Home > Social Issues, The Body Politic > Life in Level 2: Two Tier Welfare; A Green School; Right Rage, Wrong Reason

Life in Level 2: Two Tier Welfare; A Green School; Right Rage, Wrong Reason

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A Green School…

If the media and some of my fellow Green Party members could pause and breathe for a moment – a word or two (thousand) on the recent announcement by Green Party co-leader and Associate Minister of Finance, James Shaw, on the $11.7 million expansion project at the privately-run Green School in Taranaki.

Briefly, the project was financed as part of the Covid19 Response and Recovery Fund (CRRF), which, as Treasury explains;

As part of Budget 2020 the Government established the CRRF and set aside $50 billion to support a response to and recovery from COVID-19. The CRRF is a funding envelope for budget management purposes, rather than an actual sum of money ring fenced in the Government’s accounts. The fiscal implications of several new measures have been managed against the CRRF during April and early May. As at 14 May 2020, the Government had committed $29.8 billion of the CRRF, of which $13.9 billion had been announced prior to Budget Day as part of an ongoing response to COVID-19, leaving $20.2 billion of funding remaining.

On 14 May 2020, the CRRF Foundational Package was announced, totalling $12.0 billion in operating expenditure and $3.9 billion in capital expenditure over the forecast period.

Basically, the CRRF has funded everything from an advertisement warning parents of the perils of internet pornography on young people – to the wages subsidy to private companies. Radio NZ has benefitted with a $21.75m funding boost. The $900 million loan to Air New Zealand is also covered by this Fund.

The Fund has also paid out $52.5 million dollars to the racing industry along with additional payments from the Provincial Growth Fund;

The support package consists of:

    • $50 million dollar relief grant for the Racing Industry Transition Agency (RITA)
    • Up to $20 million in funding to construct two new All Weather race tracks.
    • $2.5 million dollars for the Department of Internal Affairs to fast track work on the online gambling revenue, and address loss of revenue impacts on community and sport groups.

“Of the immediate grant, $26 million will be used by RITA to pay its outstanding supplier bill which it hasn’t be able to do because of strangled revenue. The other share of this package will ensure RITA, and each of the racing codes, can maintain a baseline functionality and resume racing activities.” said Mr Peters.

“The racing industry is seriously underestimated for its economic contribution. For this reason the Government will also consider recapitalising the industry to help promote a quicker recovery and achieve a greater economic outcome.

The Racing Industry Transition Agency (RITA) is closely linked to the racing betting industry through the TAB;

“As we transition to TAB New Zealand we do so knowing that, despite the enormous challenges presented by COVID, RITA has delivered on the Racing Minister’s expectations which were set out last year. The Board is grateful for his ongoing commitment and support, as well as from those across Government and Parliament who have supported the charge to reform the industry over the past two years.” – Executive Chair Dean McKenzie

There has been little “uproar” that the Covid19 relief fund has been used to prop up the gambling industry in Aotearoa New Zealand.

It is from this same Fund that the privately run “Green School” was funded. With over one hundred jobs to be created from this project and flow-on benefits to the community, this is precisely why the Covid Fund was established.

However, the project funding has been condemned by a wide range of groups and individuals, such as Taranaki Secondary Schools’ Principals’ Association chairperson, Martin Chamberlain;

“We would like a retraction of it because it’s clearly a logistical error. The Green School is a privately-owned institution and any benefit coming to it goes into one individual’s pocket.”

Education union NZEI Te Riu Roa, national secretary, Paul Goulter, added his opposition;

“We just don’t see any role for public funding for private schools and in terms of the Greens, they have exactly that same policy so it certainly came out of left field.

We would obviously like to see the funding pulled. I have a deep suspicion that’s not possible at this stage.”

Former Green MP, Catherine Delahunty, lobbed her own political “grenade” into the loud chorus of outrage;

“Although this project, this money, came out of the Provincial Growth Fund, for infrastructure, schools are infrastructure, and I think that it’d be great if James as minister who made this mistake owned it, and did his best to make sure that the money went to the people that actually need it.

