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The Free-market, Hyper-individualism… and a Culture of Cruelty?

15 July 2018 3 comments

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Up till recently, I had believed that there were two facets comprising to create a  neo-liberal economy (not “society” – neo-liberalism does not recognise community or society where individuals organise for a greater collective good).

The first was a free market predicated on minimal regulation; reduced government; greater reliance of private enterprise to deliver services; and a lower tax-take which forces future left-leaning governments to curtail vital infra-structure and social-spending.

As Coalition Finance Minister, Grant Robertson clearly told the told the country in March this year;

“We’ve put aside $42bn over the next four years for capital investment but you know what? It won’t be enough. We understand that we need to take a more innovative approach to the financing of infrastructure.”

Which was well understood by National’s former Finance Minister, Steven Joyce,  when he accused Labour of a so-called “$11.7 billion fiscal hole” in their pre-election costings.

National’s tax cuts of 2009 and 2010 were not just an election bribe at a time the country could ill afford them – they were a strategic move to constrain a future Labour-led government in a tight fiscal straight-jacket.

Then-Finance Minister, Bill English, said that the 2009 tax cut represented a $1 billion loss of revenue to the National government;

“About 1.5 million workers will receive a personal tax cut, injecting an extra $1 billion into the economy in the coming year.”

The following year, National’s tax would be estimated to cost the State at least $2 billion in lost revenue.

This was well-under-stood by commentators, analysts, politicians. National-leaning John Armstrong explained this in straight-forward terms;

The message is Labour – if it wins – is not going to spend money the new Government will not have…

… is not going to make promises in advance he cannot keep.

[…]

The yawning chasm of the Budget deficit meant there was no new money to spend. Some cherished policies would have to be introduced progressively – rather than in one go. Savings would have to be found; sacrifices would have to be made. And so on.

That was penned by Mr Armstrong in 2011. It still holds true today.

The second facet of neo-liberalism is promulgation and amplification of the Cult of the Individual. Whether this means cheaper imported goods at the expense of local industry and jobs; doing away with retailing restrictions (or even planned, deliberate breaking of the law); easier access to alcohol and subsequent social impacts; the primacy of the Individual’s rights for self-interest and gratification would trump communities expectations of collective  responsibility; social cohesion; the health and wellbeing of the population, and the greater good.

For example, attempts by communities to restrict and reign in plentiful availability of cheap alcohol is usually  met with a predictable vocal chorus of indignant outrage from people for whom the Right To Buy When/Where-ever supercedes any societal problems. The most spurious arguments are presented, attempting to portray consumers as hapless “victims” of “bureaucracy-gone-made”. Or “Nanny statism”.

Yet, the cost of alcohol abuse was estimated to be approximately $5.3 billion in 2016. That’s $5.3 billion that could have been invested in education, health, public transport,  housing, conservation and pest control, increased research in green technologies, etc.

The heavy  costs of alcohol abuse is socialised, whilst profits are privatised to business and their shareholders. For many, it is more important to be able to buy a drink at 4am in the morning than social problems arising from easy availability.  For some individuals, that convenience outstrips whatever harm is occurring elsewhere. “It’s not my problem”, is the thought that often runs through the minds of many who demand their rights – regardless of consequences.

But there is a third aspect – like a third leg to a three-legged stool – that must exist if neo-liberalism is to thrive: Cruelty.

A certain amount of callousness; disdain; and outright hatred must replace  compassion, egalitarianism, and a sense of community cohesion if the neo-liberal version of “society” is to operate successfully.

It is the reason why neo-liberalism never took hold in Scandinavian countries.

It is the reason why – once a foothold was gained in the late 1980s – successive governments ensured the neo-liberal model was maintained in this country.

Almost by definition, neo-liberalism cannot operate in a society which has values diametrically opposed to it. It took an “economic crisis” in 1984/85 for the Lange-led Labour government to impose Rogernomics.

In 1991, Ruth Richardson used the “BNZ Crisis” to implement drastic cuts to health, education and welfare. Housing NZ tenants were forced to pay market rents. User-pays was introduced for hospitals and schools – though the public resisted and ignored the $50/nightly charge for public hospitals.

Neo-liberalism could not have been introduced so easily without the convenient constructs of various so-called “economic crises”. The mainstream media at the time was complicit in the “reforms” sweeping every aspect of New Zealand’s cultural, social, and economic activity.

But once introduced, the speed of so-called “reforms” accelerated and opposition became harder. Mass protests seemingly had little or no effect. The change of government in 1990 from Labour to National only made matters worse – Richardson’s “Mother of All Budgets” plunged the country further into recession.

For the following thirty years, the neo-liberal paradigm ruled unchallenged, with perhaps the rear-guard action from the now-defunct Alliance, and a few stubborn media commentators who still asked uncomfortable questions where we were heading as a country.

By 2002, the Alliance was crippled and forced out of Parliament.

The remaining critical voices of media commentators grew fewer and fewer.

The “revolution” was all but complete. Neo-liberalism was bedded-in, supported by a propertied Middle Class feeling “wealthy” with bloated house-values and bribed with seven tax cuts since 1986.

But all was not well in Neo-liberal Nirvana.

There were embarrassing reminders that the notion of “trickle down” – now repudiated by the New Right as an ‘invention’ by the Left – was not working as per expectations of devotees of the Chicago School model. As Budget Director for the Reagan Administration, David Stockman, said;

“It’s kind of hard to sell ‘trickle down, so the supply-side formula was the only way to get a tax policy that was really ‘trickle down.’ Supply-side is ‘trickle-down’ theory.”

It became apparent that the promises of neo-liberalism were largely faith-based. Enormous social problems were being caused as corporate power increased;  union power waned; wages stagnated; wealth drained away to a tiny minority; and simple things like home ownership rates were falling dramatically.

Tellingly, it was the gradual loss of the great Kiwi Dream of home ownership that was a litmus test-paper for the toxicity of neo-liberalism’s false premises and empty promises.

Ironically, this was happening at a time when mortgage money was easier and cheaper to obtain from the banks. But only if you earned a high income or already owned property to borrow against. Or could rely on the Bank of Mum and Dad.

Those who already had the assets could hope to get more.

Those at the bottom, or struggling middle classes, would miss out.

For many, they discovered that hitting rock-bottom wasn’t as low as you could go. For growing numbers of New Zealanders, “bottom” meant a shredded welfare safety-net  that had gaping holes in it under the National government;

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Added to a mounting housing crisis, various National ministers exploited every opportunity to portray the poor; the homeless; the chronically sick; unemployed; young people; in the worst possible light. They were authors of their own misfortune, according to former PM, John Key;

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National’s Bill English disdain for young unemployed was made abundantly clear on several occasions;

In 2016;

“ A lot of the Kiwis that are meant to be available [for farm work] are pretty damned hopeless. They won’t show up. You can’t rely on them and that is one of the reasons why immigration’s a bit permissive, to fill that gap… a cohort of Kiwis who now can’t get a license because they can’t read and write properly and don’t look to be employable, you know, basically young males.”

Last year;

“ One of the hurdles these days is just passing a drug test. Under workplace safety you can’t have people on your premises under the influence of drugs and a lot of our younger people can’t pass that test.”

And again in December this year;

Government’s fees-free policy will ‘soak up staff out of McDonald’s’...”

