Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

Gordon Campbell on the government’s new social targets

June 26th, 2012

Imagine this wacky, unbelievable scenario. Prime Minister John Key announces that for too long, too many people earning over $100,000 have been paying too little tax, and he’s going to do something about it. From now on, he wants to see IRD boosting the tax take from such people by 10% by 2017, or else. Impossible to imagine, isn’t it? For good reason, arguably. Because some of the people involved could be quite legitimately paying their current rate of tax, and cracking down on them arbitrarily would mean trampling all over their lawful entitlements.

No such trouble for Key though, when it comes to the vulnerable in our society. Yesterday, the Prime Minister threw his moral weight (yes, I know) behind new targets to reduce the number of long term welfare recipients, whatever. Along with a number of other social targets, including a reduction in crime:

The Government wants 23,000 fewer long-term beneficiaries on its books by 2017 and the head of Work and Income could lose a bonus if the target is not achieved. The welfare target is among 10 specific targets the Government has set for the public sector to achieve over five years in policy relating to welfare, vulnerable children, crime, skills and employment, and digital advances.

Key emphasized that the targets were not to be treated by public service bosses as merely aspirational, either:

Prime Minister John Key said the targets were “not a wish-list – they are a to-do list”. Some would be very hard to achieve but with focus could be reached.

Love that “with focus” term. As with ACC, bureaucrats are being offered pay bonuses if they skew their decisions and kick people off the welfare rolls regardless of eligibility, the state of the job market, or the consequences for the recipient. As with ACC, it is an invitation to treat all long term claimants as malingerers, until they can prove otherwise to the satisfaction of front lie staff who are trying to make a quota. This, remember, is being framed as a “to do” target.

It would be marginally more acceptable if this directive to the managers of the front line staff making the assessment decisions was accompanied by some job creation efforts by government – so that you know, people could see the government was at least making a token effort to keep its side of the social contract. No such luck. That would defeat the tough love image that is being pursued here. In fact, whenever Key talks about government’s ability to create jobs, he insists it can do nothing but …create the general conditions for growth. Which is (a) untrue since job creation options in infrastructure building etc can be created by government and (b) on current settings, the “conditions for growth” he is promoting actually entail cutting labour costs and eliminating jobs.

Formerly, political leaders took it upon themselves to try and protect the vulnerable, not kick them around for political gain. We also used to have a neutral public service which enacted policy with a degree of fairness and even handedness, and which was not up for pocketing bonuses for denying people their lawful means of support. The targets announced yesterday are a recipe for abuse.


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    1. 13 Responses to “Gordon Campbell on the government’s new social targets”

    2. By Mike Barton on Jun 26, 2012 | Reply

      Good piece Gordon.

    3. By Liz Q on Jun 26, 2012 | Reply

      Somebody earning 100k+ IS paying more taxes. thats why taxes are a percentage, to make it fair.

      Just because they aim to get people off welfare does not mean they are kicking them off into the street with no money, in fact i see no place it even mentions that.

    4. By wally on Jun 26, 2012 | Reply

      Does a suicide count as one off the winz list?
      I know many of us are ready to go over the edge and this will help…

    5. By jack on Jun 26, 2012 | Reply

      Agree.. everything is down to “bonuses” with Key. That is suppose to motivate people. I have a better idea for getting people off the benefit. Make the first 15000 tax free and raise the top earning rate up to 40 percent. This might motivate those on the benefit to work because they will make an extra 100 a week, possibly. Reward them. The way it is now is beneficiaries are rewarded not to work and we all know us middle class will repay the loans that paid for Key’s top 10 percent income earners’ tax cuts. Key’s trying to make slaves out of all of us except his mates.

    6. By donna on Jun 26, 2012 | Reply

      …Just because they aim to get people off welfare does not mean they are kicking them off into the street with no money…

      Well, actually, if WINZ follows the ACC precedent, and you have rising unemployment (as we do) and no actual job creation strategies (running the economy into the ground is not a strategy) then reducing the welfare roles by 23,000 can only mean kicking beneficiaries into the street with no money. Of course, it could be a cunning plan to force the indigent to move to Australia.
      And the bad news, Wally, is that suicide would probably viewed as a positive outcome, statistically speaking. Please don’t give them the pleasure.

    7. By peterlepaysan on Jun 26, 2012 | Reply

      What else would you expect from a wall street puppet?

    8. By alan bonard on Jun 27, 2012 | Reply

      Seeing an ex-soldier in distress after being monstered by a WINZ case manager brought it home to me. WINZ has been down this path before in various ways, with no appreciable result. With the macroeconomy in long term cyclical decline it can only be described as sadism, but may play well with the redneck vote – which is probably what this is all about. A snap election while Shearer is still the opposition leader ?

    9. By Claudia on Jun 27, 2012 | Reply

      Directed ‘social targets’ for the most vulnerable ? There is something very Orwellian about this. For a supposedly free market government it betrays a surprising lack of flexibility and inability to adapt to prevailing conditions and individual situations.

      As a market player, Key had to be flexible. As a politician, he has morphed into a rigid ideologist.

      In an effort to show he is ‘doing something’, he is locking people into untenable positions

    10. By Karen on Jun 27, 2012 | Reply

      I hear that the government’s issued instructions (that it hasn’t made public) that all government departments have to “align” their pay systems for staff with the new targets. Not that this will mean bonuses of extra cash for WINZ staff, it will just mean that they won’t even get the rate for the job unless they kick enough people off the benefit. Pretty grim for them too – it’s not like there are lots of other jobs to go to if they don’t like it…

    11. By Graham on Jun 27, 2012 | Reply

      ‘front lie staff’ – freudian slip?

    12. By dee on Jun 27, 2012 | Reply

      Well you know we are in trouble when many ACC and Winz clients now carry a lawyer (if they are lucky enough to have cheap access to one), at the ready should their benefit/claim be declined.

    13. By phil on Jun 27, 2012 | Reply

      Good comment Donna. I agree. How do we stand up to these ****

    14. By Joe Blow on Jun 27, 2012 | Reply

      Yeah, more like kicking 23,000 beneficiaies on to the streets to help not pay for the 2010 tax cuts (i.e. a doubling of our government debt).

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