I’ve so far avoided commenting on the issue dearest to my heart in the leadup to the election, but I’m all round furious, so let’s go.
I’m pretty excited to sink my teeth into this. I’m no policy analyst but I am a somewhat experienced WINZ client, and while social development is obviously a much wider umbrella than just welfare, that’s what I’m keen to look at now.
The Ours.co.nz cheatsheet is a really good way to get a snapshot of… not exactly policy, because it is just a snapshot, but more the ideology of each party around welfare and benefiaries.
The current situation
It’s pretty clear that under a National government, beneficiaries are not only low priority, we are ‘the enemy.’ In their last term we’ve suffered welfare reforms that rolled the sickness benefit and unemployment into one, we’ve had crackdowns on supposed benefit fraud, and the focus on getting ‘long term’ beneficiaries (anything more than 12 months) (like maybe someone with a chronic illness) off the benefit has dramatically increased. The same can be said for getting solo parents back into work as quickly as possible.
All this looks set to continue. National plan to:
- Reduce the number of people who have been receiving the Job Seeker Support benefit for at least 12 months.
- Cut benefits for fugitive criminals.
- Make beneficiaries’ spouses and partners accountable for benefit fraud.
Awesome. Let’s not support vulnerable people, let’s punish them as much as possible! They reckon they’re currently getting 1600 people off the benefit every week. This numbers seem incredible to me. I’ve asked a couple of people to investigate further on how this stat is decided. Check out this charming wording on their website:
The first thing in the summary is getting people off the benefit. As if beneficiaries are the biggest threat to community??
As a beneficiary, I contribute massively to my community. I volunteer, I donate, I write about issues that effect people. I really, really resent the implication that my existence is, at best, bludging, and at worst, a criminal threat to my neighbours. Sorry for lowering the tone of the neighbourhood with my disability, guys…
Main points on ours.co.nz are:
- Access to careers advice and job search support for all registered unemployed (and beneficaries) as soon as they register as jobseekers.
- Index benefits to the average wage.
- Replace the current Social Security Act 1964 with a simple two-tier benefit system consisting of a universal base rate that is enough to live on, with add-ons for specific circumstances (e.g. dependants, disability, chronic illness).
This all seems good to me. I also asked on Twitter if any party was planning to roll back the latest welfare reforms, which were responsible for mashing the unemployment benefit and the sickness benefit together. The Greens were the only ones who replied, and Metiria Turei said yes, they would look at this.
Here’s their whole Income Support policy.
I haven’t seen anything specific from Labour on welfare. Their focus is on children in poverty, and this will of course roll into welfare, it’s all under the social development banner. I’d like to see actual promises. Ours.co.nz only says:
- Pay employers to take on apprentices a subsidy equivalent to the dole.
Ok, good. What else? Of course, their health policy – extended Care+, free prescriptions, reduced cost GP visits etc – will make a big difference for many beneficiaries too.
I am actually quite impressed by Mana’s policy and am depressed all over again that they hooked themselves to the Internet Party. Ours.co.nz summary:
- Increase benefit levels.
- Revise Working for Families.
- Introduce community service jobs for unemployed in schools, hospitals, retirement villages, kaumātua flats, and community organisations.
- Provide a yearly one-off hardship grant of $1,000 for every person aged 18 and over who is on an income of $30,000 or less.
- Reinstate Training Incentive Allowance for people on the Domestic Purposes Benefit.
- Change the culture of WINZ, including establishing an independent review body.
- Fund community based beneficiary and ACC advocacy groups.
I actually wasn’t totally terrified by the summary for them.
- Emphasise community-based social programmes to assist the revitalisation of rural communities.
- Encourage all young people under 25 who are not at school to either be ‘earning or learning’.
- Ensure that sickness and invalids beneficiaries seek treatment for their incapacity.
- Closely monitor the effectiveness of current initiatives for moving domestic purposes recipients into appropriate employment as their children get older.
- Ensure that jobseekers have access to vacancies in other regions, and increase relocation grants.
- Increase funding for adult literacy programmes, and ensure that every community education centre runs such programmes.
- Apply intensive case management to those beneficiaries who struggle to budget and pay for the basics, to ensure that their basic needs are being met, especially for households with children.
- Ensure that people receive their appropriate entitlements, by funding the Citizens Advice Bureau and other similar legal and community assistance services to give independent advice and advocacy on such issues.
Supports National’s policy. Also say they will:
- Reduce marginal tax rates for those shifting from welfare to work.
- Outsource rehabilitation functions to private providers.
- Impose lifetime limits on welfare eligibility.
- Crack down on benefit fraud.
- Remove minimum wage
What the fuck is a lifetime limit? Um… my arthritis isn’t going away… And scrapping the minimum wage… what? (Also, fuck your ‘cracking down’ on benefit fraud. We are already closely monitored and reminded constantly of all the terrible things that could happen to us if we commit fraud. Where are those numbers that compare tax evasion to benefit fraud? Yeah. All your supposed fraudsters don’t exist, buddy.)
- Increase access to education and health services to lower the reliance on welfare.
- Expansion of the scope and availability of Whanau Ora.
Vague, unimpressive, and I feel kind of threatened, as if someone is going to tell me I’m too reliant on the income that pays my medical bills so I can get well and reduce my reliance om welfare… hmm.
NZFirst, Internet Party, and Conservative have no policies available. At the moment I almost consider that a mercy.
To be honest, there hasn’t been as much discussion on this as I’m used to, and I wonder if they’re all saving it up for as close to the election as possible. After tax cuts, there’s no words middle and upper-class New Zealand like to hear more than “cracking down on beneficiaries.” It’s really great that my ability – and right – to exist as a disabled woman in New Zealand gets tossed into the ring as an election pawn. “Should we help her?” “Nah, bro, let’s give the rich $10 extra a week.” Know what $10 extra a week would give me right now?
- Two prescriptions ($5 each)
- Almost a Dr’s visit under Care Plus (they are $12)
- A loaf of gluten free bread and 3 bananas
- 2 packages of painkillers
- 2 visits to the pool so I can exercise
- Something towards my neverending hunt for a proper footrest for under my desk, because my spine is completely out of alignment.
I’m getting carried away. I did warn you that this topic was close to my heart. And I think it’s ok to be angry. It’s ok to be angry that your entitlements can be stripped away at a moment’s notice with no say from you. It’s ok to be angry that people think you’re a bludger, that so many of your country will vote against supporting you, because they want a tax cut or because they think you’re lazy. It’s ok to be angry that you have to feel guilty for “living off the government.” It’s ok to be angry that you’re judged and excluded for being disabled, which is a life that, despite what some may say, is not a life you are choosing.
This is deeply personal for me. This is my Achilles Heel. I’ve had two years to adjust from being a workaholic who loved my job, with my future mapped out, to being hospitalised, to months on the couch – but still with the hope I’d get better – to so recently discovering I will not. Not completely. That’s a lot to take in. Part of me still doesn’t believe it at all. Another part of me is realistic about the fact I may never be able to work more than part time. And if that’s the case, I may need state support for the rest of my life. In fact, that’s not a “may” – even if I manage enough work to support myself, I will still be using public health services.
So, yes, it’s personal. And yes, I am angry.
And that’s ok.