English’s demonisation of unemployed and young New Zealander’s appeared at complete variance with those same people desperate for paid work. But that did not make him pause in his attacks.

Housing for the poor, the homeless, and vulnerable was also on National’s “hit list”, as they pursued their agenda to down-size state activity in housing.

First came the “reviews” and people’s live upended as National ended tenancies based on an ideological notion that state houses were not for life. The social problems resulting would be euphemistically known later as “unintended consequences”;

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National’s response was predictable,

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Therein lay their own seeds for electoral  defeat three years later.

In the years that followed, National portrayed welfare beneficiaries and Housing NZ tenants as negatively as they could possibly get away with.

The meth-hysteria portrayed HNZ tenants as hopeless, lazy drug fiends. National was only too happy to fan the flames of demonisation, as it allowed National to evict tenants and sell off state houses.  Their policy in September last year was unequivocal, and linked gangs and drugs, with Housing NZ tenants;

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The press statement above was issued by former welfare beneficiary-turned-National Minister, Paula Bennett. The same Paula Bennett who, only eight months later, lamented on Radio NZ;

“I’ve always had concerns… I just didn’t think that the 0.5 [microgram limit] sounded right. I questioned [the Health Ministry] in particular who had set that standard, questioned Housing NZ numerous times, got the Standards Authority involved.”

She suggested tenants should be compensated. That was ‘big’ of her.

She also stated,

“[I] was horrified that people might be smoking P in houses, I’m not going to shy away from that.

Then I started seeing reports and I remember one in particular from an expert – he said, ‘You can just about get more P residue off a $5 note than you could have at some of these houses with 0.5 micrograms’ and so that raised alarm bells for me.

But … then who am I to be standing in and saying at what level I felt that [the limit] should be?”

Maybe she could have asked Sir Peter Gluckman. He was the government’s Science Advisor at the time. The one appointed by John Key. Yeah, that one.

Or, she could have paid more attention to a 2014 MSD report which revealed a staggeringly low rate of drug-use amongst welfare beneficiaries;

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Yeah, that one!

But that would have gotten in the way of National’s cunning plan.

Plans that drove thousands of welfare rolls, as Key’s administration struggled to balance the government’s books after two unaffordable tax cuts in 2009 and 2010;

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In September 2017, on TV3’s ‘The Nation‘,  then Welfare Minister, Anne Tolley, described National’s drive to reduce welfare recipients in the most Orwellian way;

“But we do have a significant number of people who are looking for work, who are capable of working, and so most of them, it’s just a light touch to help them along the way.”

In the same interview, Lisa Owen challenged Minister Tolley on the fate of welfare beneficiaries who had been pushed off welfare. Minister Tolley admitted that she and the National government had no idea what had happened to the thousands of people, including families with children;

Lisa Owen: How do you know that they’re going on to a better life?

Tolley: Look, there’s a whole lot of people that don’t want the state in their lives. Tracking people is awful. They go off the benefit—

[…]

Anne Tolley: They go off the benefit for a whole variety of reasons.

Lisa Owen: How can you claim success, though, for that when you don’t actually know if they’re earning more money than they were on the benefit—?

Anne Tolley: We do track if they come back on to benefit, and we do have a close look at what has happened. As I say, we do do a lot of training. We do provide a lot of opportunities for people to retrain.

Lisa Owen: But you don’t know what’s happening to those people. You’ve got no idea.

Anne Tolley: We have 44% who self-identify to us that they’re going off into work. You know, people go overseas. They age into superannuation. There’s a whole lot of reasons why.

Lisa Owen: All right, so you don’t know.

Thankfully, former PM John Key was more forthcoming in 2011 that New Zealand’s “under class” was growing.

As National ramped up it’s campaign of  denigration and punitive action against welfare beneficiaries and Housing NZ tenants, compliant State organisations were reaping their victims.

One was forced to suicide;

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One was a victim of damp housing and poverty-related disease;

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One was chased for a welfare debt she could have no chance of repaying – but MSD pursued it “in case she won Lotto“;

MSD was trying to recover approximately $120,000 from a chronically-ill beneficiary in her 50s who will never be able to work again. The Ministry has pursued her for years and spent a large amount on the case, even though it is plain the woman has no money and her health will never allow her to work again.

The judge asked the Crown lawyer whether it was worth continuing to pursue the beneficiary.

The lawyer responded that it was, as the beneficiary might win Lotto and would then be able to repay the money.

And the most recent example of victimising the homeless simply defies comprension;

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Homeless men at the “drop-in centre” were shaken awake through the night every half hour.

All because the facility was not compliant with fire and building consents. To it’s credit the Rotorua Lakes Council said “fire and building consents were being rushed through so people could sleep at the shelter“.

But Mr Deane – the organisor of the facility ” was told yesterday [5 July] that they had to remain awake until the necessary  consents were granted”.

The common term for this is sleep deprivation.

It should not be forgotten that the practice of sleep deprivation was one of the five techniques used by the British government against Northern Irish citizens arrested in 1971. Subsequently, in January 1978, in a case taken by the government of Ireland against Great Britain, in the the European Court of Human Rights, ruled that the five techniques – including sleep deprivation – “did not occasion suffering of the particular intensity and cruelty implied by the word torture … [but] amounted to a practice of inhuman and degrading treatment“.

Sleep deprivation was determined to be a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.

In 2010, the British government lost a Court appeal to prevent public release of a report revealing the practice of sleep deprivation torture had been used against British resident, Binyam Mohamed. The Court judgement stated;

“The treatment reported, if it had been administered on behalf of the United Kingdom would clearly have been in breach of  [a ban on torture].

Although it is not necessary for us to categorise the treatment reported, it could be readily contended to be at the very least cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of BM by the United States authorities.”

In 2014, the UN committee against torture condemned the United States for allowing sleep deprivation to be used as a torture technique against prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. The United States governments calls such practices “enhanced interrogation”.

To discover that sleep deprivation is being used against homeless men in New Zealand is disturbing.

To realise that a practice considered torture by various international organisations has barely been reported by the mainstream media – is deeply troubling.

We have reached rock-bottom as a society when people are being subjected to “a practice of inhuman and degrading treatment” – simply because they are homeless.

This is the definition of  abuse against the vulnerable: they are unable to fight back because they are utterly powerless.

If this practice of sleep deprivation was carried out in our prisons, there would be a major Royal Commission of Inquiry.

But not when the subject of this abuse is the homeless. Their powerlessness is worse than men and women incarcerated in our prisons, despite being “free”.

The cruelty shown to our welfare beneficiaries; to Housing NZ tenants; and to the homeless, has been sanctioned by a sizeable ‘chunk’ of our population;

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(2008) (2011) (2014) (2017)

Fully a quarter of the country’s population has continued to endorse the National Party at four consecutive general elections.

What does this say about a quarter of the population’s attitude to what has amounted to a campaign of vilification and  denigration against those at the bottom of our social-economic ‘ladder’ – a campaign that has been skillfully carried out to facilitate pushing people off welfare and selling off state houses.

This degree of callous cruelty has been led by various  ministers in the previous National government who have mis-used information; misled the public; and made derogatory comments against those whose sole ‘crime’ was to be poor.

This was bullying from the highest level of power, toward those at the lowest level of powerlessness.

