Bennie bashing – an exercise in branding

The Chief Executive Officer Prime Minister has opened the parliamentary year with yet another promise to make all those lazy beneficiaries get jobs (scroll down to ‘Welfare Reform’), especially the trollops who get themselves pregnant or get themselves divorced or get themselves widowed and have the temerity to want to look after their children. It’s starting to get a little dull. I would be delighted if he and his government were to take the task of getting beneficiaries into work seriously, because then they might make an effort to put the necessary support structures into place. I wrote about this long, long ago, when the Nats, then in opposition, first talked about getting everyone on the DPB into work. Fantastic, I said! Wonderful! Because in order to make it possible for sole parents, there must be adequate childcare, plenty of part time, flexible work, educational assistance to enable people to get the skills necessary to get jobs. These would all be wonderful things.

But as it turns out, the National party is doing none of these things. In fact, it is actively working to remove assistance with childcare and training.

More than that, it knows that under its watch, the number of people in this country who receive the unemployment benefit has increased by over 50,000 (see No Right Turn for details). In a country of just 4 million people, that’s a huge amount. We know that these people are ready and willing to work. We know that they would prefer to be in work, simply because they have recently been in employment, and their jobs have been taken away from them. But there isn’t a job creation scheme in sight.

So in a economy that is struggling, where the chances of getting a job are not high, where even people who want to work can’t get jobs, the government’s response is to force people to get (non-existent) jobs, or lose their benefits. This cannot be a sensible response to the increasing number of people who depend on the government for support, so it must simply be some sort of window dressing, an exercise in rhetoric designed to assure the National party’s core constituency that they will be protected from the depredations of all those lazy poor people. It is simply an exercise in branding.

The National party is not alone in developing policies as branding. I find it hard to see the introduction of the 39% tax rate by the incoming Labour government in 1999 as anything other than branding, especially when it came accompanied by terms like ‘rich pricks’. People who had the temerity for daring to earn more than $60,000 were characterised as rich bloodsuckers who ought to be paying more tax. No wonder so much effort was put into developing schemes to avoid paying the top rate. The Labour party set out to punish the rich for being rich, as a branding exercise, just as the National party is now setting out to punish beneficiaries. Both parties are guilty of this nastiness.

But of the two, I find the National party’s attack on the poor more reprehensible. People with a fair amount of income have resources to withstand attacks. They can hire accountants and lawyers, cancel that holiday to Bali, pick up an investment property to do some income off-setting, whatever. If they run into some sort of trouble, like the car breaking down, well, they can always make do with one car for a week or two, and even then they can pay for the repairs. Property, income, education… these are all resources that enable the well-off to be proof against the government.

Not so for the poor. When the government attacks them, they have few resources to withstand the attack. Every single penny of income is spent on the basics, there are no cash reserves to pay for parts for the car, and even if there was something tucked away, it would still be a matter of finding the time to trek out to the wreckers to find a replacement part, and the time to do the repairs. Children go sick because there is no money to travel to the doctor, let alone pay her or him, and if there is enough money for the children, there certainly isn’t enough for Mum or Dad. If there’s a dispute with the landlord, then you might be able to get some help from the Community Law Centre, but only if you can take time off work to get there. Existence is precarious at best, and frightening when the government grabs headlines by promising to remove the small income you receive.

John Key and his government just don’t seem to care. They seem to have forgotten, if they ever knew, what it is like to be down and out, to be out of work with little hope of getting a new job, to be living on the margins.

Not so Metiria Turei, co-leader of the Green Party. She gave a stunning response to John Key’s bennie-bashing service cutting speech, talking about her father, who worked hard and struggled all his short life, just to get a fair go, not so much for himself, but for his children. The whole speech is magnificent, so much so that I can’t find an excerpt to post here. Please, go read the whole thing.

Metiria Turei’s speech about her father, who just wanted a decent job.

I hope that John Key has read it too.

