Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

Campbell on the govt’s plans for welfare reform

December 21st, 2009

Gordon Campbell on the government’s plans for welfare reform

the old carrot/stick schtick
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At a time of the year when family care and social generosity should be on everyone’s mind, we find Finance Minister Bill English announcing the government’s intention to get tougher on welfare in 2010. The details are still maddeningly vague, but the approach English is advocating seems to involve community agencies ‘with proven track records’ having more ‘flexibility’ in managing how welfare dollars are spent in future on families at risk. Results, not process, will be paramount.

As mentioned, the details of this reform process are still extremely vague. Yet any observers with a track record of observing welfare reform will recognise the dog whistling going on in some of the terms being used. ‘Results’ tends to mean getting people off the welfare rolls, whatever. Putting money in the hands of community agencies with ‘proven track records’ ( the buzzwords are ‘the consolidation’ and ‘aggregation’ of funds and powers ) tends to mean that the government’s ideological friends will be enabled to make money out of welfare.

Overseas, the language of ‘allowing community agencies to become more involved in the delivery of welfare’ has been a synonym for the wholesale privatization of welfare services. At a time when accountability for public monies is English’s catch-cry in every other realm of government spending, why is more flexibility – and less accountability for anything but ‘ results’ – being seen as appropriate when it comes to welfare ? Giving the experts more room to do what they do best is certainly not what the government is doing in education, over national standards.

More money, English has indicated, will not be available for this experiment in welfare delivery. Again, one might well ask – how, if at all, will administrative savings be made ? Which current community agencies will be asked to butt out, and which ones will be given primacy and freer rein ? Who is going to be running this new, brighter realm of welfare policy, and what changes are intended in the roles played by the community agencies and by the Ministry ? Meaning – how will the Ministry monitor performance from the agencies to which it will be devolving some of its own current roles ? Logically, the basis of welfare entitlements would have to change, if the social engineering that English has flagged is to be implemented.

Will, for instance, welfare benefits still be paid directly to families at risk, or to the community agencies for them to dispense ? Will those agencies then be empowered to with-hold money in order to induce people into behavioural change, and ultimately off the welfare rolls entirely ? Is that what getting ‘results’ will mean in practice – and will such results become the basis of future funding for the agencies involved? The potential for abuse in this situation of dependency ( not to mention in the competition between agencies for the access rights to service delivery) is obvious. What kind of monitoring and safeguards against abuse does the government have in mind, if any ?

At this stage, there are more questions than answers about what the government has in mind. The potential for dehumanizing, intrusive action by private sector agencies in the lives of vulnerable families is quite high. Unemployment, after all, is still rising, and the economy is barely in recovery mode. For many families at risk, the jobs are simply not there – and to use the jargon – ‘the labour market continues to be de-leveraged.’ Cracking down on welfare families at such a time would be punitive, and unjust. Yet, as indicated, this policy is probably less about saving taxpayer money or helping the vulnerable, than it is about creating opportunities to make money from their plight.


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    1. 19 Responses to “Campbell on the govt’s plans for welfare reform”

    2. By me on Dec 21, 2009 | Reply

      Fuck u national.

    3. By Roger on Dec 21, 2009 | Reply

      Surely with the well-publicised poor performance of some groups in health, education and welfare statistics it’s time we considered a fresh approach? Why resort to immediate condemnation when the details have not even be made public yet?

    4. By Wayne McIndoe on Dec 21, 2009 | Reply

      For a government eager to reduce red-tape etc, we will probably see a new level of bureaucracy created to monitor these community agencies -I recall Margaret Thatcher tryig a similar programme in the UK during the 1980s with spectacular non-success