I feel very strongly about this. Public quality education took a total bashing under the National government and has not yet recovered. They brought in national standards, charter schools and underfunding like we’ve never seen before.”

And just to give the knife a twist, she added;

I think that James as minister has become isolated from the party to some degree, in the sense of his instinct didn’t tell him that this was never going to fly with the Green Party, and that our policies are never to fund private schools.

According to Ms Delahunty, other former Green MPs Denise Roche and Mojo Mathers were also “furious”.

To be crystal clear, this blogger has no truck with Charter schools. Even taxpayer funding of private schools is problematic for a variety of reasons; equity; selective use of tax money to subsidise private business; public support of elitism; etc. This blogger has roundly condemned Charter schools in the past and these views have not changed one iota: they are a sly, back-door agenda to privatise education. (See “Previous related blogposts” links below.)

In “normal times”, the criticism levelled against James Shaw would be valid.

But as anyone who has been paying attention to global events can point out, these are not “normal times”. Not when the entire country is effectively cut off from the rest of the world and unemployment is set to skyrocket.

When a government sets aside $50 billion for a recovery fund – with hardly a murmur of dissent from former hardline, free-market, minimalist-government, neo-liberal acolytes – we are living in “interesting times” indeed.

But is the pile-on that has been directed at James Shaw warranted?

Or is it just that: a political pile-on?

Part of the criticism levelled at the Green School is that it is apparently a “hot bed” of new agey weirdness, conspiracy fantasists, preparing to inculcate bizarre anti-science ideas into the minds of impressionable young people.

However, the Green School website makes no references to UN covid-conspiracies, crystals, “DNA activation”, angels, etc. Which is unusual, as conspiracy fantasists usually make no secret of their bizarre, quasi-religious beliefs.

The story originally ‘broke’ on Stuff media on 27 August and related solely to funding a private school which was apparently at odds with Green Party policy. Which hardly seemed newsworthy as the three-party coalition government often implemented policies that were at variance – and conflicted with – their own respective policy-agendas.

The turn to weirdness came a few days later. A search engine check of where the link to crystals and conspiracies came from points to a media article dated the 31st of August;

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green school

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Yes, Newshub. That fountain of newsworthy and accurate information.

It appears that the school itself did not organise the so-called “sacred event”. It was run by school parents, Christof and Alaya Melchizedek.

The sensationalised story was later picked up by Stuff media; Newsroom; and Radio NZ. Right-wing blogger, David Farrar, at Kiwiblog had fun with it as well. (Though can’t blame David for that.)

The worst that can be levelled at the school in this instance is that they have been “tarred” by the same brush as two conspiracy-minded parents. It is not the first time a school or University has been criticised for hosting an event, despite having no real connection to the organisers.

Wellington High School faced a back-lash from students and others in the community in late 2004/early 2005 when it was revealed that Destiny Church was holding meetings at the school’s hall. As organisors of the protest explained;

“The time has come for Destiny Church to leave our school. Since September we have urged them to leave, we have been more than patient and yet our tolerance has been abused. Destiny Church and its affiliated political party, Destiny New Zealand, are a destructive force who preach hate out of schools’, and this is not ok!”

It is, however incredibly ironic that in a school where there is a support group for homosexuals and sexually questioning members of our society, that this church would continue to rent Wellington High. Destiny Church does not reflect the community or culture of Wellington High School, if anything they are the antithesis of what it is our school stands for.”

Being unfairly tarred by a brush of bigotry is one reason by Massey University wanted nothing to do with former National Party leader and serial-racist, Don Brash and banned him from speaking on their grounds;

Massey University vice-chancellor Jan Thomas saying she didn’t want a “te tiriti led university be seen to be endorsing racist behaviours”

A scrutiny of the Green School’s website not only shows a glaring lack of conspiracy fantasies; bizarre “spiritual” beliefs, etc – but that the only things planted were not crystals – but plants;

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Regenerative Agriculture Workshop

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Gumboots and grass and not a crystal in sight.

