Home > A Little Blue Marble Called Earth, Dollars & Sense, Social Issues, The Body Politic > Johnny’s Report Card – National Standards Assessment – the social welfare safety net

Johnny’s Report Card – National Standards Assessment – the social welfare safety net

To Whom It May Concern; the following Report Card detail’s Johnny’s achievements over the last four years.

The following contrasts compare four years, ranging from the end of 2008 to the end of this year, 2012.

Whilst it is acknowledged that the Global Financial Crisis impacted harshly on our society and economy, it is also fair to say that National has had the benefits of starting out with a sound economy (surpluses, low unemployment, etc)  in 2008 and four years in office to make good on it’s election promises..

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Social welfare safety net

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On the other hand this is still the best country imn the world to be raised as a child - yeah, right.

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The rhetoric:

It started well… National’s bad old image as a “bene-bashing Party, pandering to the ill-educated; the mis-informed; and the downright  ignorant, appeared to be a thing of the past.

John Key was a product of a civilised society where social welfare could give kids from the most disadvantaged households a chance to better themselves.

You can measure a society by how it looks after its most vunerable, once I was one of them. I will never turn my back on that.” – John Key, 28 November 2006

See: Speech to North Shore National Party luncheon

I have said before that I believe in the welfare state and that I will never turn my back on it. We should be proud to be a country that looks after its most vulnerable citizens. We should be proud to be a country that supports people when they can’t find work, are ill, or aren’t able to work.

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My father died when I was young. My mother was, for a time, on the Widow’s Benefit, and also worked as a cleaner. But the State ensured that I had a roof over my head and money for my mother to put food on the table. It also gave me the opportunity to have a good education. My mother made sure I took that opportunity, and the rest was up to me. ” – John Key, 30 Jan 2007

See: The Kiwi Way: A Fair Go For All

Key even seemed to “steal” policies from the centre-left Labour Party,

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National launches its Food in Schools programme

Full story

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Perhaps National, under Key’s leadership, had learnt from it’s mistakes in the 1990s?

No such luck.

The Reality:

As the Global Financial Crisis plunged most of world’s nations (China and Australia being the two lucky exceptions) into recession, the ranks of the unemployted swelled.

As Brian Gaynor, executive director of Milford Asset Management,  wrote in the NZ Herald on 18 August 2012,

At the end of May, the 34-country Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) had an unemployment rate of 7.9 per cent.

Nearly 48 million were out of work, 15 million more than when the financial crisis began in 2007.

The unemployment rate continues to rise in the eurozone and is now 11.1 per cent.

See: Baby boomers clogging the job market

Here in New Zealand, unemployment skyrocketted from 78,000 in late 2007/early 2008, to the current 175,000 – over a doubling in only four years.

That’s 97,000 who had jobs prior to the Global Financial Crisis who are now out of work.

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new zealand unemployment numbers jan 2007 - jan 2012

See: tradingeconomics.com – Unemployment numbers

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If it weren’t for the 114,200 who have migrated to Australia in the same four year period, soaking up thousands of potential jobless New Zealanders, one shudders at the unemployment rate we would now have (see related blogpost:  Johnny’s Report Card – National Standards Assessment y/e 2012: migration ). Thank the mercies for our more affluent, and clever,  neighbour.

It’s fairly obvious to all but the most entrenched, bene-bashing, Talkback Radio moron that New Zealand has not escaped the effects of the Global Financial Crisis.

National’s devotion to market-forces has caught Key, English, and Joyce in a  trap of their own making.  Their dogma dictates that the State “cannot create jobs” – only the Market can do that, as Key stated on several occassions,

Nothing creates jobs and boosts incomes better than business growth. For New Zealand to build a more productive and competitive economy, we need more innovative companies out there selling their products on the world stage.” – John Key,  24 August 2012

See: Key Notes: Honouring our fallen soldiers

When the “Market” fails to behave as neo-liberal doctrine demands – then there is a problem. National cannot admit that it’s free market policies have failed. (It took the Russians seventy years to finally concede that their centralised market policy had failed them.)

For the National politburo, who cannot concede Market failure, there must be another reason why jobless numbers are increasing – not decreasing. It must be the fault of those on welfare. The unemployed must be to blame, as the Market is never, ever wrong.