    5. By john on Dec 21, 2009 | Reply

      The vast majority of the unemployed don’t want to be. Young persons know they will never get a girl/boy friend, marry and have families on the dole.The benefit level is at “Just exist level”who wants that?Unemployed people with children are already penalised,they don’t get the working for families top up which some on $70,000 a year do! It sounds like class warfare on the poor who are being blamed.Further, bringing the profit motive into administering these people is a further turn of the screw by this Privateers’ Government, led by Mr Key whose main function is be an “Ornament”! The neoliberal idealogy the Government follows of privatization and shrinking the Government’s treasury (which enables it to help all Kiwis,not just the rich)is imported from the USA. America’s economy has collapsed and millions have lost their homes and jobs and live in Poverty on food stamps and die from treatable illnesses because they can’t afford profit driven health care.John Key made his money over there. The US has third World stats such as immense disparities in income and wealth,and 10’s of thousands die every year because they can’t pay for the user pays Insurance. This government has swallowed this cruel idealogy hook line and sinker they want a YOYO society: You are On Your Own everyone, solidarity is an alien concept to them.Their brave New World is :If for whatever reason you are a loser then if it kills you that’s your problem.We should look to Scandinavian countries such as Denmark which is a much happier place than ours and very productive but with a large Government sector and high taxes.The US model is a disaster :California was one of the richest economies in the World is bankrupt because private hands have cornered its wealth for themselves through neoliberal tax cuts and more tax cuts till the State Government is helpless! Yet our “leaders” continue to take us down the same suicidal road! They don’t want to govern they want to cast off their burdensome responsibilities to the private sector until their only job is to parade around, do a budget and look ornamental!

    6. By Lindsay on Dec 22, 2009 | Reply

      The softening up process has begun with today’s lead story in the DomPost, from a political journalist, naming a “beneficiary family with gang connections” who have received “hundreds of thousands of dollars over 25 years including money to fence a swimming pool.” But the government will be confident of public support for its “crackdown” plan because of the “revelation” (apparently from the Social Development Minister) that the wife and her former gang leader husband have claimed unemployment and sickness benefits continuously since 1984.

    7. By Meg on Dec 22, 2009 | Reply

      It is all just too vague isn’t it? And aren’t the key departments already doing all of this? CYF are now stripped back to pretty much core statutory functions and all of the follow-up etc is already contracted out to “community” sector agencies. Likewise Work and Income.

      Also note that this has come from English rather than Bennett – probably suggests that it’s all about reducting spending rather than improving outcomes.

      Suspect this is just more out of the musty old outdated Richardson/Brash/Douglas pantry. Maybe we should be expecting the “spawn-of-the-mother-of-all-budgets” next year…

    8. By b on Dec 22, 2009 | Reply

      I’m not sure how things could actually get any worse for people on welfare. I attempting to live soley off welfare for the first time since my children were babies. This is because I have enrolled full time at university so that i can get a job which pays more than minimum wage. I am recieving every single add on to my benefit that I am entitled to (including temporary hardship support of $40)yet I receive only $130 per week after my essential expenses go out by automatic payment (ph power rent etc). After my travel costs to uni ($20 for the train) and petrol to get my children to school and do the shopping($20)I am left with $90 to buy food clothing school expenses etc etc. According to research I should be spending $160 p/w minimum to give my family adequate nutrition. Instead I resort eating as little as possible myself (ie 1 meal) so my children can have enough, grow veges bake bread etc but it really shouldn’t be this hard for someone to get an education!!!

    9. By Lindsay on Dec 22, 2009 | Reply

      “For many families at risk, the jobs are simply not there – and to use the jargon – ‘the labour market continues to be de-leveraged.’ ”

      Many families were ‘at risk’ when the jobs WERE there. It is entirely obvious that thousands of families have defaulted to welfare before acquiring qualifications or work skills and getting a job pays less than growing the family.

      The prospect of separatism does not excite me but it would be interesting to see what the likes of John Tamihere can do given control of benefit payments.

    10. By SAPakeha on Dec 22, 2009 | Reply

      Limited vocabulary, consisting mainly of profanities, is an excellent indication of limited intelligence

    11. By stuart munro on Dec 23, 2009 | Reply

      I doubt that social welfare will provide the government with anything more than a weak excuse for the failure of their economic policies. I suppose Key must spend his political capital somewhere – but why here?
      Flogging this dead horse is more stupid than cruel – and governments are not entitled to be stupid.

