Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Lindsay Mitchell: Benefits - blackmail money extracted under threat?

The NZ Herald editorialises today about drugs and beneficiaries:

"...using the benefits system as a means of forcing people off drugs and getting their lives back in order has never been considered before."

Let's back up a bit here. According to the 1965 NZ Yearbook;
Invalids' Benefits-Subject to certain residential and other qualifications, every person of the age of 16 years and upwards who is not qualified to receive an age benefit is entitled to an invalid's benefit if he-
  1. Is totally blind; or
  2. Is permanently incapacitated for work as the result of an accident or by reason of illness or of any congenital defect.
The other qualifications referred to are as follows:
  1. That he has fulfilled certain residential qualifications, these in the main being the same as for superannuation benefits described on page 178.
  2. That incapacity for work was not self-induced or in any way brought about with a view to qualifying for an invalid's benefit.
  3. Applicant must be of good moral character and sober habits.
My next question is, then, wasn't requiring eligible recipients to be "of good moral character and sober habits" also using the benefit system to control how people behaved? Later in the 1960s (judging by Yearbook information) this requirement disappeared. So in effect the door was opened to addicts.

In 1964 the population was 2.4 million and there were 8,000 invalid beneficiaries in total. In 2012 the population is 4.4 million and there are 84,000 invalid beneficiaries, 6,000 of them drug and/or alcohol addicts.

So now the Minister is trying to put the genie back in the bottle but gets told she is doing something unacceptable.

The NZ Herald continues:
Taking money away from them will make no difference because addicts will go to any length to obtain drugs. Indeed, in some cases, they are more likely to be lured into crime or prostitution to feed their addiction. 
Sensibly, therefore, the Government plans to exempt drug and alcohol addicts from sanctions for refusing or failing a drug test. It has, however, hinted that such beneficiaries may be forced to get treatment for their addictions. Such a step should be resisted as the policy detail is finalised. In no other area of health is such an approach taken.
For those suffering from a wide range of mental illnesses, for example, collecting a benefit is not contingent on agreeing to treatment. Why, then, stigmatise addicts in this manner? Specialists in drug treatment are adamant that addicts should not, and cannot, be coerced into abstinence.
So there you have it. We have to support people with addictive drug habits lest they threaten us with crime. In a similar way as we have to support people with children lest the little children suffer. So it took me a while but I get to the point of this post.

In some cases paying a benefit is like paying blackmail money. And our acquiescence is wrong.

Paying it will only encourage more extortion.


Ray said...

Kind of like treaty settlements dont you think? But yes, blackmail by another name.

Claire Kelly said...

Drug taking in NZ is illegal. Why are we paying benefits to criminals who are breaking the law?

Chuck Bird said...

Claire, you are partly correct but methadone is legal. I still do not think that should be an excuse any more than alcohol.

Mamari said...

Might have been useful to refer to the actual legislation rather than the yearbook. The good moral character
and sober habits requirement derived from the 1938 Act, and stripped out of the 1964 consolidation. Largely because of the complexity in applying the test. Interesting issue, that morality testing!