Fifty million-plus dollars thrown at the racing and gambling industry – no one bats an eyelid.

Twelve million to be spent on a school – and people lose their minds.

Should we be sending our kids to the race track, perhaps?

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…And a Two-Two Welfare System

On the 26 of May, Welfare Minister Carmel Sepuloni introduced the Social Security (COVID-19 Income Relief Payment to be Income) Amendment Bill. As RNZ reported;

The government is introducing a new relief payment for those who have lost their jobs due to Covid-19, while they find new employment or retrain.

The payment would be available for 12 weeks from 8 June for New Zealand citizens or residents who had lost their job as a impact of the virus since 1 March.

Those who apply would be required to actively seek suitable work, and take steps towards employment, including making use of redeployment or training.

It will pay $490 a week for those who lost full-time work and $250 for part time workers – including students.

The payments will be untaxed.

People with working partners may also be eligible, as long as their partner is earning under $2000 per week.

The new “income relief payment” was essentially a beefed-up unemployed benefit for workers losing their jobs due to the covid19 epidemic. It would be administered by the Ministry for Social Development.

It was passed in the House, through all three readings, in one day.  Six days later, it was given Royal Assent.

Minister Sepuloni launched the Bill in the House and explained why it was necessary;

“We know that many people who may be faced with job loss might not qualify for a benefit. In ordinary times, we’d expect many of these people to quickly find other work or manage their costs over time without extra support. However, these unprecedented times we face mean many of these families and individuals will be under pressure to get back on their feet quickly to meet their living costs but will be doing this in a different labour market than they have faced before. This payment will provide a cushion for up to 12 weeks for people who experience a job loss between 1 March and 30 October this year and whose partners earn under $2,000 per week. The payment has two rates: $490 for those previously in full-time employment, and $250 for people previously in part-time employment. We know that some people may need additional income support; so, if eligible, recipients can access supplementary and hardship assistance from the Ministry of Social Development.

This bill ensures that entitlement to this additional assistance will accurately reflect people’s circumstances by taking this payment into account when determining eligibility.”

Finance Minister Grant Robertson also advocated strongly for the new benefit;

“We do understand how tough it has been for people who have experienced a sudden drop in income and are now looking for further job opportunities and to retrain.”

The fact that this is the third time that governments have needed to do something like this in the wake of a crisis is an indication that we need to look at a possible enduring solution when it comes to people who experience an immediate drop in income.”

The “income relief payment” differs from the usual unemployment benefit in two major areas:

  1. The amount of the “income relief payment” is $490 per week (tax free) – almost twice that of the regular, maximum  unemployment benefit of $250.74
  2. Partners of unemployed receiving the “income relief payment” can be in paid work (up to $2,000 per week!) and this does not affect the IRP. Partners of pre-covid beneficiaries earning the original, lesser unemployment benefit (net, $250.74 p/w) cannot be in paid work, or else it will affect their payments. It also attracts unwanted attention from MSD who constantly pry into beneficiaries private lives.

The Covid Unemployed are apparently an elite, special group of beneficiaries for whom the regular payment of $250.74 – without employed partners – was beneath their dignity.

This blatant discrimination did not go un-noticed by beneficiaries support groups and other former Green Party MPs.

Beneficiary advocate, Kay Brereton, said:

“The benefit is simply not enough to survive on. It is galling.  It acknowledges that by setting the rate at almost twice the rate that someone can get on a single rate of jobseeker.”

Thinktank The Workshop co-director, Jess Berentson-Shaw, pointed out the obvious;

“I don’t think we need to reinvent the wheel here. The things that help people outside of a pandemic are the same things that help people in a pandemic.”

Former Green MP, Sue Bradford was scathing;

“There has rarely been a more blatant case of discrimination against beneficiaries than Grant Robertson’s announcement yesterday that people who have lost their jobs because of the coronavirus will receive weekly payments of $490 per week for 12 weeks and $250 per week for part time workers.

This is great news for those who qualify. Fabulous. That $490 per week is almost double the $250 per week you get on the standard 25+ Jobseeker Allowance and much closer to anything approaching a liveable minimal income.