    12. By Mr typical on Dec 23, 2009 | Reply

      The hard core of politicians who seem to want to impose their ideas on aspects of people,s lives–Of course, bash the beneficiaries is always a national one.
      Some don,t like motorcyclists so price them off the road, some don,t like boose, so crank the cost of that up. ALL seem to like gambling so that been let loose for some decades now in many forms. Heavens above the $$$billion of tobacco tax they collect makes them almost drug pushers in the guise of some do gooders.Where will it end, this social engineering?

    13. By bob roberts on Dec 23, 2009 | Reply

      I thought that the release of the private details from the file of the Harris guy in Chch — without his consent I expect, not that anyone in the media seemed to consider that — was such an obvious and nasty way of softening us all up for today’s news that the dole may be reviewed after a year. PR 101 from Paula Bennett’s office and the media fell for it.

    14. By Mr Borgan on Dec 25, 2009 | Reply

      Typical Nat Govt-whinge about Labour’s nanny state then implement their own Neo-Conny nanny state, based on a kind of fundamentalist ideology, or is it Neo-Commy?-same game, different name. They certainly are quite socialist when it comes to their own govt’s perks, eh. They still think they know what is best for us-of course, their ideology will put more beneficiaries into the private sector, ya hay they have a vested interest in this-more profit for private prisons, maybe an incredibly expensive yet very profitable mental health system is further down the track, along with increasing homelessness. If you want a safer society, teach people to share and maintain a sense of the common good-“enlightened” self-interest is an oxymoron.
      Merry Xmas you bunch of Ebenezer Scrooges

    15. By Linda on Dec 26, 2009 | Reply

      A typical move by our government, in a Stalin, style. There are no jobs, citizens are losing their homes, their savings are gone, E.I. has run out. All there is left for these people, is social assistance, if they are turned down, they have to live on the street, with their children. And, if that, isn’t bad enough, our asinine government is enforcing, the HST, on to citizens who don’t even have the basics. The HST, will put seniors, and low income families, homeless. The recession was engineered and, the HST, was created for big business only. Canadians see through the corruption, in our government, and our government, is an ass.

    16. By Joe Blow on Dec 27, 2009 | Reply

      Yes it is hard to say at this stage what the buzz words mean so I would be hesitant with forecasting “wholesale privatisation” at this stage. I would feel safe in predicting a definite increase in corporatisation based on results based outcomes.

      Another consideration is how this will link in with whanau ora and whether this policy which appears to have a lot of potential may in fact become a pawn where ‘allowing community agencies to become more involved in the delivery of welfare’ gets simply replaced with the catch phrase ‘whanau-centred’ which really means increased corporatisation.

      I guess we’ll just have to wait and see…

    17. By Robert Miles on Dec 29, 2009 | Reply

      Really getting the unemployed to file a report on how they will attempt to get work after a year on the dole is a gesture and nothing more to the rednecks. A few carrots to the Maori Party that the likes of Tamahires trust will be able to access Welfare funds and use it to manage the lives of poor maori beneficiaries. The suggestion that a few Invalids and Sickness beneficiaries might be a able to do a few hours community work. With the Invalids benefit some are hopeless while others with so called mental illness, vague diagnoses of depression or demonised diagnosis of types of schizophrenia might be capable of any level of work from the highest to the lowest, the diagnois is so broad brush that it encompasses people who are as well as many in full time employment and others that are ga ga.
      Howeverimportant exceptions aside the moves to force people back into the work force went too far under Clark and Cullen with many on the DPB and dole being forced into work they will never enjoy or be efficient at and the costs of creating and sustaining the employment and resulting enviromnetal, space and energy loss far exceed any benefit to the economy or in appeasing the anger of the rednecks. A GMI of $15,000 for those over 29 is needed and the traditional arguments that it would discourage some from working overlooks the fact such people are likely to be ineffecient in a modern economy.