Accordingly, from early-2011 onward, National began a concerted campaign against those receiving welfare assistance. It was a vicious, de-humanising, de-moralising campaign against those whose only “crime” was,

  • having lost their jobs,
  • had little access to training or apprenticeship,
  • raising children on their own,
  • were sick, injured, or disabled

From 2011, we started seeing headlines like these in our media,

Food parcel families made poor choices, says Key (17 Feb 2011)

Baby turns one, so get to work mum (6 June 2011)

Revealed: $100k-plus beneficiary homes (13 June 2011)

Single mum on DPB for decades (20 Sept 2011)

Minister spells out $43,000 ‘salary’ claim for solo mum (21.2.2012)

Beneficiary contraception plan ‘intrusive’ (8 May 2012)

Benefits may be linked to kids’ jabs (12 May 2012)

And if local bene-bashing stories weren’t sufficient to drive home the agenda of demonising this sector of society, National and it’s media corporate-whores could always rely on some excellent shock-value stories from overseas,

Man who fathered 30 kids says he needs a break – on child support (21 May 2012)

This next one was very popular at Federated Farmers – that well-known bastion of liberal sensibilities. The way that Bill English played his audience of cow-cockies and sheep-herders, with a barely-disguised smirk on his face, spoke volumes…

Drug tests for more beneficiaries mooted (28 June 2012)

Benefit cuts for drug users defended by PM (2 July 2012)

Said Paula Bennett,

There’s two words we don’t use often enough in this country and that’s self-responsibility. The size of someone’s family is their business, so long as they don’t expect someone else to pay for it.”

So saith the woman who was on the DPB; had free taxpayer funded tertiary education; gave up her part-time job at the time because it was “too hard”; and had WINZ assistance to buy her own home…

Big families mean big welfare dollars (15 July 2012)

Bennett increases pursuit of welfare ‘rorts’ (23 July 2012)

Beneficiaries on warrants face cash cut (6 Sept 2012)

Kidnappers among targets in benefit plan (7 Sept 2012)

And to really, really make sure we’ve been paying attention to this Nazi-style demonisation propaganda,

Beneficiaries cost $130,000 over lifetime (12 Sept 2012)

And in case we missed it first time, Fairfax gave the political dagger-in-beneficiaries-backs another good, hard, twist,

Beneficiaries’ bill $78 billion (12 Sept 2012)

Though Bill English promised, hand-on-heart, that this was not an exercise in “bene bashing,

Benefit tally ‘not an excuse for hard line’ (13 Sept 2012)

Then the Nats came up with the idea of a law change of  “one strike and you’re out”  for welfare beneficiaries who turned  down any “suitable” job offer from July 2013. Which would be laughable, because both Key and Bennett  have conceded that there simply aren’t enough jobs for everyone.

So what would be the point of a “one strike and you’re out” for the unemployed, except to paint them as “work shy” and “lazy”?

Propaganda. Nasty stuff.

‘One strike’ rule for beneficiaries (18 Sept 2012)

Funny thing… the media never compared welfare beneficiaries entitlements with that of politicians. How many beneficiaries get free air-travel for the rest of their lives for themselves and their spouses? Or a gold-plated superannuation scheme none of us are entitled to?

Those were just some of the media stories and headlines that assaulted our sensibilities and attempted to paint the unemployed  – the victims of the GFC – as “bene bludgers”.

All because National could not cope with the growing numbers of Kiwis losing their jobs, and had no plan to address growing unemployment.

So default to Setting ‘B': Blame the Benes.

When Key stated that the most recent jobless stats – 7.3% unemployed –  had “come as a bit of a surprise” (see: Unemployment surges to 13-year high ), he obviously had not been paying attention to yearly figures from New Zealand Statistics.

Jobless numbers had ‘only’  been rising since the beginning of 2012,

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New Zealand Unemployment Rate jan 2012 - dec 2012

Source: Trading Economics – Unemployment

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The scary headlines above were only partially offset by other media stories of New Zealand’s increasingly visible ‘underbelly’. Poverty was no longer staying behind closed doors, away from “polite society”,

Hungry kids scavenge pig slops (11 May 2012)

Welfare rejig carries whiff of hypocrisy (12 May 2012)

Stuck for ideas, Govt preys on powerless (13 May 2012)

The same hate-campaign was being conducted overseas,

Hatred of those on benefits is dangerously out of control (18 May 2012)

No food, no shoes and kids kept home (23 May 2012)

Government Policy Impacting Child Poverty Levels (30 May 2012)

And then we came to the attention of the United Nations. Quasi-nazism – not exactly the “cool look” we want for New Zealand and it’s tourism industry,

Struggling families borrow to buy food (21 July 2012)

UN urges Govt reforms to not target beneficiaries (2 Aug 2012)

Principal wants taxpayers to fund breakfast scheme (12 Aug 2012)

Ministry memo critical of plan to drug test beneficiaries (17 Aug 2012)

Govt has caused ‘incredible shift of wealth’ – CTU  (24 Aug 2012)

Playing politics is not helping kids (26 Aug 2012)

