Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

Campbell on National’s welfare policy, Tauranga and Georgia

August 11th, 2008


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*****

Will John Key’s policy announcement on welfare this afternoon do much to resolve the problems it claims to address ? Hardly. The measures seem entirely punitive if – as mooted – they do entail a part time work requirement of 15 hours a week for solo parents once their youngest child turns six. The policy will also apply the same work test to sickness and invalids beneficiaries, while those on the dole for more than a year will be required to re-apply, and be work-tested once again.

This will do nothing to lift children out of poverty and in fact, could well worsen the financial hardship faced by such families – by imposing a 15 hour work activity requirement that will cost money in transport, and provide little advantage in terms of income gains or genuine work. All it may do is help reduce labour costs at KFC and New World.

Why do it ? It is as if National felt the need to beat up on beneficiaries somehow, and somewhere – and so it picked primarily on solo parents, the group of beneficiaries widely recognized as being in LEAST need of extra motivation to get off the benefit.

Tellingly, National has not gone for a full-blown work for the dole scheme. This is not only because there are so few people on the dole, but because such schemes are administratively top-heavy, and are proven failures, since the make-work activity related to the scheme gets in the way of people having the time and resources to chase down genuine jobs. The proof is in this departmental survey of the Job Plus scheme, which had either no effect on work outcomes, or in fact, made things worse. The conclusion :

This [negative ] finding is consistent with an earlier
outcome evaluation….which also concluded that the programme had no
appreciable positive effect on outcomes. Furthermore, the multivariate
analysis shows that the estimated effect of the programme on outcomes was
significantly negative over the first 12 months, after which there was no significant difference in outcomes between participants and comparison group. .

There is no reason to think the same make-work activity will not have the same negative impact on DPB recipients – who stay on the benefits for as shorter time than other beneficiaries and have little or no problems with motivation. In other words, this move by National against DPB recipients is being driven by ideology, not by common sense or sound research.

In that respect, the sop to abatement levels – National aims to lift the allowable extra income from $80 to $100 before the benefit begins to abate – seems utterly cynical, in that the work requirement will cost families more than they will gain from any lifting of the abatement ceiling.

Petering out in Tauranga

The last ten days have been a bad time for cocky politicians, starting with the three loose-lipped senior National MPs at the infamous cocktail party. Over the weekend there was even more bad news for the brashly overly confident, ranging from Mikhail Saakashvili in Georgia to Winston Peters in Tauranga.

The New Zealand First leader not only trails National newcomer Simon Bridges by 20 points in Tauranga. The NZF party vote in Tauranga has also halved from 13.2 % in the 2005 election to a mere six per cent in this poll.

Bad news, but not necessarily calamitous. The NZF list vote is a nationwide phenomenon, with Tauranga providing only 3.72 % of the entire list vote for NZF in the 2005 election – and it cannot be assumed the backlash against Peters in Tauranga will be repeated with equal force everywhere else, especially by election day. In recent months, NZF’s hope for a return to Parliament have rested on getting across the 5 % barrier nationwide, and not in winning Tauranga. The latest poll underlines that Tauranga is a hopeless cause. The party as a whole is not quite in that category, not yet at least.

Russia on the Rise.

The decision by Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvioli to send his troops into South Ossetia last Thursday must be one of the worst strategic blunders in living memory. As the Guardian and others have noted it is tempting – and wrong – to view the sight of Russian tanks and troops pulverizing Georgia through the Cold War lens of Prague in 1968 or the Hungary uprising. In reality, a West that supported the dis-membering of Yugoslavia in the Balkans can hardly condemn the disintegration of Georgia in the Caucasus. Saakashvili merely gave Russia the excuse it needed.

Clearly, the Georgian president thought that his newest best friend George W. Bush and the forces of Nato would not stand idly by while Georgia got crushed. Think again. The US is already over-stretched in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Germany in particular is dependent on Russian energy to heat its homes. Neither were ever likely to go to war against Russia in order to save the Georgians from their own results of their own folly. For Russia, this is a win/ win situation everywhere it looks.

For one thing, the action in Georgia deals Nato a black eye, and rolls back some of the shameful concessions made during and since the Gorbachev/Yeltsin era. After all, while Nato may have pledged at the time not to take any former Warsaw Pact countries under its wing, it then did so – with the Poles and the Czechs both now tacitly assisting with Nato’s virtual military encirclement of the Russians. By dealing a blow to Georgia, Russia not only gets to humble Europe and the US, diplomatically. In short order, it can also unite North and South Ossetia, and make its own call on whether to ‘liberate’ the other Georgian breakaway region of Abhazia. Along the way, it will be sending a cautionary message to the Ukraine about who it should be regarding as its best friend and ally.

As usual, oil and gas reserves are also playing a strategic role in the conflict. By this action, Russia gets a hand on the crucial Ceylan/Baku pipeline formerly designed to exclude it and Iran from Europe’s map of its future energy needs and supplies. Pathetically, Europe’s main response so far to the Georgian crisis has been to advise its citizens to conserve energy.