    18. By OIOIOIOI on Dec 30, 2009 | Reply

      Having worked in the welfare industry around the world for a few decades and seen most of the tricks that govts can perform when scaring up cash outta the poorest citizens, I’d say that this wannabe politically savvy, but administratively moronic mob won’t be doing much other than breast beating until after the next election.
      All the options cost more. The reason people fester on welfare roles long term is because that is the cheapest option. Any intervention be it private or public sector costs a lot of money, and because people, especially those inured to insensitive demanding bureaucracies as most beneficiaries are, prefer to do anything other than what it is the agency is trying to entice, encourage or force ’em into, most interventions are unsuccessful.
      Kicking beneficiaries off benefits is often the most expensive option.
      Sure the process has been streamlined with all appeals and natural justice removed but even once social welfare has ‘got rid’ of a family that doesn’t end the social cost.
      Housing commission rents stop being paid, emergency food grants have to be made to the children lest the public becomes too discomfited – every one of these customised interventions is more expensive than the last. The more ‘one off’ they are the more resources are needed to implement them.
      Streamline the emergency system too far to make it economic and the only way it can be justified is to push thousands through that sausage machine.

      As soon as that happens the voters will start knowing people – friends and family who are affected by the horror.
      “gang member’ seems remote from mainstream Pakehas, but when the threshing machine gets past them into the extended kiwi family, that is when governments put themselves at risk.
      Too many baby boomers will remember what they went through in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Any attempt to put their kids or heaven forfend, their grandchildren through that will scare the shit outta them.
      Now I’m sure Bennett’s bureaus and English’s treasury tyros know this, so I’m betting that the bennies will be left alone until about mid 2012 when everyone will be getting sliced, diced and served up to Key’s corporate masters. The last of the state organs (NZPost, TVNZ) will also be getting …. (substitute new catch phrase that will have been coined to avoid usage of the privatisation profanity) so not many will notice welfare going as well.
      By that time Key will have better control over communications meaning getting any sort of opposing message out will be much more difficult.
      The Nats will be more confident of winning the following first past the post poll.
      Hopefully I’ll be gone by then. Watching Kiwis gleefully rushing to commit mass social suicide is only fleetingly diverting.

    19. By Sandy on Jan 8, 2010 | Reply

      If you want to know anything about National policies look up the books put out by the Business Round Table and read “Your Obedient Servants? Management Freedoms & Accountabilities in the New Zealand Public Sector” by Richard Norman.The business Round Table yearly books should be at the public library and have mentioned plans to completely privatise roads, schools and hospitals for about 15-20 years.In 1991 respite care payments for disabled people were set in stone at $75 for 24 hours, apparently based on the COST to carers of having the person in their care rather than any payment for ir. This hasn’t stopped IRD taxing it and it hasn’t been increased since 1991 so no-one will do carer support/ respite care at about $2 an hour when the minimum wage is now $12 something an hour. national’s chickens are coming home to roost. At the time they had decreased the payment claiming that it didn’t matter if extended families were penalised by the reduction. They knew it would disproportionately disadvantage Maori and Pacific carers as well as carers of disabled children. A recent Court case led to reimbursement at the minimum wage for a disabled man. The other outcome from this policy was that research has proven that 90% of disabled children do not make it to age 21 without suffering abuse (I don’t mean by their families- in fact one child was molested by a respite carer from Dunedin Hospital). i am sure it happens often.

    20. By Anton Craig on Jan 14, 2010 | Reply

      The signs are there that the nats think it’s time to do some serious damage that’ll go so far as sliding some form of Wisconsin welfare into our system, and it’s going to start with Maori. The support of the Maori Party is crucial here. The problem is that the Maori Party are confused between what they think is giving control of basic services back to Maori to decide what’s best for Maori (sounds great), and government passing on responsibility for basic services to the voluntary sector (no government / poor law charity model / neo-liberal individualism = more poverty). As soon as the Maori Party give the green light Key and English will extend the model across the board by selling it on a “we’re not racist” basis, which will be very easy to do to the redneck ill-informed majority. (And don’t forget what English was privately caught on tape before the election saying he’d do.) The “softening-up” process has already begun with the help of patsy mouthpiece Paula Shipley Bennett, but the Maori Party’s part in all of this can’t be under-estimated. Come on Pita, I really expected better from you on this.

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