Let’s just call this what it is. You cannot campaign on a platform of relieving child poverty, improving the lives of all New Zealanders, commission an investigation into the welfare system to gather lived experiences and a set of comprehensive expert recommendations… and then do nothing.
On the one hand, I’m happy with Labour’s win and I still want to believe in the Jacinda we were all so proud of as she steered a steady ship through a terrorist attack, an eruption and a global pandemic.
But part of me went cold when I saw the steel in her eyes on election night. The kindness she’s come to be known for worldwide was gone as she repeated many times that Labour now has a mandate to move forward with their plans, unhindered by the so-called blockades of the coalition.
It’s extremely early into her second term, but most of the country has been waiting to see what the PM will do with this mandate – and how much of Labour’s failures over the past three years can truly be blamed on NZ First. Winston – such a dick, and such an easy scapegoat. See ya soon buddy.
I’m bored of debate about the ‘split left,’ as if all of us with progressive views must prostrate to the same political rule. I’m deeply disappointed that the Greens didn’t get enough of the pie to form a coalition, because lord save me, I truly believe they’re the only ones representing the views and fighting for the rights of the most marginalised people in New Zealand.
Today’s announcement that benefit levels will not be raised prior to Christmas (if at all) drives that point home like a knife to the back.
Within the coalition government, Labour commissioned the Welfare Expert Advisory Group to travel the country spending lots of money listening to beneficiaries tell their stories – stories we’ve told over and over and over again. And yet, we showed up, because a part of us had hope that this meant change was finally on the horizon.
The WEAG Report gave 42 key recommendations, supplemented by detail of how each could be achieved. These recommendations were based on research, lived experience, and the crucial understanding that the current welfare system is failing. It is failing our children, it is failing our disabled and ill, it is failing our Maori and Pacifica peoples, it is failing all of New Zealand by allowing financial abuse of the disenfranchised.
How many of these recommendations did the government actually implement? Two, I believe. Maybe three.
And today’s announcement seems to signal that that’s about all we can hope for.
I find it utterly indescribable that those in the Beehive were able to literally print money to bail out businesses, home-owners, and the recently unemployed due to COVID-19 – who were granted a weekly subsidy more than most beneficiaries have ever received – and yet, they are abandoning their duty of care for those who were in dire situations prior to the pandemic.
Apparently, it was too hard and too costly to listen to the recommendations of the experts commissioned to tell us what needs to be done to allow our people to live with dignity – but somehow, this money appeared overnight when the economy seemed so perilous.
The economy seems to be doing just fine. The people are not.
I resigned from my job a couple of weeks ago. It was a drawn-out, painful decision. It took several years of fighting for my health and fighting WINZ for my rights before I was well enough to become an employee again. I celebrated with everything in me. I love my work.
Unfortunately, my body does not. Despite incredible support and flexibility from my partner, my boss and my team, despite trying every medication thrown at me by various specialists, despite giving myself weekly injections to suppress my immune system and therefore make me more vulnerable to COVID – I’ve been unable to sustain the reliability I need to do the job. I’ve developed severe tendonitis and my hands are constantly in pain, which makes both handwriting and using a keyboard extremely difficult. That was the final straw – I can’t work if I can’t write. I’m tapping this out agonisingly slowly.
I’m incredibly privileged. My partner earns enough to support us. He made it clear that this was my health and my decision, and we both knew my health had to come first. I cried while I cleared out my desk, signed out of my accounts and put my business cards in the recycling. I cried sitting in my car in the parking lot. It was a familiar feeling of loss, failure and fearing becoming a financial burden.
Being sick is expensive. That’s just the basic reality. And when one person holds the purse-strings, though that is not the dynamic in our house, the situation is rife for not only illness getting worse because the money isn’t there for treatment – it also leaves the ill person open to abuse of all kinds.
Despite the pain work causes me, I will do as much contracting as I can, at least enough to cover my medical bills. I’m not the couch-sitting sort, even when my body is screaming at me to rest. And despite my partner’s insistence I am no burden, I want to contribute to our household, to our life – to our future. We’d like to own a house one day (lol). Maybe we’d like to have a child. A couple decades ago, these were basic things to hope for – entitlements, almost. Not just the ‘Kiwi dream,’ but the Kiwi standard.
Now, my heart is breaking because someone I love is considering ending their relationship because they’re an ill beneficiary and their partner wants that house and that child. They said to me, “I should set her free. Let her be with someone who can give her that.” They’re in a different situation to me – I could, if it happened, not work during pregnancy and early childhood. They, on the other hand, cannot be open about their relationship or move in together, because of WINZ’s relationship rules. (The same ones that render me without an income, the same ones the WEAG recommended overhauling, and the same ones numerous action groups around the country have been campaigning against for years).
Even if they could declare their relationship, she has reduced earning power because she’s a woman – even lower because she’s considering a child. She would need to work almost the entire pregnancy, and return after birth as soon as possible.
Which brings me back to my original point. Not raising welfare levels, and changing rules that place people in dire and heartbreaking circumstances, is eugenics. People with wealth will have the house and the children and that generational wealth will pass down. People in poverty don’t have the same freedom – the same rights. And people in poverty are usually marginalised minority groups.
I can only hope that the backlash against Labour – which rightly began with the cannabis control referendum – will push them into action. Any movement at this point is better than more broken promises.
Those make them no better than their supposed opponents.