All up, what is being played out is a demonstration of Russia’s military resurgence backed up by its energy clout – and of Nato’s relative impotence, and Europe’s energy vulnerability. Few will shed any tears over Saakashvili. After all, if he had been successful in his foray into South Ossetia, this would only have validated a micro-empire of the sort that the West had found intolerable in the Balkans.

Looking further afield , Europe will now somehow have to find the means to escape from its newly underlined energy dependence on Russia. Nato too, faces headaches – what can Brussels really do about the convincingly demonstrated limits on its power to protect its would-be friends ? The Russians have less to worry about. Medium term, the only problem facing Russia will be to control the forces for wider fragmentation in the Caucasus. Russia already has a war going on in Chechnya. Its aid to South Ossetia will encourage similar moves for independence in Abkhazia, Ingushetia and Dagestan. Europe will be hoping this keeps Russia busy enough in the meantime, while it rethinks, and regroups.

ENDS

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    1. 18 Responses to “Campbell on National’s welfare policy, Tauranga and Georgia”

    2. By Robert Boyd-Bell on Aug 11, 2008 | Reply

      Don’t place too much relevance on one poll in Tauranga based on 500 people – the one thing we do know about polls is that small samples are always wrong – like advertising spend, we just don’t know how much and how to target.

    3. By Doug on Aug 11, 2008 | Reply

      If the beneficiary is a state house tenant, as most of those on the DPB are,they will lose 50% of the additional income in increased rent.

      http://www.hnzc.co.nz/hnzc/web/rent-buy-or-own/rent-from-housing-new-zealand/income-related-rent.htm

    4. By ak on Aug 11, 2008 | Reply

      Aye Doug, and as the abatement rate on that extra $20/wk is currently only 30%, the value of the toies’ “increase” is actually only $6/wk in the hand – so those in your scenario would actually lose $4/wk!

      Typical Key chicanery: take one large pot of lightly-cooked “Me-too”, season with a healthy dash of “Benny-bash”, and leaven with a tantalising hint of pseudo-compassion. Serve lightly on a gullible table.
      (from: “Policy in a minute: light entrees to your Secret Menu”: Crosby-Textor, 2008)

    5. By mark on Aug 11, 2008 | Reply

      I do believe the policy is work or training, not just work as you imply.
      Getting a sole parent who has been out of the workforce for several years into a training course is the first step in improving self confidence. Improved self confidence is key in improving their future prospects.
      If you simply line their pockets there will be some (not all) who will take advantage of the added income and use it to prop up the local bar/pokies/tobacco retailer. Now I do admit that the majority of people on DPB are their genuinely and they are let down by the minority, but the minority is large enough to warent legislation like this. I seriously doubt those who genuinly are claiming DPB would be worried by spending 15 hours a week improving their job prospects. Also Work and Income pay Training Incentive Allowance for DPB clients who attend training, meaning they will not be disadvantaged by increased travel and course costs.

    6. By Kevin on Aug 11, 2008 | Reply

      Well, I hope employers are geared up for this as there is going to be influx of solo parents who are only going to be able to work between 9am and 3pm and will not be able to work during school holidays.

      Yet another well thought out policy idea from National.

    7. By Kelly on Aug 12, 2008 | Reply

      Yeah right National Party…Where are the jobs for solo parents.

      And you had better encourage employers to hire solo mothers because if their child is sick they need time of work and also cant work holidays and weekends….Stupid ideas

    8. By Mike on Aug 12, 2008 | Reply

      We employ (in our software development company) several working mothers that either work reduced hours each day or fewer full days each week. They manage pretty well, and we’re bloody glad to have them as part of our team. They don’t automatically have to have all the school holidays off, and neither do I or my wife with our children.

      Expecting people to do paid work (as long as it’s meaningful and productive, and not just make-work) is a good way to introduce people who in many cases have never had a proper job into the workforce.

      It’s great when people understand that the dignity of honest work is a fantastic thing and that having babies is not a way to avoid entering the workforce.

    9. By Jason on Aug 12, 2008 | Reply

      Hey Robert, the one thing we know about polls is that 500 is a pretty decent size for a sample.

      As long as it really was a random selection, the margin of error would be +/-4% (i.e., 19 times out of twenty, the results would be at most 4% out from the real value).

      You can argue it was a biased sample, or people lied/were mistaken, not that the sample was too small.

    10. By George Darroch on Aug 12, 2008 | Reply

      This must mean National will also provide an extensive free childcare program for these parents too.

      Right?

    11. By brian on Aug 12, 2008 | Reply

      Over the years, I’ve meet a fair few solo mums and dads. Some have a work ethic on trying to improve their situation by becoming self reliant, and some go on to have more children while on the benefit with a goal of getting a larger benefit or bigger house funded by the workers of New Zealand… No one begrudges those needing a hand up, but I’m not alone in begruding those only interested in a handout.

      Gordon also misses the whole message of self relience of the policy. Encouraging education/training and a work ethic. Instead his attack on yet another National policy without balance shows poor . If someone wants something from the state, then the state is entitled to expect something in return from them. It’s not punitive, it’s called expectation. If the jobs aren’t there, then they aren’t there, but no reason why we should not expect something from a beneficary.

