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Archive for 6 March 2012

Once upon a time there was a solo-mum…

… and a Wicked Wacko Witch.

Sally* is 37 and a solo-mother with an 18 year-old (Wayne*) and 11 year (Zack*) old sons.

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Sally had Wayne to her first partner, but the relationship did not last because of drug-taking and violent abuse on his part. (Some months after they separated, he committed suicide.) Sally went on to the DPB, raising her newborn son by herself.

Seven years later, Sally met someone else and formed a relationship with him. The relationship went well and she became pregnant (a son, Zack) to her new partner.

As  her pregnancy progressed, Sally’s partner seemed to go of the rails,  and he increasingly  took up  drink and drugs with his boozy mates. As Sally said, he “was more into his mates than his family” and she finally  threw him out.

Sally was adamant she did not want someone like him as a role-model for her sons. She went back on the DPB and began to examine her options in life.

Eventually, Sally  applied for a course at Victoria University for a bachelors degree  in early childhood education. She applied for, and got, the Training Incentive Allowance (TIA).

Zack’s father saw his young son a couple of times during his first year as a newborn and infant, but thereafter showed little interest in maintaining contact. He eventually disappeared from Sally and her children’s life. She was on her own to raise her sons – a role she took seriously, and sought no new relationships with men.

Instead, she applied herself to her university course.

Sally says that the TIA helped her immensely, paying her transport, study-costs, fees, and childcare for her sons. She says,

You could only get the TIA on the DPB, not on the dole, which I thought was unfair.”

After her graduation, Sally followed up with a Masters degree, which took another four years in part-time study. During the final two years of her uni studies, she took up a part-time job. This decreased the amount she received on the DPB, and her part-time job was taxed at the Secondary Tax Rate (her benefit was considered as a “primary job” by the IRD).

Sally took out a student loan for her M.Ed, as WINZ would not pay the Training Incentive Allowance for higher university education.

One could view the “claw back” of her DPB and higher tax-rate on her part-time job as a dis-incentive which penalised Sally, and others in her position, but she persevered. With end-of-year tax refunds, she says it “all squared out” – but she could have done with the extra money through the year.

Sally graduated and got her Masters degree in early childhood education. By this time, Wayne was 14 and Zack, 6. One month later, she found a full time job and replaced the DPB with a good salary. She says that the MA gives her an extra $11,000 per annum.

During her studies and part time job, Sally raised her two sons – one of whom was increasingly “challenging” with Aspergers and ADHD.

(This blogger can confirm that young Zack – whilst a bright, personable child – can also be “a handful”, and was effectively thrown out of his previous school for “disruptive behaviour”.)

We discussed the Training Incentive Allowance, which Paula Bennet used to put herself through University. I asked her,

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With being on the DPB, and with the availability of the TIA, do you think it assisted and motivated you to get yourself of the Benefit?”

Sally replied,

With the TIA, definitely. If I’d have to borrow money, yeah, I think that would’ve been quite daunting, I guess. I mean, I had to take out a student loan anyway, so if I’d have to borrow more, it would’ve taken longer to pay back. The extra assistance helped.”

I asked,

So the TIA, you believe, was a good incentive?

Sally responded,

Yep, yep, otherwise some people would probably stay on the benefit, especially when working part-time and being on a part benefit, is  hardly  worth it, especially at a certain level. So I think training to get a higher income to make it worth going off the benefit and not have to borrow thousands of dollars for it, yeah, that’s a good incentive.”

Sally has now been off  the DPB; in paid employment for the last four and a half years; and paying tax on a good salary. She is also spending more, and her oldest son, Wayne is now doing tertiary education himself.

Being a taxpayer means that she is now “paying it forward”, to support the next person who requires state assistance. This is what welfare should be about.

Unfortunately for us, the Minister for Social Welfare, Paula Bennett, who was on the DPB herself and used the Training Incentive Allowance to gain a University degree – has canned the TIA.

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Paula Bennett was on the DPB and used the Training Incentive Allowance to gain a University degree.

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Bizzarre.

Only a National Government can screw up a system that actually succeeded in training and upskilling people; getting them off welfare; and into paid work. One cannot help but wonder if National secretly wants thousands of people on welfare, to create a  pool of cheap labour, and drive down wages…

Sally has worked hard; bettered herself; improved her family’s financial position; and has raised two sons in a good home – one of whom is in tertiary education now.

This is a good outcome due to progressive government policy.

Please, Mr Key, may we have some more?

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* Sally and her son’s names have been changed to protect their privacy.