National’s subtle and graduated vilification of the poor made cruelty permissable in a country which once valued tolerance, fairness, and egalitarianism.

When depriving homeless men barely merits a mention in our media, and few bat an eyelid, what other possible conclusion can be made?

This Coalition government is constrained fiscally when it comes to welfare and state housing.

It suffers no such constraints when it comes to showing strong moral leadership to reject State-sanctioned cruelty.There is no fiscal cost to compassionate leadership that lifts up the powerless.

There are good men and women in Labour, the Greens, and NZ First. That is perhaps their strongest common bond between all three; a rejection of the culture of callousness that has seduced and poisoned the hearts and minds of so many New Zealanders.

Every Minister in this coalition government can reject decades of a culture of cruelty by reaffirming the humanity of the unemployed; solo-mums; youth; sickness beneficiaries; state house tenants; the drug and alcohol addicted; and the homeless.

Every Minister in this coalition government can use their position of power to speak on behalf of the powerless.

Every Minister in this coalition government can remind all New Zealanders that we are not bullies; we are better than that. If we cannot look after the powerless in our own society – then what possible hope is there for us and our children’s future, to be a compassionate society?

This will be the defining point of difference between what we have been – and what we hope to become.

This is what will inspire New Zealanders to choose what we aspire to be, and what kind of leadership will take us there.

Cruelty or compassion? Hopefully that will be the true point of difference in 2020.

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~ In Memory ~

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~ Emma-Lita Bourne ~

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~ Wendy Shoebridge ~

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References

Radio NZ: Robertson on infrastructure – $42bn ‘won’t be enough’

Fairfax media: Steven Joyce sticks to $11.7 billion hole in Government budget

Scoop media: Government delivers April 1 tax cuts, SME changes

Scoop media: Govt’s 2010 tax cuts costing $2 billion and counting

NZ Herald: John Armstrong – Labour confined to a fiscal straitjacket

Dominion Post: ‘Pressure valve’ medics patch up night’s drunks

Fairfax media: Alcohol – How can we reduce the harm it causes?

RBNZ: Banking crises in New Zealand – an historical perspective

NZ Herald: July 1984 – When life in NZ turned upside down

The Encyclopedia of New Zealand – Te Ara: The ‘mother of all budgets’

Wikipedia: The Alliance

NZ Initiative: Defeating the trickle-down straw man

The Atlantic: The Education of David Stockman

NZ Herald: Home ownership rates lowest in 66 years according to Statistics NZ

Interest.co.nz: Housing mortgage rates are more likely to go down rather than up

Fairfax media: Bank of mum and dad could be NZ’s sixth largest first-home mortgage lender

NZ Herald: Auckland teen couple face sleeping in car

TVNZ: More homeless people sleeping in cars

Mediaworks/Newshub: The hidden homeless – Families forced to live in cars

NZ Herald: Minister spells out $43,000 ‘salary’ claim for solo mum

NZ Herald: Benefit cuts for drug users defended by PM

NZ Herald: Bennett increases pursuit of welfare ‘rorts

Fairfax media: Key – Mums of one-year-olds better off working

NZ Herald: Food parcel families made poor choices, says Key

NZ Herald: Beneficiary birth control ‘common sense’ – Key

Fairfax media: House call plan to nab benefit fraudsters

NZ Herald:  Unions demand Bill English apologise for describing jobseekers as ‘pretty damned hopeless’

Fairfax media:  Bill English says employers are regularly telling him that Kiwis can’t pass drug tests

Twitter: Newshub – Bill English “soak up staff out of McDonalds”

Frankly Speaking:  Fact Sheet – Employment-Unemployment and Queues for Vacancies

Dominion Post: State tenants face ‘high need’ review

Fairfax media: Nearly 600 state house tenants removed after end of ‘house for life’ policy

Fairfax media: Housing policy will destabilise life for children

NZ Herald: State housing shake-up – Lease up on idea of ‘house for life’

Fairfax media: Housing policy will destabilise life for children

NZ Herald: ‘No point’ in new state houses – Bill English

National: New crack down on gangs and drugs

Radio NZ: Paula Bennett: HNZ too cautious on meth testing

Beehive: PM appoints Chief Science Advisor

NZ Herald: Minister claims low drug result as victory

NZ Herald: Bennett trumpets 5000 fewer on DPB

Fairfax media: Number on benefits drops, reaction mixed

NZ Herald: Over 5300 benefits cut due to info sharing

NZ Herald: Benefits cut for 13,000 parents in new regime

NZ Herald: 11,000 disabled children lose welfare benefit

Radio NZ: About 2000 children hit when parents lose benefits

Radio NZ: Thousands losing benefits due to paperwork

Mediaworks/TV3: The Nation – Welfare Debate

NZ Herald: Key admits underclass still growing

Fairfax media: Aggressive prosecution focus at MSD preceded woman’s death, inquest told

NZ Herald: Damp house led to toddler’s death

Catriona Maclennan: Loans to feed kids are income and disqualify benefit, says MSD

Radio NZ: Homeless shaken awake as Rotorua shelter awaits consents

European Court of Human Rights: Case of Ireland v. The United Kingdom

BBC: Binyam Mohamed torture appeal lost by UK government

The Guardian: UN torture report condemns sleep deprivation among US detainees

Wikipedia: New Zealand general election, 2008

Wikipedia: New Zealand general election, 2011

Wikipedia: New Zealand general election, 2014

Wikipedia: New Zealand general election, 2017

Additional

Gordon Campbell:  Ten Myths About Welfare – The politics behind the government’s welfare reform process

Other Blogposts

Public Address: We are, at last, navigating out of the “meth contamination” debacle

Pundit:  Beneficiary ‘impact’ highlights poverty of social policies

The Daily Blog: A Fair suck of the sauce bottle!

The Daily Blog: New Government response to MSD sadism is just not good enough

The Standard: Loans to feed kids are income and disqualify benefit, says MSD

Previous related blogposts

Week Watch – 7 June

Easter Trading – A “victimless crime”?

Professor Bill English lectures young New Zealanders on free education

The Mendacities of Ms Amy Adams – “hidden borrowing”?!

Tracy Watkins – Getting it half right on the “Decade of Deficits”

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 10 July 2018.

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CYF – The Hollowing Out of a State Agency

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cyf-low-quality

 

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“CYF’s is gone, you know, it’s finished, it’s gone. It hasn’t worked and we’re changing.” – Anne Tolley

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Information passed on to this blogger raises questions as to why CYF has apparently been “under-performing” and why it seems stretched to deal with a mounting crisis of increasing numbers of  at-risk families.

A fall in staffing levels may have played a part in CYF’s “under-performance” – an allegation which seems to be supported by recently obtained figures under the Official Information Act.

1. Setting the Stage

As announced on 1 June, last year, National was casting it’s eye over social-services as part of it’s next step in it’s privatisation agenda;

Social bonds, in which the return for investors will be partially determined by whether or not agreed social targets have been achieved, will become another tool in the Government’s social investment approach that is aiming to improve the lives and prospects of the most vulnerable New Zealanders.

The announcement was couched in usual flowery terms of spin-doctored waffle;

“The Government is focused on achieving better results for individuals and families in highest need,” Finance Minister Bill English says.

