Sunday, June 19, 2016
Lindsay Mitchell: Free-for-all benefit system is untenable
Barrister Catriona MacLennan recently recommended improvements to the social welfare system via the current rewrite of our social security legislation. She wants to “…ensure all New Zealanders in hardship receive the help they need.” The original intent of social security was to alleviate unforeseen hardship. Not self-imposed hardship. One in five babies born onto welfare every year is not unforeseen hardship.
She wants “…the reduction of poverty [to be] the aim of social welfare, rather than the current focus on reducing the number of beneficiaries.”
Even Labour believes (or used to under Clark and Cullen) that paid employment is the best way out of poverty. That’s why they created the In Work Tax Credit. The correct “focus” is getting people into work to reduce poverty. Reducing beneficiary numbers is a by-product.
Next Ms MacLennnan asks that the bill recognize,”… the value of parenting.” Our welfare system “… is preoccupied with ensuring as many people as possible enter the paid workforce… a short-term approach [that] fails to take account of the long-term value to the community of parents spending time with their children.”
Fact: Children seen in the benefit system before age two account for 83% of all those with a substantiated finding of maltreatment by age 5. More welfare will not equal better parenting.
Her next suggestion is suspending financial penalties for mothers who “…cannot name the fathers of their children …” Docking their benefits punishes the children, she says.
Cannot is mostly 'do not'. Abolishing this disincentive would increase the single parent benefit bill in two ways. By paying existing mothers who do not name fathers more money, and, going forward, recouping less money via child support from increasing numbers of unnamed fathers.
Deletion of the phrase "long-term welfare dependency" from the bill is the next demand. “This makes welfare a burden, rather than the responsibility of the community and an investment in the future wellbeing of New Zealanders.”
In other words, stop differentiating between those people who use welfare as a temporary stop-gap (for which they paid taxes) and those who remain on welfare for years, if not their entire working-age lives, as a matter of choice. Who does this protect?
The next recommendation for the bill requires Ministry of Social Development to provide all beneficiaries with all the assistance to which they are entitled. “Currently, people seeking help face major difficulties in obtaining their legal entitlements.”
But then MacLennan asks the government to, "Write into law a provision that grants, advances on benefits and other additional assistance are not recoverable by MSD from beneficiaries. If people were not in desperate need, they would not be receiving such help. “
Are they or aren’t they receiving help? Which is it?
Whatever the case, no requirement to repay grants and advances would be open slather. Why not just issue every beneficiary with unlimited credit?
It gets worse. The new legislation should, “Stop sending mothers convicted of benefit fraud on the basis of a confusing and inconsistently-applied legal test to jail... In addition, if the debt established against them cannot be repaid within two years, it should be written off."
Let’s take stock.
No penalties for unnamed fathers, no repayments of grants and advances, no repayments of fraudulently acquired benefits, and no jail terms. Why not just throw the rule book out the window?
Finally the writer wants “…benefit rates liveable, rather than keeping them very low to punish those who cannot - for many reasons - either find or perform paid work.”
The average sole parent with two children living in South Auckland is receiving around $670 weekly – above the minimum wage. If he/she takes in a lodger or shares with another sole parent the household income will be even more "liveable".
Even the Greens wouldn't adopt MacLennan's policy prescription. It's utterly untenable.
at 11:12 PM