On top of that, the new benefit also allows people in relationships to access support if they meet the criteria and their partner earns less than $2000 per week before tax.

And unlike the usual system, the new payments do not appear to be age dependent. So the historically ridiculous assumption that the younger you are, the less money you need to live on does not apply to this new category of claimants.

[…]

Labour has revealed once again its decades-long predilection for categorising people into the “deserving” and “undeserving” poor, an ideology straight out of the 19th century England from which many Pākehā settler forebears came.”

Pre-covid welfare beneficeries were also less than enthusiastic about the new level of benefit payment.

Mother of two teenagers, and living in a state house, Agnes Magele is barely able survive on $243 a week;

“Sometimes I go to food banks if I have to. I have to do what I have to do so that and my kids get by each week. It’s really, really hard to live on that small income from the benefit.  It’s like a real kick in the gut.

It sounds like the government is saying that the people who have lost their jobs through Covid are deserving of an extra $250 on top of a normal benefit, as opposed to those who have already been on a benefit. It would help me pay off my debts a little bit faster and a lot of bills too [if she were getting $490 a week]. I’ll be able to afford to get me and the kids decent, decent food each week.”

The above RNZ story reported on how other beneficiaries were trying to cope.

On RNZ’s The Panel, on 1 September,  Phil O’Reilly – former Chief Executive of Business NZ and member of the Welfare Expert Advisory Grouprepeated his criticisms of current benefit levels;

“Being on welfare is an entirely stressful experience.

[…]

It’s pretty clear that the payments being made just weren’t sufficient.”

Mr O’Reilly can hardly be described as a card-carrying socialist.

Former Greens co-leader, Metiria Turei, who sacrificed her parliamentary career revealing how she had been forced to rort the welfare system to survive had one succint thing to say about her former Party and the two-tier welfare system they had voted for;

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It was a lie that cost her her career. And now from the outside Turei is kicking the fight up a gear - calling her former party's Government partners a "pack of c**ts".

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Meanwhile, in the same story, Mediaworks/Newshub reported that;

The Green Party is revolting against the Government’s new payments for those who lose their jobs to COVID.

Co-leader Marama Davidson has called it unfair to beneficiaries who are paid much less – and a former co-leader has used a much stronger word to describe the Government.

Revolting“?

Calling it unfair“?

Far from it. Parliament’s Hansard’s reveal that Green MPs supported the Social Security (COVID-19 Income Relief Payment to be Income) Amendment Bill;

“It’s a pleasure to rise and speak to this bill and just to point out that the Opposition make it very clear that there is no choice for us, because, if it’s between at least making progress for some versus the drive to the bottom on that side, then, actually, this is a step forward. It may not be what we want, and it’s not, but, boy, is it better than the alternative.

What I want to say is that the Greens—at the heart of our position is a belief that everyone should have enough to be able to sustain themselves and that we want a welfare system that is resilient and works for everyone. And we are a long way from that, and we have a lot of work to do. That work has started, but we’re not happy with where it’s at. We want more work to go on.” – Jan Logie, First Reading

“So I really just also want to say we are supporting this bill, and the reason for that is, well, we want everyone else to come up to this. I do just want to talk to the fact that the reason for that is we know that people in our communities are struggling. We know that the queues for food parcels and outside Work and Income offices are growing and that the Auckland City Mission –

[…]

This is at the heart of what this initiative is. I think that is in the long term a conversation for us as a country, where we’ve heard very clearly that people do not want a two-tier welfare system—and we agree with that—and that people really are now coming towards realising we need to increase main benefits and ensure everyone can live in dignity. Where does our support sit for the interconnection between redundancy and that welfare system? The Green Party does believe there is work to explore in this space, and at this moment in time, this policy is a response to that. ” – Jan Logie, Second Reading

“Our first position was to further increase benefits and to remove the conditionality of access to those benefits so that the existing system that we had could be strengthened to work for all of us through this time.