“Where we succeed, there are opportunities to help people fulfil their potential, a chance to break inter-generational cycles of dependency and, in the long term, potential savings for taxpayers.

“So social bonds are a consistent fit with our wider social investment approach which aims to better understand both the drivers and risks of social dysfunction and where we can have the greatest impact in improving people’s lives.”

Vague promises of improved provision of services were made;

Dr Coleman says social bonds are an innovative way for the Government to contract social outcomes. They will see private and public sector organisations operating together to fund and deliver services.

But the ‘crunch’ was this statement;

If they achieve agreed results, the Government will pay back the investors plus a return. The return depends on the level of results, up to an agreed amount.

Jan Logie, from the Green Party, voiced concerns which many people throughout the country must have felt after hearing or reading National’s announcement;

“Mentally ill New Zealanders need the Government to provide more of a commitment to them, not to abdicate all responsibility for them to foreign banks and big money investors.

National doesn’t care that the biggest stumbling block facing New Zealanders with a mental illness who want to work is discrimination. Having a big bank breathe down the neck of a social service provider, demanding outcomes so it can make a profit, isn’t going to make that discrimination go away.

The National Government has ignored the advice of the Department of Internal Affairs which warned investors will only want to put money into programmes that are certain to work – which completely defeats the purpose.

Social bonds are a continuation of National’s attempt to privatise public services, which will always see the most vulnerable left out and National’s mates better off. In two years of charter schools, not one has enrolled a student with the highest special needs.”

2. Reasurances made…

On 26 September last year, Tolley issued stern reassurances that there would be no outsourcing of front-line services;

Lisa Owen: “Can you rule out today that you won’t be outsourcing front-line care and protection services?”

Anne Tolley: “Look, let’s put it to rest. This is a state responsibility. There’s no talk within government at all of outsourcing that responsibility.”

3. And reassurances broken
Seven months later, on 9 April, on TV3’s ‘The Nation‘,  Tolley flip-flopped, and admitted that privatisation of some aspects of CYF was now likely;
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the nation - anne tolley interview - cyf

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Lisa Owen: “But here we have outsourcing, so how do you square that away? Because you were specifically talking about front-line staff.”

Anne Tolley: “So we’re not outsourcing care and protection. What the report talks about is two things – first of all, a partnership arrangement with NGOs and iwi and community organisations as we have currently, and secondly, being able to direct purchase the services that children need when they need. But that will still be the operating system; the responsibility for those children will still be held by government.”

Lisa Owen: “Yes, but you’re talking about people or services that have direct contact with these children. “

Anne Tolley: “Yes.”

Lisa Owen: “Psychologists is one of the examples you talk about.”

Anne Tolley: “Yes.”

Lisa Owen: “That is front-line services, so that is outsourcing.”

Anne Tolley: “Well, that’s no different from what we are now. What was being presumed last time was that we were going to contract some company to take responsibility for children in care. We’re not doing that. It is the government’s responsibility, and the whole focus of the expert panel’s report was a single point of accountability in government for the long-term outcomes of those vulnerable children.”

Lisa Owen: “So you say that using these people from outside agencies, NGOs, et cetera, that’s all about getting the best people?”

Anne Tolley: “Absolutely. Getting the best people for the children when they need it, that’s the whole— one of the major changes about what’s being proposed. At the moment, various people working with those children have to negotiate with all the different agencies, fit in with their criteria, and children wait in line. What we’re saying now, what Cabinet has accepted, is that we need to be able to purchase those services for those children when they need it, and it could well be from DHBs, it could well be from the education service itself, but it could be from NGOs, and it could be from private psychologists, et cetera.”

Tolley’s admission that CYF services would be outsourced/privatised was confirmed only days before her interview on The Nation, with this press release from her office;

“A new system will be in place by the end of March 2017 which will have high aspirations for all children and address their short and long-term wellbeing and support their transition into adulthood.

It will focus on five core services – prevention, intensive intervention, care support services, transition support and a youth justice service aimed at preventing offending and reoffending.

The overhaul, which is expected to take up to five years to be fully implemented, will include:

[…]

  • Direct purchasing of vital services such as health, education and counselling support to allow funding to follow the child, so that these young people can gain immediate access to assistance.”
Veteran interviewer, Lisa Owen asked the Minister about the problem of private-providers “cherry-picking easy cases” of  problem-children;

Lisa Owen: “But one of the concerns is that there is a risk of cherry-picking. You know, if you have a private provider, are they only going to take the easier kids? Because we know… The Nation’s been told of a situation this week where a private provider wouldn’t take a particular child because they said the case was just too tough… Will you stop that happening? … So will they lose their contract if they keep refusing to take tougher cases? one of the major concerns is that the too-hard basket will still be full and it will be CYF who deals with those people.”

Tolley’s reply was like a bombshell – and one that Lisa Owen apparently did not pick up on. In terms that were unusually unequivocal for a politician, the Minister  announced the impending demise of Child Youth and Family (CYF);

Anne Tolley: “Well, CYF is gone. You know, it’s finished. It’s gone. It hasn’t worked and we’re changing, so we’re now going to a system that works with children from prevention right through to transition.”

Further into the interview – and this is also a salient point – Lisa Owen asked the Minister;

Lisa Owen: Okay, there’s a couple of quick things I want to cover off. When you were last here, you said that you may well hire more social workers, but the report says you’re not going to significantly expand in-house delivery, so are you going to have more social workers or not?

In stark contrast to her definitive statement that “CYF is gone… you know, it’s finished… it’s gone“, Tolley’s response to whether or not there would be more front-line social workers seemed more noncommittal;

Anne Tolley: “Well, we’ll see. I can’t see we would be dealing with any less, but, remember, the panel have identified that a large part of the workload is the churn of children coming back through the system several times.”

Tolley’s plans to finish off CYF appears set in concrete. Despite being the  fourteenth restructuring in twenty eight years, CYF’s problems and failures are apparently “unsalvageable”. Or so Minister Tolley would have us believe.

3. The subversion of CYF

We can no longer have a system which sees social workers spending half their time on administration, and less than a quarter of their time actually working with kids and families.” – Anne Tolley,  7 April 2016

On 7 April this year, Minister for Social Development, Hon Anne Tolley, released a public statement accepting the report of the “Expert Panel on Modernising Child Youth and Family”.

Amongst the “Expert Panel’s” Terms of Reference, two main points were given priority, as made clear on pages 34 and 35;

Specifically, the Expert Panel was tasked with:

  • providing the Minister for Social Development with a programme level business case by 30
    July 2015, which was delivered to the Minister in the form of the Interim Report,

and

  • providing oversight and challenge on the development of a detailed business case and a high
    level assessment of options for a proposed future operating model, with any Budget
    decisions considered as part of Budget 2016 (this report, termed the Final Report).

Note the heavy reference to  “a programme level business case” and “development of a detailed business case“.

A more detailed version of the Terms of Reference can be found on pages 241 to 243 of the Final Report.

Nowhere in the Terms of Reference, nor in the latter Objectives is there any mention of poverty, low wages, high living costs, etc.

Indeed, in a critical review of the “Expert Panel’s” Final Report, the group Re-imagining Social Work In Aotearoa wrote;

On receiving the report  Investing in New Zealand’s Children and Their Families I used the very simple textual analysis technique of searching for the frequency of what I considered important words. Such a simple analysis does not necessarily create a window into the minds and thinking of the authors; however it does give some indications about what they consider important at least as measured by how frequently they talk about it.

