Thursday, March 07, 2024

Is real change on the cards?

Sometimes the gems are buried. My ears pricked up when the following statement was reported on a news programme playing in the background:

"MSD staff assessing anyone applying for emergency housing will increase their scrutiny of whether they have unreasonably contributed to their immediate emergency housing need ..."

I googled Minister for Social Development Louise Upston's press releases to confirm that's what she actually said. Indeed she had.

If the government means it, this is hugely significant.

It has been clear for decades that NZ's approach to welfare has gone awry. The late Roger Kerr, of the NZ Business Roundtable, once said to me, "The only way forward is to go back to the concept of 'deserving' and 'undeserving'."

To be honest, at the time I thought this was slightly draconian. But the passage of the years has only brought me further around to his view. By protecting people from the consequences of their own foolish actions NZ has only created more 'need'. In other words, the 'undeserving' have been rewarded.

This is a direct offshoot from the philosophy of 'non-judgementalism' which is absolutely rife through the social services and charity sectors, and even health and education. It is formally taught. Every needy individual is a 'victim' of circumstances, never their own poor decision-making.

I am personally a great believer in second chances and the right to redeem oneself, and have certainly had occasion to avail myself of these principles (or lived with the consequences of not being forgiven or excused.) But like many pendulums, the one called 'tolerance' has swung too far.

The welfare system is now the lifeblood of criminals. People who trash other people's property, who threaten and abuse neighbours, who keep aggressive dogs as status symbols, who have not a skerrick of regard for others, turn up at WINZ demanding to be placed in emergency housing. And they are.

(Not to mention the tens of thousands of other people who took no responsibility for their own education, go on to produce children recklessly and, in turn, take no responsibility for theirs.)

Between the passage of the Social Security Act in 1938 and the early 1970s the percentage of working-age people on a benefit never exceeded two. Today it stands at almost twelve, with the time people stay dependent growing every year.

As a society we have created this level of reliance by believing and acting on a bad idea. That we must not judge others. We must not mention their faults and shortcomings. We must bend over backwards to not blame the person responsible for their own troubles. That's the kindness and compassion we are taught to aspire to.

Until Louise Upston said something quite contrary but actually terribly sensible.

In assessing applicants for emergency housing case managers must take into account whether they have "unreasonably contributed" to their need.

One assumes that if the answer is positive, there will be no emergency housing offered.

Quite right too.

My theory is that the emergency housing crisis - putting people into motels, lodges and motor camps - came about because the Labour government created an expectation that anyone who showed up at the newly-generous WINZ department asking for a house would get one (or something akin). If people had been turned away they would have found their own solutions. Living with friends or family usually. If friends and family wouldn't have them - presumably because they were undeserving - why should the taxpayer fork out to put them into place where they can wreak anti-social havoc on nearby neighbours?

It's the individual who should experience the consequences of their own unwise actions - not everybody else.

So let's support Upston and encourage her to take this new approach further. I would vouch that the majority of New Zealanders want to help people who, through no fault of their own, need a benefit and public housing. But that willingness does not extend to people who chronically cause their own misfortune.