We didn’t achieve that. Does that mean that we should turn our backs on a group of people being able to access support? That’s our choice. Our answer was, considering on our principles, no. We should not turn our backs on some people being able to get more just because we were not able to achieve our goals for this transformation for our society. We will keep working towards that, and you hear that through this debate. We are not stepping away from that whatsoever; however, we do recognise that this delivers more to people in need, and we are not going to subject more people to the flawed aspects of our system when we don’t need to.Jan Logie, Third Reading

Their support may have been luke-warm at best, but on all three readings the Greens voted in favour of the Bill, along with Labour and NZ First. Their eight votes in Parliament enabled this law.

Despite their stated intention to support what is currently a two tier welfare system to “keep working to raise all welfare levels” – nothing else has happened. Pre-covid beneficiaries struggle to survive on $250.74 (net); Post-covid beneficiaries recieve almost twice that.

On top of which the partners of post-covid beneficiaries can  earn up to $2,000 a week, unmolested by MSD.

Try applying those same rules to pre-covid unemployed.

Meanwhile, The University of Auckland, Child Poverty Action Group, Auckland Action Against Poverty, and FIRST Union collaborated on a project to determine how well pre and post-covid beneficiaries were doing on their respective benefits. Spoiler: the results were entirely predictable;

The Covid income relief payment provides $490 a week for people who have lost full-time work because of the pandemic, whereas some people on the jobseeker benefit get just $250.

University of Auckland sociologist Louise Humpage said early findings suggest the $25 a week increase to benefits announced by the government in March is making little or no difference to low income households.

They did get some benefit from the doubling of the winter energy payment, but that is only a temporary initiative.

But people on the higher Covid income relief payment reported fewer occasions where they have been unable to meet basic costs.

“They seem to have reserves from elsewhere,” Humpage said.

“We asked questions about, ‘do you have passive income?’, ‘do you have a house that you own?’, and at present, they seem to be buffered by those extra resources.”

The RNZ story pointed out the blinding obvious;

Humpage said the early findings suggested that benefit levels need to rise.

“I think there is general consensus that benefits are too low at present and I think this Covid-19 payment is a reflection that it’s actually too low for most people.”

What an unsurprising conclusion.

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Right Rage, Wrong Reason

In voting for the Social Security (COVID-19 Income Relief Payment to be Income) Amendment Bill, the Green Party has failed all those people who were on welfare benefits pre-covid.

This was a platinum-plated opportunity to either raise benefits for everyone, regarding of pre or post-covid status – or not to support the new $490 per week “income relief payment” for anyone.

Had they presented this choice to Labour it would have been an interesting challenge. Would Labour have dared to call the Greens bluff?

If so, the result would have been spectacular – for the Middle Class. For perhaps only the second time in recent history (the first during the Global Financial Crisis), comfortable middle class New Zealanders would have had a painful, jarring lesson in what it means to live on basic welfare.

If you think the amplified whinging from a tiny minority of quarantined Returnees was bad enough – the shrieking howls of outrage and entitlement from recently unemployed middle class class workers might have been heard through the vacuum of space to the far side of the Moon.

Even the term “income relief payment” de-stigmatises unemployment welfare for the middle class. Pre-covid enemployed still recieve “the benefit”.

The Greens missed that opportunity.

Suggestions that the Greens had to swallow a dead rat would be an insult. It is the pre-covid unemployed who were fed dead rats with the passing of the Social Security (COVID-19 Income Relief Payment to be Income) Amendment Bill.

Writing for Newsroom, Sam Sachdeva said this;

As a whole, the saga plays into two distinct but damaging stereotypes of the Green Party and its supporters: as chardonnay socialists whose talk about supporting the poor isn’t backed up by action, and as Morris-dancing, science-hating kooks.

Neither is entirely accurate, but each has enough of a grain of truth that there is a risk of the mud sticking.

He has a point.

As much as the Green Party is doing “god’s” work to drive home the existential threat of Climate Change; their ongoing efforts to clean up our environment; and to prevent the further degradation of our land, forests, and waterways – their half-hearted actions regarding critical social issues sometimes leave much to be desired.