In descending incidence of occurrence and not including the references and appendixes this is what my word count revealed:

Investment mentioned 240 times
Trauma mentioned 50 times
Love mentioned 36 times
Deprivation mentioned 4 times
Inequality mentioned 1 time
Poverty mentioned 1 time

Despite the often unspoken reality that the vast majority of return visit CYFS clients are poor, and that people on reasonable incomes seldom have long-term contact with CYFS, it seems that the authors of the report do not see poverty as having any great relevance to the business of CYFS. Given the truly astounding amount of data demonstrating clear links between poverty, deprivation and increased levels of neglect and abuse of children it seems an extraordinary oversight (Duva, Metzger, 2010; Wynd, 2013; Sedlak, Mettenburg, Basena, Petta, McPherson, Greene, & Li, 2010).

This seems even more the case when you consider the equally astounding amounts of data (Szalavitz, 2010; Murali & Oyebode, 2004) showing that poverty plays a causative role in many of the other factors associated with increased levels of child abuse and neglect: these are factors such as parental depression, poor mental health, high levels of family stress, insecure overcrowded and unhealthy housing, and increased levels of drug and alcohol abuse as self medication to manage misery (Brown, Cohen, Johnson & Salzinger, 2010).

None of this is news to social scientists, or to anybody who has spent any time at all working with abused and neglected children and their families. People have known this since the days of Dickens. It does not take a great leap of empathic imagination to understand that the fear, despair, and hopelessness created by trying to survive day to day without adequate resources are not useful additions to the tool box of good parenting.

The Final Report led to a raft of recommendations (see pages 20 – 33) but two (on page 21) stand out;

14.

Agree the future department will directly purchase specialist services for vulnerable children and
their families. If other Crown agencies or entities cannot provide them in a timely manner, the
future department will purchase from them, or pursue other sources. (Refer page 65).

15.

Agree the future department take a market building role to create capability, capacity and
supply of services required to meet the needs of vulnerable children and families. (Refer page
67).

“Directly purchase specialist services”, “market building role”, and “supply of services” are specifically what Tolley referred to on TV3’s The Nation on 9 April;

Lisa Owen: “But here we have outsourcing, so how do you square that away? Because you were specifically talking about front-line staff.”

Anne Tolley: “So we’re not outsourcing care and protection. What the report talks about is two things – first of all, a partnership arrangement with NGOs and iwi and community organisations as we have currently, and secondly, being able to direct purchase the services that children need when they need. But that will still be the operating system; the responsibility for those children will still be held by government.”

Lisa Owen: “Yes, but you’re talking about people or services that have direct contact with these children. “

Anne Tolley: “Yes.”

In justifying the outsourcing/privatisation of CYF services, the “Expert Panel” delivered to Minister Tolley a Final Report that presented CYF as a “basket-case”; a totally broken organisation. The term “fragmented” was used no less than thirteen times in the Final Report, to drive home the perception of an irreparably dysfunctional state agency.

This is the same Final Report that mentioned “deprivation  4 times”,  “inequality  1 time”, and  “poverty 1 time”.

It is hard to escape the suspicion that CYF – a government department dealing with “child abuse and neglect, parental depression, poor mental health, high levels of family stress, insecure overcrowded and unhealthy housing, and increased levels of drug and alcohol abuse as self medication to manage misery” – is being undermined and portrayed as itself dysfunctional and in need of radical “reform”.

The “reform”, it seems, consists of “toughlove” privatisation of services.

4. The gutting of CYF

During Lisa Owen’s interview with Tolley on  The Nation on 9 April, she asked the Minister if more social workers would be hired;

Lisa Owen: Okay, there’s a couple of quick things I want to cover off. When you were last here, you said that you may well hire more social workers, but the report says you’re not going to significantly expand in-house delivery, so are you going to have more social workers or not?

As if finding the simple question discomforting, Tolley responded vaguely;

Anne Tolley: “Well, we’ll see. I can’t see we would be dealing with any less, but, remember, the panel have identified that a large part of the workload is the churn of children coming back through the system several times.”

Sources have revealed to this blogger that MSD has been conducting a covert  “sinking lid” policy not to replace departing front-line social workers. This blogger understands that at least  one CYF branch lost at least a dozen front-line staff in the last twelve months. They were not replaced. Existing and new cases are passed on to remaining staff.

In an OIA request made to the Minister’s office on 13 April (and passed on to MSD) released information  appears to confirm the Ministry  has been shedding front-line social-workers from it’s ranks.

To establish a base-line for staffing levels, I first asked;

“How many social workers were employed by Child, Youth Family services in 2008?”

In a response dated 16 June (two months after my initial request), MSD replied that 1,175.8 full-time equivalent (FTE) staff were employed as “Field Social Work Line (FSWL) which is composed of social workers, senior practitioners, and supervisors“. By 2015, that number had increased to 1,349.9 full-time equivalent staff.

But by March this year, that number had fallen to 1,335.0 full-time equivalent staff.

The total number of full-time equivalent staff employed by Child Youth and Family at 2008 was 2,848.3, rising to 3,025.2 full-time equivalent staff in 2015 – and falling to 2,956.9 by March this year.

The MSD response also confirmed “that 147 FSWL have departed between April 2015 and March 2016“.

It is a stark contrast that as notifications to CYF have been steady increasing since 2008 (ref1, ref2), the numbers of front-line and other support staff at the department have fallen.

Which brought into question the case-load of front-line social workers. I asked;

What was the case-load, per CYF social worker in 2008? What was the case-load, per CYF social worker last year and   what is the current case-load, per CYF social worker?

The response was astonishing;

Due to the varying nature and complexities of cases it is not practical to set practice
benchmarks for closure. As you will appreciate, many cases are active over a period
of years and some cases, while not active, may not have yet been formally closed.
The Ministry is unable to provide the current case load per social worker and case
load per social worker in 2008 and 2015 as as this is not a standard reporting
procedure. Therefore, this part of your request is refused under section 18(e) of the
Official Information Act as the information does not exist.

It beggars belief that MSD  is unaware of the case-load of it’s social workers.  It also raises suspicions of ducking the question.

A May 2014 report from the Office of the Chief Social worker, (Workload and Casework Review – Qualitative Review of Social Worker Caseload, Casework and Workload Management, p84) stated;

According to Child, Youth and Family’s organisational caseload report of 31 August
2013, the average care and protection caseload was 14 families or 30 children and
young people per social worker. For youth justice social workers, the average
caseload was nine children and young people.”

The Workload and Casework Review can be found on the MSD website, and was launched by the Ministery’s Chief Executive, Brendan Boyle.

It seems inconceivable that a report commissioned by MSD; released by the Chief Executive; and containing information relating to case load for front line social workers was not available to Viv Rickard, the Ministry’s Deputy Chief Executive, who signed the OIA release.

However, the pertinent point from the Workload and Casework Review is that front-line social workers were over-worked with case-loads (p79);

4. The review found a number of care and protection social workers were holding
unreasonably high caseloads. Priority action needs to be taken to reduce caseloads
for these staff.

The recommendation;

d. As a priority, assess social workers’ caseloads and safely reduce those that are
unreasonably high.