Even multi-millionaire, Gareth Morgan, had to state the bloody obvious for those voters who were still less-than-fully-brain-functional,

Bennett accused of dehumanising beneficiaries (6 Sept 2012)

Precious little sense on Planet Paula (17 Sept 2012)

Belt tightening won’t reduce unemployment (23 Sept 2012)

Experts lament state of NZ child poverty (24 Sept 2012)

And when the Nats did try to address a social problem, the result would have been comical – had the issue of murdered children reminded us what was at stake,

Child-abuse funds ‘blown on hype’ (1 Dec 2012)

Social welfare – the stats:

From the Ministry of Social Development’s website;

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Numbers of working-age clients1 receiving main benefits at the end of September, 2002 – 2012

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End of quarter

Unemployment Benefits 2 Domestic Purposes Benefits 3

Sickness Benefits 4

Invalid’s Benefits Other main benefits 5 All main benefits
September 2002

112,147

109,078

37,275

64,596

21,613

344,709

September 2003

94,527

109,366

40,802

68,361

19,366

332,422

September 2004

65,764

109,021

44,110

4,067

17,624

308,158

September 2005

50,153

105,692

46,067

73,813

16,440

292,165

September 2006

41,027

100,579

47,527

75,988

17,026

282,147

September 2007

23,158

96,673

48,995

78,268

16,140

263,234

September 2008

23,273

98,473

48,208

83,618

16,036

269,608

September 2009

60,660

107,658

56,384

85,015

17,094

326,811

September 2010

65,281

112,765

58,661

85,305

16,200

338,212

September 2011

55,661

114,147

58,651

84,524

15,513

328,496

September 2012

50,390

110,738

59,595

83,570

16,649

320,942

Notes:

1 This report defines working-age clients as aged 18 – 64 years, to reflect the minimum age of entitlement of most benefits and the age of eligibility for New Zealand Superannuation.

2 Comprises Unemployment Benefits and Unemployment Benefits – Hardship.

3 Comprises Domestic Purposes Benefits – Sole Parent, Domestic Purposes Benefits – Care of Sick or Infirm, Domestic Purposes Benefits – Women Alone, and Emergency Maintenance Allowances.

4 Comprises Sickness Benefits and Sickness Benefits – Hardship.

5 Comprises Emergency Benefits, Independent Youth Benefits, Youth Payments, Young Parent Payments, Unemployment

Benefits – Training, Unemployment Benefits – Hardship – Training, Unemployment Benefits – Student Hardship, Widow’s Benefits, and (until April 2004) Transitional Retirement Benefits. Youth Payments and Young Parent Payments replaced Independent Youth Benefits from August 2012.

Source: MSD – September 2012

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Graph shows the rise in the total number of people receiving a main benefit through to 1994, the further rise through to 1999, the steady decline to June 2008, and the rise through to June 2009 reflecting the recession and the international financial crisis.  Numbers in receipt of the unemployment benefit follow a trend that is a rough mirror image of the employment rate.

Graph shows the rise in the total number of people receiving a main benefit through to 1994, the further rise through to 1999, the steady decline to June 2008, and the rise through to June 2009 reflecting the recession and the international financial crisis. Numbers in receipt of the unemployment benefit follow a trend that is a rough mirror image of the employment rate. The rising red line, signifying Sickness/Invalid beneficiaries is linked to ACC discharging it’s clients onto welfare, to make their own books “look good”.

Source: Household incomes in New Zealand: Trends in indicators of inequality and hardship 1982 to 2011

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Correlation between Global Financial Crisis, leading to NZ recession, leading to higher unemployment. (For the benefit of low-information National Party voters.)

Correlation between Global Financial Crisis, leading to NZ recession, leading to higher unemployment. (For the benefit of low-information National Party voters.)

Source: IBID

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The above data yields three interesting observations;

#1 Beneficiary numbers mirror Global Financial Crisis

Unsurprisingly, the numbers receiving social welfare benefits shot up just after the Global Financial Crisis hit New Zealand’s economy,  impacting on employment. The effects of the GFC continue to this day to create redundancies and unemployment throughout the country.

Low-information voters and the lunatic right-wing fringe element in our society maintain the fantasy that welfare is a “lifestyle choice”, where beneficiaries are attracted by “big money” paid out in benefits.

Not only are welfare payments usually abysmally low (just barely sufficient to survive on) – but the stats above clearly show the correlation between the GFC and rising beneficiary recipients.

There were 51,334 more people receiving welfare benefits in September 2012 than there were in September 2008. This increase can be sheeted home to,

  • the Global Financial Crisis destroying jobs,
  • National’s lack of proactive job creation policies helping to push up unemployed numbers,
  • ACC’s policies with regards to to injured and sick (see below).