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Why did the Kiwi cross The Ditch?

6 March 2012 3 comments

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During the Cold War, Eastern Europeans used to “vote with their feet” and escape to the West. Often that migration was done at great personal risk to themselves and their families.

The Poles, Hungarians, Czecks, East Germans, et al, who crossed from the Eastern European Zone did so in search of freedom – political, economic, and social. For them, the repression in their home nations was sufficient motivation to up-root and leave behind family and friends, in search of something better.

Whilst the risk isn’t quite the same for us (no armed border guards; semi-rabid guard dogs; sentry towers with searchlights and machine-gun posts), New Zealanders are still voting with their feet,
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Full Story

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Unlike their Eastern European cuzzies, New Zealanders are not leaving simply to improve their financial lot (though that certainly plays a major part).

I believe there is much more involved in the psychology behind this migration.

Since the Rogernomics New Right “reforms” of the late 1980s, New Zealand  has been socially re-engineered. New, neo-liberalistic values of obeisance for wealth; state sector “efficiency”; low taxes; minimal government;  user pays in many, previously free social services; and a quasi-religious intolerance of those at the bottom of the socio-economic scale who are left behind in the mad scramble for money and status.

A new creed of Personal Good trumps Social Needs, and Individual Rights/Needs trumps Community Well-being.

It is a New Right puritanism that demands solo-mothers (but not solo-fathers) “go out to work” –  blind to the concept of raising a family as being a vital form of work.

It is the demand for Individual Rights to have 24/7 access to alcohol – irrespective of harm caused to society (see BERL report) and the eventual cost to tax-payers.

It is the craven reverance shown to 150 Rich Listers who increased their wealth by a massive 20% in 2010 – whilst condemning working men and women who are struggling to keep their wages and conditions in the face of an onslaught by employers, emboldened by a right wing government. (Eg; AFFCO, Maritime Workers, ANZCO-CMP Rangitikei)

It is a nasty streak of crass, moralistic judgementalism that blames the poor for being poor; invalids for being born with a disability or suffering a crippling accident; solo-mums (but not solo-fathers) for daring to be responsible enough to raise a family; and the unemployed for being in the wrong Place/Time when the global banking crisis metastasized into a full-blown worldwide Recession, turning them from wage earning tax-payers – to one of crony capitalism’s “collateral damage”.

In all this, having a sense of community; of belonging to a wider society; and of being a New Zealander  – has been sublimated. Except for ANZAC Day; a national disaster; and when the All Blacks are thrashing the Wallabies, we show very little sense of nationalistic pride or social cohesion.

Indeed, I recall some years ago being in a 24/7 convenience store in downtown Wellington, on ANZAC Day. It was not yet 1pm, so by law alcohol could not be sold.

I noticed a customer in the store selecting a bottle of wine from the chiller and taking it to the checkout, to purchase. As per liquor laws, the checkout operator could not legally sell that bottle of wine, until after 1pm.

The operator explained that it was the law; it was ANZAC Day; and it was a mark of respect (most shops weren’t even open before 1pm).

The customer, a  fashionably-dressed young(-ish) man remonstrated with the checkout operator and said in a voice loud enough for everyone in the shop to hear; “I don’t give a shit about ANZAC Day. I just want to buy this wine.”

And that, I believe sums up our present society. That young man simply didn’t care. He  wanted something and he couldn’t believe it was being denied to him.

To him (and others like him, who usually vote ACT and/or National), all he knew was that he WANTED a THING and his right to have it, if he could pay for it, was paramount.

What does that say about a society?

Firstly, what it says is, to some folk,  a society is little more than a flimsy, abstract concept – and not much more – with ‘Society’ being subservient to the demands of the Individual.

Secondly, if Society is nothing more than an abstract concept – as one person recently wrote to me on Facebook – then there is no way whatsoever that an individual can feel a sense of “belonging”.

“Belong” to what? A geographic place on a map that happens to have a different name and colouring to another geographic place adjacent to it?

If people who happened to be born in a Geographic Area; designated “New Zealand”; coloured pale-green on the map; decide that they can earn more money in another Geographic Area; designated “Australia”; coloured ochre on the map – then moving from “A” to “B” is nothing more than a logistical exercise. Kinda like shifting house from one street to another.

When we have no concept of “society” – then people will “vote with their feet”. They simply have nothing else to consider when making a decision except solely on material factors.

An expat New Zealander, living in a Geographic Area across the Tasman Sea, told the “Dominion Post“,

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“A Victorian-based Kiwi with a student loan debt, who did not want to be named because he did not want to be found by the Government, said he did not intend to pay back any of his student loan.