      Safety net, not Hammock.

    12. By Arwen on Aug 12, 2008 | Reply

      I’m on DPB and I find nothing wrong with being asked to work or train for 15 hours a week. That’s a very small committment considering the long hours many in the fulltime workforce put in. I also think it’s fair enough that more accountability is placed on sickness and invalids beneficiaries. There are far too many people on these benefits whose only sickness is an allergy to working. These measures are fairly balanced out by an increase in the earnings threshold and indexing of benefits to the CPI. Those who call a bit of accountability beneficiary bashing are obviously happy to simply pay people for doing nothing. Well sorry, but this solo mum who works part time wants to see more encouragement for those of us who choose to get off our backsides and a kick in the backsides for those who have chosen so far not to.

    13. By Lynn Prentice on Aug 13, 2008 | Reply

      I’d agree with Jason. That poll in Tauranga is more likely to be accurate than the usual ‘global’ polls. Instead of sampling at most 1000 people in a population of 2.8 million odd voters, they are sampling 500 people in a population of 40 thousand odd voters.

      Moreover, Tauranga should have a reasonable number of people accessible via landlines – probably 60% or more. There will be some bias because of the income, working hours, and age variations for telephone sampling compared to the electorate population, but the size of the sample won’t be that far off.

      It’d be interesting to see the ‘do not knows’ and ‘refused’ counts in that sample.

      I’d expect that poll to be quite accurate for when it was taken. It’d take quite a bit of work to move that electorate vote between now and the election.

    14. By Janine Rangimarie Bosma on Aug 13, 2008 | Reply

      FROM A MAORI PERSPECTIVE:
      Like I said before about National, new face in charge, but the same old stale tactics!! Therefore the same stale Leadership, and look he’s already targeting Beneficies who are the result of National and Labours past Governance!! But then Mr Keys would have no idea what it means to be on a benefit of any kind as he’s wealthy, a multi-millionaire!! How about targeting the higher end of the scale thats taking all the money for their selfish greedy selves!! We don’t need multi-millionaires, and billionaires on a rich list. No wonder there is buggar all money for every one else!! With those amounts of dollars I could pay for many families to have their own homes rather than living in rentals!! As part of a “Community Housing Project” Introduced – far more practical than the arrogance of National Parties – Mr Keys. No wonder his hair is receding at a faster rate, politcal competition stress and arrogance!

    15. By Janine Rangimarie Bosma on Aug 13, 2008 | Reply

      FACE A REALITY – NOT EVERYONE IN A COUNTRY CAN BE EMPLOYED – IN PAID EMPLOYMENT

      By targeting beneficiaries Mr Keys is protecting the other end of scale – THE HIGH PROFIT MAKERS and INCOME EARNERS. Any buggar who is making big bucks by the millions per year, should give a putea – monetary portion directly back to the area communities in which they are operating instead of it all leaving our shores, using abusing, draining our Aotearoa for profit. How about targeting the Crown – the biggest gold digging foreign Dynasty of all!! Pushing people back out to work is unrealistic, face a reality – THAT NOT EVERYONE IN A COUNTRY CAN BE EMPLOYED, in paid employment!!

    16. By Barbara on Aug 14, 2008 | Reply

      It is a pity that the National Party appears not to have had a single new idea on Welfare in nearly 20 years – and sad that they also seem to have suffered an intelligence bypass.
      Beneficiaries of all kinds have not been able to catch up with escalating living costs since the 1991 benefit cuts. Th accelerating gap between these most vulnerable of our citizens and those of us fortunate enough to be in fulltime (well) paid work has grown faster and further than in any other OECD country. I wonder why so many politicians are enormously upset about our low OECD rankings in conventional economic terms but not when it comes to child abuse and neglect, child poverty, and the gap between the haves and the have nots. There will always be a few in any group who rort the system. This is not an excuse to punish everyone – and the sooner we all realise that our humanity can be judged by the way in which we care for our most vulnerable, the sooner we will become a genuinely admirable society.

    17. By Ben R on Aug 15, 2008 | Reply

      I think there’s an issue with some people who have poor parenting skills, or alcohol/drug/gambling issues & the welfare money is not well spent on the children.

      Instead I think National and Labour should look at ensuring essential items are provided by offering vouchers for baby items, food & clothing rather than money.

    18. By hjb on Aug 16, 2008 | Reply

      National says that the mothers will need to go on 15 hours/week minimum, but how many employers allow their workers to work 15 hour weeks.
      Also, I may have missed something because if solo mothers decide to not work, then their benefit is cut – so what happens to the child? Will the children of these mothers who don’t work suffer from the lower income, or is there something in the policy that I missed and will prevent that?

    19. By Dave on Aug 20, 2008 | Reply

      Janine Rangimarie Bosma….you should do some research before accusing Key of having no knowledge of living in poverty or being on a benefit. I’m not explaining it to you, go and read up some more because you’re way off the mark.

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