Such is the folly of relying on the “Market” to deliver jobs.

Such is the hypocrisy of Bennett, Key, English, Joyce, et al, who blame welfare beneficiaries for being out of work – and threatening them with all manner of sanctions.

#2 Overall beneficiaries are down

Surprisingly, those receiving welfare benefits up to September 2012 still number 23,767 fewer than September 2002. Overall beneficiary numbers are not increasing anywhere as much as what Paula Bennett, John Key, and their right wing fellow-travellers are insisting.

There are two possible reasons for this.

Firstly, 114,200 (net) New Zealanders left our shores for Australia from 2009 to 2012 (see previous blogpost:  Johnny’s Report Card – National Standards Assessment y/e 2012: migration). Many left to find work overseas. These migrants might have added to unemployed and solo-parent  welfare recipient numbers, had they stuck around here in New Zealand.

Secondly, see #3 below.

#3 Unemployment Benefits vs Household Labourforce Survey Unemployed

It is a ‘quirk’ of New Zealand’s welfare system that married or de facto couples cannot receive welfare assistance if one should loose his/her job, but the other remains in paid work.

On the other hand, two people not in a relationship (eg; flatting in the same house), are eligible for welfare should one become unemployed and the other remains in-work.

There seems no logic to this contradictory situation and is even more unfair when one considers that the married/de facto couple both paid taxes, prior to one losing his/her job. That’s New Zealand’s bizarre welfare rules for you.

Which may explain why those receiving Unemployment Benefits from WINZ numbered  50,390 in September 2012 – whilst the Household Labour Force Survey (HLFS) recorded 175,000 unemployed people (see:  Household Labour Force Survey: September 2012 quarter).

WINZ records only those paid an Unemployment Benefit.

The HLFS records everyone, within a more inclusive criteria, irrespective of whether they receive a benefit or not.

Addendum 1:

Interestingly, the figures above  for Invalid and Sickness Beneficiaries rose significantly from 2009. This ties in with a NZ Herald report, dated 23 June 2012,

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The proportion of long-term ACC clients moving on to benefits has surged since the corporation adopted a tough new stance, which has fuelled allegations that they are being forced off compensation before they are rehabilitated.

Figures supplied by the corporation yesterday also show it has slashed the number of long-term claimants on its books by a quarter since mid-2009.

[...]

But yesterday’s figures show that the proportion of long-term claimants leaving ACC and going on to health-related, unemployment or domestic purposes benefits rose sharply from early 2009.

In the five years to 2008, the proportion going on to benefits was 12.1 per cent, but during 2009 that rose to 16.4. In the first five months of 2010, the most recent data held by ACC, the proportion rose to 19.4 per cent.

ACC figures also showed the corporation had reduced the number of long-term claimants on its books by 3644 or 25 per cent to 10773 in the three years since June 2009. That reduction is well ahead of ACC’s targets.

See: More ACC clients going on to welfare

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Throughout all these events which are beyond the influence and control of the unemployed, solo-parents, widows, invalids, sick, etc, National’s demonisation of those on welfare has been  a shocking indictment of  John Key’s leadership.

What is it in the mental make-up of politicians like Paula Bennett, John Key, Steven Joyce, and Bill English, that treating those who have lost their jobs, or looking after children,  as  “bludgers” is morally acceptable?

Especially when they must have access to precisely the same information that I, as a blogger, have.

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Benefit myth busting

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Addendum 2:

National’s response to unemployment is the introduction of “reforms” to social welfare legislation,

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Social Development Minister Paula Bennett yesterday introduced the second round of reform legislation.

The Social Security (Benefit Categories and Work Focus) Amendment Bill replaces the current benefits with three new categories: Jobseeker Support, Sole Parent Support and the Supported Living Payment.

It also includes provisions allowing payments to be cut if beneficiaries fail a drug test, have an outstanding arrest warrant, or if parents who do not meet “social obligations” for getting their children into health and education programmes.

See: Bennett expects welfare reform to save $1.6b

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As Bennett admitted on TVNZ’s Q+A, on 29 April 2012,

There’s not a job for everyone that would want one right now, or else we wouldn’t have the unemployment figures that we do. “

See:  TVNZ  Q+A: Transcript of Paula Bennett interview

The question that begs to be asked: how many new jobs will this create?

Addendum 3:

So what did happen to National Food In Schools programme, that it launched with such fanfare in February 2007?

Not surprisingly, Key’s attitude seems to have gone through a Reverse Road to Damascus Experience,

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Key in poverty 'la la land'

Full story

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Govt guarded on free school meals

Full story

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But then, going from Opposition to Government will do that to politicians.

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Social Welfare Safety Net

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= fs =

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