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8 comments on “Bennie bashing – an exercise in branding

  1. Stef says:

    I want to vote for the greens now.

  2. demelza says:

    I find the greens and interesting proposition, but the GE thing causes problems for me as my husband does GE at times at work… I wish Labour would provide some better solutions to taxation, there must be a better model that could be used…. I don’t know what though as I have limited understanding of how the whole system works, but it does seem like its pretty easy if you have a good accountant to get around paying the top tax rate.

    Bennie bashing is nothing new, but the way they are doing it seems even nastier… how dare girls who get pregnant under 18 be on the dpb for at least 7 years…. Paula Bennett made it sound like they did it for the meal ticket…. what 16 year old girl gets pregnant for the money? none that I know of.

    It will be an interesting year and it looks like the gaps between the haves and the have nots are just going to get bigger

  3. Carol says:

    Deborah, it is great to have you back in the country and commentating on politics here. You are a taonga.

  4. Helen says:

    Metiria Turei’s speech is wonderful, just wonderful.

  5. Southernrata says:

    I know Metiria quite well, and she is absolutely authentic; wise, funny, skilled in leadership, and able to get to the essence of a problem in a heartbeat. I’ve often heard her talk of her father and her younger times, and it was wonderful to hear that story woven into such a powerful critique. Shame on those who talked so rudely through it.

  6. Southernrata says:

    Demelza, I’m a green, and I struggle with the near absolutism of some of the GE policy a little bit myself – one of my daughters is a gene-splicing biochemist. However, I figure that one policy out of 30 or so I favour, is not worth making a stand on, and when the policy comes up for review, as it will in the next few years, I look forward to having input in the re-development, as the process allows us to.

  7. Denny says:

    I think that Metiria raises some good points, however, I comment on the question raised by Demelza. It’s only a tiny portion of the debate, and I hate the idea of focussing solely on these unfortunate kids and their families, but nobody is even acknowledging there may be a problem. Demelza’s question:’…what sixteen year old girl gets pregnant for the money? none that I know of.” Unhappily some do. I can’t point to some statistically significant study, but at least one cohort of girls who passed through Onslow College (a decile 10 school) Years 11 and 12 a few years ago included five or six girls who were pregnant by choice by the time they were sixteen or seventeen, and intended to live on the dpb with or without a partner. That’s around 1% of the girls at this school. The previous and following years’ classes also included about the same number of girls who had chosen to get pregnant. What sixteen year old girl chooses to get pregnant? One who has no idea of the financial and isolating reality of raising children and/or has baggage that she thinks she can deal with by having her own child. It’s hard to believe that the pregnancy choice is isolated to this high school, or these cohorts. It’s likely to be more widespread, worse in some areas. It’s difficult to see these pregnancies as anything other than by choice when a)that’s what they tell their peers and b) sex ed in year 9 was a waste of time for nearly fifty percent because they had already had sex c) condoms and other contraceptives are free and freely available to these girls who know how and where to access them and do, til they are sixteen d) they know how to access the morning after pill e) these girls have talked about abortion as personal options and know the cost and how to access one. As an aside, when my daughter was playing water polo, out of a team of eleven fourteen year olds I know of two mothers that were supplying their daughters (from other schools) with condoms because they were having sex.
    I’m not saying kids shouldn’t be having sex. I think that we have our heads in the sand when it comes to the choices that girls of sixteen and seventeen are making. Policies aimed at getting them back to work after they’re pregnant are all very well, but if girls are choosing to get pregnant at sixteen, shouldn’t we be showing them better options?

  8. demelza says:

    thanks Denny… I see your point, and you are right there were girls at school with me who got pregnant because they wanted a baby for various reasons, I don’t think that they thought about the long term consequences of this… or maybe they did, I dont know as I was never in that situation.

    there should be better options for them and for anyone on a benefit but when unemployment is rising its hard to see how the options the government is offering will help anyone.

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