poverty activists for the government to write off beneficiary debt which has grown to over 2.3 billion dollars.

Acquiescing to this demand would create an ever-growing snowball.

Next for consideration would be student debt; debt to the Ministry of Justice for unpaid fines; debt to IRD for unpaid child support payments; debt to Kaianga Ora for overdue rents and more.

After all, many of the people with forgiven Work and Income debt fall into these other categories also. For the sake of consistency, the write-offs should be all encompassing.

In which case, what about debt to the state-owned Kiwibank? Surely it is within the government's grasp to exercise some clemency there as well.

But it isn't fair for only those with debt to Kiwibank to enjoy this relief.

Parliament has the power to make private companies write off debt via legislation.

Highly profitable banks could be forced to write off mortgage debt; finance companies forced to write off car loan debt.

And if Kaianga Ora is writing off tenant debt shouldn't private landlords be made to do the same?

The list goes on because the rationale for the original demand - that beneficiary debt be written-off - is a constant across all debt.

Debt and its repayment causes hardship; it causes stress sometimes culminating in domestic violence. It can ruin lives, drive people to suicide even.

If the first roll of the snowball is the right and fair thing to do, then so are the subsequent rotations.

While the media is very happy to run with these sorts of demands and soak them in sympathy rather than calm analysis, some of us beg to differ.

Beneficiary debt (other than debt created by state error) has been voluntarily assumed and must be repaid.

Writing off beneficiary debt would simply be another nail in the coffin of personal responsibility and create an extremely dangerous precedent.

Unfortunately, it could just be the life-saving policy the Labour, Maori and Green parties are looking for.

Monday, January 23, 2023


Hot on the heels of media nonsense about Ardern's departure - for instance, it was driven by misogyny despite many of her harshest critics being females - comes the fawning over Sepuloni.

In the NZ Herald Thomas Coughlan writes:

Sepuloni’s elevation to the top may challenge this. She’s Social Development Minister and may keep this role after the reshuffle (she’s excelled, so far).

And at RNZ Jane Patterson says:

The MP for Kelston, Sepuloni has been a steady pair of hands in the social development portfolio and makes history as the first Pasifika deputy prime minister.

For starters emergency housing is in the social development portfolio. The take-over of motels leading to social mayhem (think Rotorua) has been a tragedy for those housed in them and those in their surrounds. The waiting list for public housing has sky-rocketed since Sepuloni has been Minister.

EVERY main benefit has seen increased numbers since 2017. Covid played a part, but the upward trend was established before 2020.

Never before has New Zealand seen demand for both skilled and unskilled labour at current levels yet 11.3 percent (up from 9.7 in 2017) of the working age population is benefit-dependent.

Compounding this, the average length of time people are spending dependent has gone up.

Sepuloni has driven some extraordinary changes that defeat what the last Labour government was trying to achieve. No longer requiring mothers on the benefit to name fathers of their children is a prime example.

The increases to benefit rates and other financial supports have eaten away the incentive to work as the difference between income from work and income from a benefit dwindles. Previous Labour governments resisted linking benefits to wage inflation but Sepuloni did exactly that in 2020. 

In fact, this Labour government has implemented many of the Green Party's welfare policies including diminished use of sanctions to enforce work obligations.

Her own ministry's annual reports acknowledge the department is not moving in the right direction in a number of areas.

Worst of all Sepuloni has overseen a rise in children living in unemployed homes. The damage to their outcomes is well researched and documented. But unheeded by this government whose sole focus has been to lift incomes with their fingers firmly in their ears over the unintended consequences of paying people to do nothing ... except have children.

If all of the above is "excelling" I hate to envisage what failing looks like.

Sepuloni has not been a great Minister. That the media are painting her as such demonstrates ignorance and bias. The only thing that has kept the social development portfolio largely away from the headlines is the comparatively worse performance of police, education and health.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

December benefit stats give cause for concern

The latest benefit stats have just been released and while the Jobseeker numbers have declined, not so numbers for the other two main benefits - Sole Parent Support and Supported Living Payment:

Number and proportion of people receiving Sole Parent Support at the end of the last six December quarters.

Number and proportion of people receiving Supported Living Payment at the end of the last six
December quarters.

The rise in what used to be called the Invalid benefit (now Supported Living Payment above) is not insignificant. There are around 6,000 more people permanently unable to work due to illness. Almost half of the increase is due to psychological or psychiatric illness.

Given what we know about the level of mental illness within corrections facilities, I wonder how many of them are ex-prisoners? Recall that the prison population is down around thirty percent or 3,000.

There will almost certainly be a contribution from the under-performing health system as waiting lists continue to be a major problem.

As for the increase in sole parent reliance, it shouldn't be happening. Not with the amount of work that is currently available. The last Labour government leaders - Clark and Cullen - were very keen to lift the workforce participation of sole parents to the same level as partnered parents.  Clark was a particular type of feminist. She was interested in women empowering themselves through independence.

Ardern's Labour is different. Ideologically they are closer to the Greens. Remember Metiria Turei's championing of benefit fraud justified by motherhood and need? Labour has since implemented many of the Green's welfare policies as they relate to sole parents. The impetus to improve the lot of sole parents and their children through employment has dissipated. Which is a great shame.

