Monday, August 15, 2011
Mike Butler: Better ideas needed on welfare reform
Prime Minister John Key also told the National Party’s conference yesterday that young people aged 16 or 17 on a benefit, and the 1000 DPB recipients aged 18 will have essential costs such as rent and power paid directly by the government, and will have money for basic living costs like food and clothing loaded on to a payment card. It will not be possible to buy cigarettes or alcohol on the card. Only a smaller discretionary amount will be paid directly into bank accounts.
The rationale for this is that an estimated nine out of 10 teenagers not training or in work go on to a benefit once they turn 18, and teen parents spend on average seven out of 10 years on welfare once they are introduced to the system.
Key is targeting disengaged 16- and 17-year olds. How did they get disengaged? School didn’t suit them? Parents on welfare? Why only one parent? Is mum better off financially to be on her own? Would that mean that the government provides more money for her to raise children on her own?
The slick, stage-managed National Party conference appeared worlds away from disengaged teens, yet quite conceivably a number of those teens would have been the children of those party faithful at the conference. The disengagement starts when the parents are too self-absorbed to be involved in their children’s lives, and could become worse if school does not go too well.
The Nats’ latest move could be seen as a kick from right up at the top, and that is going to disengage a few more teens, especially after the zero alcohol law for teen drivers and the recent crackdown on boy racers. More scapegoating of a vulnerable group. The Key government has a habit of cracking down on everybody else.
Key could have helped by reinstating youth rates that would bring paid work within the reach of 16- to 17-year-olds. Absence of youth rates prices teens off the job market. Obvious economic illiteracy by numerous politicians, who are either too dim to understand the problem, or have their own fixed beliefs.
Key puts a lot of faith in community and other organisations that will be funded by the government to provide a transitions service that can arrange access to social services like drug and alcohol or counselling services. This creates a business opportunity for these hand-holding social service agencies, that regularly appear in the news for receiving funding for non-existent clients.
Training schemes are demoralising. I’ve seen a person go through three years of computer training on such a scheme and the best he could get at the end of it was a few hours of part time work at a school.
Direct payments of rent from Work and Income work well for both parties, although Work and Income staff members have been very reluctant to set these payments up. And while a pre-loaded card for groceries that cannot be used for liquor or cigarettes may be appropriate for drinkers and smokers, addicts will always find a way to circumvent it, and it is an insult to provide such a card for non-addicts.
Key says that this is the first of a number of moves, so I hope his next steps are better thought out. What is really needed for these young, disengaged people is a job, someone to encourage them to stick at it every day, their own money to save or spend as they choose so they can grow in independence, and access to addiction services if needed.
Above all, keep them out of the government system, because once in the system, they’re dependent for life.
at 1:38 PM