That was two years ago.

Since then, the number of social workers has fallen, whilst notifications continue to rise. The Review by the Chief Social Worker appears to have been Filed and Forgotten.

This is exacerbated by MSD’s response to these follow-up questions;

How many CYF offices/branches lost social workers over the last twelve months? How many CYF offices/branches have not replaced departing social workers over the last twelve months?

MSD replied;

The Ministry is unable to provide you with the number of departing social workers
who have not been replaced or the number of offices which have not replaced
departing social workers over the last months as this is not a standard reporting
procedure. Therefore,  this part of your request is refused under section 18(e) of the
Official Information Act as the information does not exist.

Again, it seems inconceivable that the MSD is oblivious as to how many social workers have not been replaced over the last twelve months.

Social work is the core-business; the raison d’être of the Ministry of Social Development. How can it adequately measure and report it’s KPIs  (Key Performance Indicators) if it is unaware of it’s own staffing levels?

This response from MSD is utterly inadequate and reveals either a high level of incompetence on the part of  senior management – or a crude attempt to evade answering questions. If the latter, then MSD has broken the law by not following the Official Information Act.

My final question to MSD asked if there “was  a CYF policy not to replace social workers departing from CYF?

The answer was perhaps more revealing than the author of the letter intended;

There is no specific policy in place around replacing or not replacing departing social workers.”

At a time of increasing notifications; falling numbers of social workers; and increasing case-loads – which has led to the Minister Anne Tolley being highly critical of MSD – there is no “no specific policy in place around replacing… departing social workers”.

5. Consequences and Cunning Plans

When Tolley gave a blistering condemnation of CYF on The Nation on 9 April, she did not hold back;

“Well, CYF is gone. You know, it’s finished. It’s gone. It hasn’t worked and we’re changing, so we’re now going to a system that works with children from prevention right through to transition.”

Furthermore, in response to a point raised by Lisa Owen on privatisation;

Lisa Owen: “Because the thing is, when the Government went to private providers to manage some of other services, for example, when you got Serco in to look after some of our prisons, in this government press release that I’ve got here, actually, at the time, Judith Collins says— she gave the same justification that you’re giving now, that it was to access world-class innovation and expertise to get the highest standards of professionalism. Well, that didn’t work out, did it, so what’s to stop that happening in this case?”

Anne Tolley: “Well, first of all, we’re not in the least bit talking about big companies like Serco for this. Again, the thrust of this is keeping these kids in their communities, so you’re talking about local services. But are you seriously suggesting that we should continue? One of the outcomes from the current system is that these children wait in line until they can get into the health system, so are you seriously suggesting that that’s better for those kids than if there’s a private psychologist whose services can be purchased to give immediate help to that child who has been damaged and needs that care? I’m going to go every time with meeting the needs of that child when we need it, so that’s what the focus is – on meeting the needs of these children, having them at the centre of everything we do, rather than ideological agendas which say you’ve only got to deal with the health system, the public health system. Actually, let’s deal with whomever can provide. And if the health system can provide that, I have no doubt they’ll step up, as they have with ACC.”

Yet, it appears that one of the prime causes of CYF’s alleged under-performance has little to do with it’s structure.  The loss of skilled social workers and failure to replace their numbers at a time of increased notifications and demands placed on remaining front line staff have one predictable outcome: a down-grading of service.

Which then allows for the Minister to call for yet another “Review” which happens to offer recommendations that Paula Rebstock is noted for: privatisation (or “outsourcing”, to put a polite label on the same process).

Which brings us back to announcements made on 1 June, last year, when  National put social-services on the block as next  in it’s privatisation agenda;

Social bonds, in which the return for investors will be partially determined by whether or not agreed social targets have been achieved, will become another tool in the Government’s social investment approach that is aiming to improve the lives and prospects of the most vulnerable New Zealanders.

The degradation of CYF is not due to the social workers who are at the front-line of this country’s growing social problems – something even John Key was forced to concede was worsening  in 2011, and which is continuing to grow;

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key admits underclass still growing - poverty - foodbanks - homelessness

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If there is fault with CYF, it lies with a covert National government plan to hollow out the service; publicise it’s alleged “short-comings” through “reviews” with pre-determined outcomes; and then announce ‘solutions’ which involve privatisation/outsourcing and an “investment approach”. As Gordon Campbell  pointed out;

“Whenever the government announces an inquiry into a contentious matter, those reviews now routinely function as a tool of political management that’s been tailored to achieve a pre-determined outcome. Such inquiries have neither been set up nor are expected to result in a balanced re-appraisal of all the relevant issues. To that end, the terms of reference are usually conveniently narrow, and selective – and thus allow for the evidence to be then cherry-picked in line with the government’s desires and expectations. “

As usual, Paula Rebstock’s Expert Panel has executed it’s part in National’s secret agenda.

This was never about improving CYF. This was always about National’s maniacal ideological obsession with privatisation.  This time, there are none more vulnerable than the children and young people who will pay dearly for this cunning plan.

National has scrapped the bottom of the barrel with this one.

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“Young people have told me they don’t want the system to experiment with their lives.” – Anne Tolley

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Addendum1

Correspondence: OIA response from MSD – Staffing levels

Addendum2

Expert Panel on Modernising Child Youth and Family“:

Paula Rebstock (Chair)
Ms Rebstock has extensive governance experience and is Chair of the ACC Board, Chair of the Work and Income Board, Deputy Chair of KiwiRail, Chair of the Insurance and Savings Commission, a member of the University of Auckland Business School Advisory Board and a Director of Auckland Transport. She is also a Senior Lead Reviewer for the Performance Improvement Framework for the State Services Commission.

Commissioner Mike Bush
Commissioner Bush joined New Zealand Police in 1978 and has held a number of senior operational and administrative positions including Counties-Manukau District Commander, where he pioneered the Prevention First operating strategy. Commissioner Bush led significant operational changes to Police through the Policing Excellence programme. He was awarded the MNZM for his service as New Zealand Police’s South East Asian liaison officer following the 2004 Asian tsunami.

Peter Douglas
Mr Douglas has extensive senior management experience in both the public and private sectors. He was the principal Māori adviser at the Ministry of Social Development, a Senior Manager in business banking at Westpac and an adviser in the Prime Minister’s Department and Cabinet during the time of the 1992 Māori fisheries settlement. Mr Douglas is the Chief Executive of Te Ohu Kaimoana Māori Fisheries Trust.

Duncan Dunlop
Mr Dunlop has been Chief Executive of Who Cares? Scotland, an independent advocacy charity for young people in care, since January 2012. He has led the development of youth-work infrastructure and programmes in a range of environments from Lithuania and Ghana to the Balkans and across the UK.

Helen Leahy
Ms Leahy is Chief Executive for Te Pūtahitanga o Te Waipounamu, the South Island Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency, and a Specialist Advisor, Strategy and Influence, for Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu.She has held several senior roles in Parliament including Chief of Staff of the Māori Party and SeniorMinisterial Advisor for the former Minister of Whānau Ora. A former high school teacher, Ms Leahyhas worked in a range of community sectors such as domestic violence, adolescent health anddevelopment, youth and women’s affairs.