The spectacle of Green Party MPs and some supporters venting their rage to such a degree as to force James Shaw – a thoroughly decent politician – to utterly humiliate himself with a public apology – while barely uttering a word in protest against an indefensible two tier welfare system that reeks of double standards, discrimination, and coded beneficiary bashing – is breath-taking.

If flogging a private school is what some of my fellow Green Party members are willing to die-in-the-ditch for instead of  working for our fellow New Zealanders at the bottom of the financial heap, then they’ve been sipping too much from the kool-chardonnay.

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Disclosure:

This blogger is a Green Party supporter.

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References

RNZ:  Government to pump $11.7m into privately-run Green School in Taranaki

Treasury: Summary of Initiatives in the Covid19 Response and Recovery Fund (CRRF) Foundational Package

Stuff media: Coronavirus – What is the $50b Covid Response and Recovery Fund being spent on?

Beehive:  Emergency support for Racing’s recovery

TAB NZ:  Transition to TAB New Zealand complete

RNZ:  Critics pile on Green private school funding boost

NZ Herald:  Schools ‘horrified’ at Greens backing $11.7m grant for exclusive private school

RNZ:  Catherine Delahunty criticises govt’s $11.7m funding for ‘green’ private school

RNZ:  Critics pile on Green private school funding boost

Green School: Specialisation

Stuff media: Greens caught bending party policy to grant $11.7m to private school in Taranaki

Mediaworks/Newshub:  Couple who called COVID-19 ‘manufactured natural disaster’ held ‘DNA activation’ event at Green School

RNZ:  Green School at centre of $12m funding debacle struggling with backlash

Stuff media: Couple who endorsed Covid-19 conspiracy theories hosted ‘sacred ceremony’ at Green School

Newsroom:  Shaw’s sorrow crystal clear as Greens face heat over private school

Kiwiblog:  The $12 million school hosted a DNA activation event!

NZ Herald:  High school students rally against church

Scoop media: Campaign to remove Destiny Church from our schools

Otago Daily Times:  Brash back on campus after ban

Green School: Community and Activities

Parliament:  Social Security (COVID-19 Income Relief Payment to be Income) Amendment Bill

RNZ:  Relief payments for people who lost jobs due to Covid-19 announced

Parliament:  Social Security (COVID-19 Income Relief Payment to be Income) Amendment Bill — First Reading

MSD:  Jobseeker Support cut-out points (current)

RNZ:  Welfare advocates not happy with Covid-19 unemployment benefit

RNZ/The Pundit:  Sue Bradford – Labour betrays its traditions – and most vulnerable – with two-tier welfare payments

RNZ:  Covid-19 unemployment pay ‘real kick in the gut’, beneficiaries say

Welfare Expert Advisory Group: Phil O’Reilly

RNZ: The Panel – Phil O’Reilly – 1 September 2020 (alt.link)

Mediaworks/Newshub:  Former Green Party leader Metiria Turei puts Government on blast over new payment scheme

Parliament:  Social Security (COVID-19 Income Relief Payment to be Income) Amendment Bill — Second Reading

Parliament:  Social Security (COVID-19 Income Relief Payment to be Income) Amendment Bill — Third Reading

RNZ:  Covid income relief payment recipients fare better than those on the dole, survey finds

Newsroom:  Shaw’s sorrow crystal clear as Greens face heat over private school

NZ Herald:  Green Party co-leader James Shaw fronts on private school funding controversy

Other Blogs

The Pundit:  Labour betrays its traditions – and the most vulnerable – with two-tier welfare payments

Previous related blogposts

Privatisation of our schools?!

Q+A – 5 August 2012

Christchurch, choice, and charter schools

Charter Schools – John Key’s re-assurances

Charter Schools – contrary to ACT’s free market principles?

Privatisation of our schools?!

Charter Schools – Another lie from John Banks!

Charter Schools in a Post-Truth Era

A little warning regarding Charter Schools

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(*or Middle Class, in this case)

Acknowledgement: Tom Scott

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 3 September 2020.

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= fs =

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