Overall the total number of benefits in place is down from December 2020 but still up 22 percent on December 2017:

Number and proportion of people receiving a main benefit at the end of the last six December quarters.

Importantly, the benefit which people tend to stay on the shortest time (Jobseeker) has lost numbers whereas the benefits where people tend to stay the longest time (Sole Parent and Supported Living) have gained numbers.

Not a good result.

Thursday, January 12, 2023

PM more self-delusional by the day

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is heading into the 2023 election campaign stating:

“Our record is growing Māori housing. Our record is growing Māori employment opportunities. Now our record is growing the Māori economy. I will happily campaign on our record.”

I really don't have a lot of stomach for this. Most Māori are working and law-abiding like most non-Māori and the constant racial identification of people only feeds resentment and division.

BUT if the Prime Minister wants to crow about what she has achieved for Māori let's look at what she hasn't achieved for Māori.

Since 2017, the Māori percentage of all people on main benefits has risen from 35.9 to 37.2% - in raw numbers from 99,351 to 128,502

Māori now make up 38.6 percent of those on a Jobseeker benefit - up from 37.6 %. Again, in raw numbers (despite the drop in the unemployment rate) there are over twenty thousand more Māori on the Jobseeker benefit than there were in 2017 (45,357 to 65,706).

The percentage Māori make up of the Sole Parent Support benefit has risen from 47.8 to 48.2% or 28,413 to 35,151.

Possibly the worst statistic in terms of Māori children's future prospects, absenteeism - as defined by attending school less than 70 percent of the time - has risen from 10.5 in 2017 to 23.8 percent in 2022 (term 2).

The Māori share of the prison population continues to climb - 50.7 to 53 percent (although the actual prisoner numbers have dropped due to Labour's policy to drive down the prison population by admitting fewer criminals and releasing earlier).

Finally, in a by no means exhaustive list, the Māori share of the public housing waiting list has grown from 44 to 49.6 percent or 3,389 to 14,130. A massive increase in raw numbers.

The data is summarized below:

If this is the Prime Minister's idea of achieving for Māori, then she is even more self-delusional than I'd previously entertained.

And if she is returned on this record then we are all deeply in trouble. All of us together.


Thursday, January 05, 2023

The price of reducing poverty

The benefit system was originally about providing secure income for those genuinely unable to work. That inability to work did not include causing one's own incapacity or having dependent children.

It has since evolved to become a government tool for equalizing incomes between the employed and unemployed and advancing other ideological goals like the financial emancipation of the female parent from the male parent.

To some degree benefits have become an alternative source of income for those uninterested in the obligations and constrictions involved with being employed. Those who disagree with that statement argue nobody would willingly choose to live on a meagre benefit income. 

That may hold water for single people. But the latest incomes monitoring report from MSD shows a couple on a benefit with two or more children receives over $800 weekly after housing costs. Additionally,

In real terms, total incomes after housing costs of people supported by main benefits were, on average, 43% higher in 2022 than in 2018.

Which brings us to the gap between income from benefits and income from work.

Until 2016 wage growth outstripped inflation hence the growing gap. Since 2019 benefits have been indexed to wages. Previously they were only indexed to inflation. Accordingly, the report notes the 2022 "main benefit increases reduced the gap". That is, income from work became less attractive.

As well,

...there are still reasonably poor financial incentives to increase the level of hours worked for many low-income families. This is because when earnings increase, their income support payments are withdrawn relatively quickly. High childcare costs and low take-up of in-work assistance can also have a negative impact on financial incentives to increase hours of work.

Little wonder worker shortages are endemic.

So, the income support/benefit system is contributing negatively to the economy in that regard.

But worse, it is being used by the Prime Minister to achieve her primary goal of reducing child poverty. 

According to the report, using Labour's chosen measures which show percentage drops since 2017, she has been successful in this endeavour.

What is omitted from this report is the increasing number of children reliant on benefits. 

Is this increase a reasonable trade-off for reducing child poverty? If the higher incidence of neglect and abuse for children growing up on a benefit is acceptable, then the answer is yes.

I disagree. The increase may even be described as the exploitation of children to make the Prime Minister look good. There is no reason why the welcome downward trend for state-dependent sole parents would have reversed bar financial encouragement.

Another finding from the report throws a further spanner into the works for redistributionists.

Asian households feature the lowest percentage of children experiencing material hardship - around 4% compared to the Pacific rate of around 24%

And yet when it comes to income support:

Eligible families with Asian parents had low estimated take-up in recent years. The late 2010s was a period of rapid growth in the Asian population of Aotearoa New Zealand. Low awareness, uncertainty about entitlements, administrative, personal and cultural barriers to claiming, or reluctance to claim payments among recent migrants may be factors explaining the trends. 

So the benefit system cannot be credited with low Asian hardship. Something else is protecting their children. Probably the self-reliance and work ethic of their parents.

The government can fiddle all it wants robbing Peter to pay Paul under the guise of 'fairness and equity'. But the downsides to this interference are corrupting incentives which will continue to blight New Zealand's future.