Professor Richie Poulton
Professor Poulton is the Chief Science Advisor to the Ministry of Social Development and has led the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study at the University of Otago for the past 15 years. He is a Professor of Psychology, Co-Director of the National Centre for Lifecourse Research and Director of the Graduate Longitudinal Study. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand, and recipient of the RSNZ Dame Joan Metge Medal.

 

Addendum3

The chairperson of the so-called “Expert Panel”, Paula Rebstock, has been heavily criticised by the Ombudsman for a previous investigation/report she carried out in 2012 regarding leaks from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Rebstock’s report, attacking the reputations of two senior State servants, Derek Leask and Nigel Fyfe, was released the following year.

Complaints were laid with the Ombudsman who found that that Rebstock’s report into the leaks were “unfair, flawed and caused significant damage to a former diplomat and senior public servant“.

One of the former senior diplomats, Derek Leask, was justifiably angry at the way he had been pilloried by Rebstock;

“It is good to have the slur on my reputation removed. Today’s findings by the Ombudsman go beyond the vindication of my actions. The Ombudsman’s report suggests that the 2012/2013 SSC investigation was out of control from start to finish.”

Despite the 2012/13 flawed report being damned by the Ombudsman, Minister Tolley has announced no plans to review the more recent Rebstock’s report on CYF;

Dame Paula also spearheaded a major report into Child Youth and Family (CYF), for which she was paid $2000 a day, double the normal maximum fee.

That review is now being used as a basis for an overhaul of CYF and the government has no plans to review her work in this area before restructuring begins.

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley, who had wanted to pay her $3000 a day, said Dame Paula did a fantastic job which would deliver better long-term results for vulnerable children.

There is therefore no guarantee that Rebstock’s CYF review is, in itself, also not flawed.

Acknowledgement

I acknowledge and thank the person who brought the critical matter of CYF’s under-staffing to my attention. Whilst keeping the identity of the “whistle-blower” confidential, I will continue to look into this  problem at every opportunity.

Postscript

This blogger will be laying a complaint with the Ombudsman’s Office at the length of time for this OIA request to be answered. Fortyfour days is well outside the 20 working-days stipulated in the Official Information Act. Also, a question will be raised whether or not some of the answers were factually correct.

 

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References

Beehive.govt.nz: Budget 2015 – Social bond to focus on mental health

Green Party: Mentally ill NZers are not a cash cow for National’s mates

TV3 News: The Nation – Transcript – Anne Tolley

TV3 News:  ‘CYF’s is gone, it hasn’t worked’ – Tolley

TVNZ: ‘It’s time for a clean break – CYF is gone’ says Anne Tolley

Beehive.govt.nz: Radical changes to child protection and care

MSD: Expert Panel Final Report – Investing in New Zealand’s Children and their Families

Re-imagining Social Work In Aotearoa: The absent elephant in the 2016 ‘Modernising Child, Youth and Family Expert Panel Report’

MSD: Social work services to children, young people and their families – Notifications

MSD: Notifications

MSD: Workload and Casework review – Qualitative Review of Social Worker Caseload, Casework and Workload Management

NZ Herald: Key admits underclass still growing

NewstalkZB: Demand for food banks, emergency housing much higher than before recession

State Services Commission: Paula Rebstock appointed to investigate Cabinet paper leak

State Services Commission: Report to the State Services Commissioner on Unauthorised disclosure of Information

Fairfax media: Damning inquiry points finger at the Government, State Services Commissioner

Radio NZ: Rebstock MFAT inquiry errors not terminal, says PM

Additional

MSD: Investing in New Zealand’s Children and Their Families

Office of the Children’s Commissioner: State of Care 2016 Report

Ministry of Social Development: Workload and Casework review – May 2014

Treasury: Budget 2008 Vote Social Development

Treasury: Budget 2009 Vote Social Development

Treasury: Budget 2010 Vote Social Development

Treasury: Budget 2011 Vote Social Development

Treasury: Budget 2012 Vote Social Development

Treasury: Budget 2013 Vote Social Development

Treasury: Budget 2014 Vote Social Development

Treasury: Budget 2015 Vote Social Development

Treasury: Budget 2016 Vote Social Development

Related blogposts

No Right Turn: Paula Rebstock should pay for this

Polity: Decrypting “social investment”

Pundit: Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the Leask of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me

The Daily Blog: What’s that? – choke, splutter! – Dame Paula Rebstock???

The Standard: No accountability under Key

Werewolf: Gordon Campbell on the Ombudsman’s verdict on Paula Rebstock and Ian Rennie

Previous related blogposts

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

Johnny’s Report Card – National Standards Assessment y/e 2012 – inequality & poverty

Budget 2013: State Housing and the War on Poor

“You Break It, We Fix It” – Is That How It Works?

On ‘The Nation’ – Anne Tolley Revealed

Child Poverty: Labour on track

Letter to the editor – Key suggests private providers for children in CYF services?!

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 26 June 2016.

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Hekia Parata breaks law – ignores Official Information Act – claims emails “not found” – and it gets worse!

30 January 2016 2 comments

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As first revealed on 1 December (Hekia Parata breaks law – ignores Official Information Act), Minister Hekia Parata’s office has apparently deliberately broken the law by ignoring requests for information lodged under the Official Information Act.

Intro

The story begins several months ago when this blogger wrote to the Minister’s office on  27 October last year,  requesting answers to the following questions regarding National’s Food in Schools programme;

1. How much has been spent on the programme since 28 May 2013?

2. Is the funding still set at $9.5 million, over a 5 year period from 2013 to 2018?

3. How many schools are part of the programme?

4. It was initially available in decile 1 to decile 4 schools. Higher decile schools would be able to opt in from 2014. How many other, higher decile schools have opted into the programme?

5. Are there any figures as to how many children are participating in the programme? If so, what is that data?

6. Is there a time limit as to the length of time a school can participate in the programme?

7. Have any schools been declined participation in the programme? How many? For what reason?

8. Are Sanitarium and dairy cooperative Fonterra still participating in the programme? Have any other companies joined in?

9. Does the KickStart programme in any way affect a schools allocated budget?

10. Have any Charter Schools requested to join the programme? If so, how does this affect their funding?

By 12 November, after no response nor even an acknowledgement, this blogger wrote again to Minister Parata;

On 27 October, I lodged this OIA request with your office. I have recieved no reply or even an acknowledgement.

Please advice whether or not you intend to respond to my OIA request. If not, I will proceed by laying a complaint with the Ombudsman’s Office.

As at 29 November, no response had been forthcoming from the Minister’s office, and a complaint was laid with the Ombudsman’s Office. As this blogger pointer out in the complaint;

I do not believe it is satisfactory that a Minister of the Crown wilfully ignores the law and fails to follow her obligations under the Official Information Act.

Up-date

On 10 December, a response was received from the Ombudsman’s office stating;

“We have made enquiries with the Minister’s Office about this matter and it appears that they did not receive your request. They have conducted an extensive internal search and have been unable to locate your emails of 27 October or 12 November.”

The Ombudsman’s letter went on to that that “the Minister’s Office advised that the information you are seeking is likely to be held by the Minister for Social Development” and suggested that I “may wish to put [my] request to the Minister for Social Development, Hon Anne Tolley, directly by emailing: a.tolley@ministers.govt.nz“.

