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.
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.
I hope that John Key has read it too.