The 37-year-old’s loan was about $18,000 when he left New Zealand in 1997. He expected it was now in the order of $50,000. The man was not worried about being caught as the Government did not have his details and he did not want to return to New Zealand.

“I would never live there anyway, I feel just like my whole generation were basically sold down the river by the government. I don’t feel connected at all, I don’t even care if the All Blacks win.

“I just realised it was futile living [in New Zealand] trying to pay student loans and not having any life, so I left. My missus had a student loan and she had quite a good degree and she had paid 99c off the principal of her loan after working three years.”Source

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If we extrapolate this situation to it’s logical outcome, it becomes obvious that New Zealand’s future is to become a vast training ground for the global economy, with thousand of polytechs, Universities, and other training institutions churning out hundreds of thousands of trained workers for the global economy.

Our children will be born; raised; schooled; educated; and then despatched to  another Geographic Area. It gives a whole new meaning to Kiwis “leaving the nest”.

When Finance Minister Bill English  told Radio New Zealand,
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We know roughly what the recipe is, policies that support business that want to employ and create opportunities, that provide people with skills and reward those skills.

“We are getting those in place, despite the fact that we’ve had a substantial recession. We believe we can make considerable progress over the next four to five years.” – Source

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… he was quite correct – though not quite in the way he was intending. New Zealand will “provide people with skills and reward those skills” – just not for this country.

National leader John Key, once again, was of in la-la land as usual when he said,
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Over the last three years I believe we’ve made some progress, so much that we have been closing that after-tax wage gap, we are building an economy that is now growing at a faster rate than Australia, but it will take us some time to turn that around.” – Source

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Dear Leader really should stop smoking that wacky baccy. It’s all utter rubbish of course. The economy is not “growing at a faster rate than Australia” (except in Key’s fantasies) and rather than “closing that after-tax wage gap” – it’s actually been widening.

Worse than that, employers – with support from National  – are actively engaged in a “class war” against their own employees to lower wages and to destroy workers’ rights to bargain collectively through a  Union.

The lockout of AFFCO workers  and threat by Ports of Auckland Ltd to casualise and contract out their workforce is nothing more or less than a campaign to reduce wages and increase profits for shareholders.

So much for Key’s bizarre claim “we have been closing that after-tax wage gap“. (No wonder we trust politicians at the same level as used-car salesmen.)

Not a very pretty picture… and yet that is the future we seem to be creating for ourselves.

How do we go about undoing the last 27 years of free-market, monetarist obsession?

Do New Zealanders even want to?

We should care – quite a bit, in fact.

The more skilled (and semi-skilled) people we lose to another Geographic Area, the fewer taxpayers we have remaining here.  Those taxpayers would be the ones who would be paying for our retirement; our  pension; and caring for us in Retirement Homes up and down the country.

Which means, amongst other things, that we’d better start paying Rest Home workers a more generous wage rather than a paltry $13.61 an hour  –  or else we’ll be wiping our own drool from our mouths and sitting for hours on end in damp, cold, incontinence pads. Even semi-skilled workers contribute more to our society than we realise.

If we want to instill a sense of society in our children – instead of simply living in an “economy” or Geographic Area – then we had better start re-assessing our priorities and values.

We can start with simple things.

Like; children. What is more important; a tax-cut, or providing free health-care and nutritious meals at schools for all children?

(If your answer is “Tax cut” because feeding children is an Individual and not a  Social need, then you haven’t been paying attention.)

Children who are all well-fed and healthy tend to do better at school. They learn better. They succeed. And they go on to succeed in life.

But more importantly, if society as a whole looks after all children – irrespective of whether they were lucky enough to be born into a good family,  or unlucky to be born into a stressed family of poverty and despair – then those children may, in turn look after us in decades to come.

If we want our children to feel a part of a society – our society – then we have to instill that sense of society in them at an early age.

Who knows – instilling a sense of society in all our children may achieve other desirable goals; lower crime; lower imprisonment rates; an urge to contribute more to the community;  less family stress and divorce; stronger families; less community fragmentation and alienation…

We’ve tried everything else these past three decades – and things aren’t getting better.

The focus on materialism and Individualism has not delivered a better society, higher wages, or other beneficial social and economic outcomes. Instead, many of our fellow New Zealanders are turning away and going elsewhere for a better life.

Quite simply, if people are Voting with their feet, then this is a Vote of No Confidence in our country.

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