I wrote back the following day to the Ombudsman, providing specific information of the email addresses used to lodged my OIA request with Parata’s office;

“I am in receipt of your letter dated 10 December where you state that the Education Minister’s office claims “that they did not receive [my] request”. (Emails dated 27 October and 12 November)

I am cutting and pasting the header of both emails into this email;

from:Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to:Hekia Parata <hekia.parata@parliament.govt.nz>
date:Tue, Oct 27, 2015 at 12:57 AM
subject:KickStart breakfast in schools
mailed-by:gmail.com

from:Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to:Hekia Parata <hekia.parata@parliament.govt.nz>
date:Thu, Nov 12, 2015 at 10:45 PM
subject:Fwd: KickStart breakfast in schools
mailed-by:gmail.com”

I pointed out;

“If the Minister’s email address is incorrect, my emails did not “bounce” back to me.”

I invited the Ombudsman’s office “to test the email address – (hekia.parata@parliament.govt.nz)  to ascertain it’s validity”.

The response from the Ombudsman’s Office, on 15 December, was less than inspiring;

“I note you emailed your original request for information to the following address: hekia.parata@parliament.govt.nz. The Minister of Education’s Office has confirmed that this email address is correct. However, as Mr Ilott explained in his letter of 10 December 2015, the Minister’s Office conducted an extensive internal search but was unable to locate your emails.

This Office has no reason to doubt either party’s account of what has happened. In situations like this where a dispute of facts exist, it is generally not the function of an Ombudsman to determine which version of events is the one that should be preferred.”

The Ombudsman’s response does not reassure this blogger that his Office is capable of holding Ministers to account to uphold the letter and spirit of the Official Information Act.

Specifically;

(A) “Losing” one email sent to a legitimate, active, email address is possible. An accidental deletion is not outside the realms of possibility.

But “losing” two emails seems unlikely and does not withstand the credibility “sniff” test.

(B) The Ombudsman stated that Minister Parata’s Office “conducted an extensive internal search and have been unable to locate your emails of 27 October or 12 November“.

How has the Ombudsman  arrived at the conclusion that Minister Parata’s Office “conducted an extensive internal search“?

It almost seems as if the Ombudsman has become an (unwitting?) apologist for Parata obvious willful refusal to answer a legitimate OIA request.

(C) Having established  Minister Parata “alibi” that they could not “locate” my emails,  why was her Office not advised to write to me directly to request copies of my emails?

In what manner is it the responsibility of the Ombudsman to act as a “go between” between a Minister and a Citizen to advise me to write to Minister Tolley’s Office?

Is Minister Parata refusing point-blank to deal with me solely because of past criticisms of her actions? (See ‘Previous related blogposts’ below)

The Ombudsman’s Report bears out this suspicion when she refers to “different and more risk averse treatment of requests by the media and interest groups” (p142).

(D)  In stating that “This Office has no reason to doubt either party’s account of what has happened. In situations like this where a dispute of facts exist, it is generally not the function of an Ombudsman to determine which version of events is the one that should be preferred” – it beggars belief  that the Ombudman’s Office appears to be abdicating any responsibility to hold a Minister of the Crown to account for what appears to be a breach of the Official Information Act.

If the Ombudsman’s role does not include “the function of an Ombudsman to determine which version of events is the one that should be preferred” – then what is the raison d’être for that Office?

This situation is simply not acceptable. The Minister’s Office has broken the law; offered an implausible excuse; and has drawn the Ombudsman into their sphere of chicanery. The Ombudsman appears to have naively permitted itself to be used as a puppet in this instance.

According to a 2013 dossier compiled by Labour, Parata’s record to responding to OIA requests is poor;

“Along with uncertainty whether the log is 100% accurate, it is also evident that she regularly responds to requests late with only just over half the total number of responses sent within the 20 day statutory period. “

Status of OIA Request

Following on from the suggestion from the Ombudsman’s office (10 December), I duly wrote to Minister Tolley the following day and put the same ten questions to her that I initially sent to Minister Parata.

That letter was acknowledged the same day (11 December) at 9.50AM.

At 11.36AM (11 December) I received a subsequent email from Minister Tolley’s office stating that my OIA “request has been transferred to Brendan Boyle, Chief Executive of the Ministry of Social Development in line with section 14 (b)(ii) of the Act“.

Since then – nothing.

A month and a half  passed. On 21 January I wrote back to Minister Tolley’s office, who subsequently contacted the Ministry of Social Development. The following day, I recieved this unsigned, anonymous response from the Ministry;

With regard to your Official information Act request, it was transferred to the Ministry of Social Development on 11 December 2015. While it has not been our standard practice to acknowledge transferred requests (as the transfer letter is effectively an acknowledgement), we realise it would have been helpful if we had brought to your attention at the time the fact that the days between 24 December 2015 and 15 Janaury 2016 do not count as ‘working days’ as defined in section 2 of the Official Information Act 1982 (http://www.ombudsman.parliament.nz). Due to this holiday period, your response is due on 1 February 2016. We apologise for not informing you of this at the time that your request was transferred to us.

Somewhat bizarrely, when the anonymous author from MSD stated that “the days between 24 December 2015 and 15 Janaury [sic] 2016 do not count as ‘working days’ as defined in section 2 of the Official Information Act 1982 “, s/he then posted a link – not to the OIA legislation referred to – but to the Ombudsman’s Office.

When this blogger checked  “Section” 2 (actually, Part 2) of the Official Information Act 1982,  no reference was found to “the days between 24 December 2015 and 15 Janaury [sic] 2016 do not count as ‘working days’ as defined in section 2 of the Official Information Act 1982 “.

The Act simply refers to twenty working days, which, from December 14 (the next working-day following my OIA lodgement) extends to 13 January.

Accordingly, I wrote back to the Ministry (22 January);

I am in receipt of your email to me, dated 22 January 2016, whereby you claim that “the days between 24 December 2015 and 15 Janaury 2016 do not count as ‘working days’ as defined in section 2 of the Official Information Act 1982”.

I have checked Part 2 of the Act and can find no reference to “the days between 24 December 2015 and 15 Janaury 2016”. Please feel free to enlighten me as to where that proviso exists within the legislation.

By my calculation, twenty working days extends from 14 December to 13 January 2016, inclusive.

If you do not intend to abide by the statute, please advise me and I will lay a complaint with the Ombudsman’s office.

I will keep readers of this blog appraised of this on-going situation.

The shenanigans being played out by Ministers, ministeries, and sundry government departments and other state bodies makes a joke out of the Official Information Act.

National obviously has little regard for the law when it is inconvenienced. Which is ironic, considering right-wing political parties portray themselves as champions of Law and Order.

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National hoarding staying strong on crime

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John Key admits to his government flouting the law

Whether by an unintended slip, or by some machiavellian plan, on 16 October 2014, our esteemed Dear Leader admitted that his government abused the Official Information Act for purely political self-interest;

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"Sometimes we wait the 20 days because, in the end, Government might take the view that's in our best interest to do that."

“Sometimes we wait the 20 days because, in the end, Government might take the view that’s in our best interest to do that.”

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This disturbingly candid admission of the contempt held by National to the Act provoked condemnation from the Ombudsman, who a day later on TV3’s ‘The Nation‘, called it “cavalier and a disregard for the law“.

Even National’s allies within the  right-wing blogosphere at  Your NZ, Whaleoil, and  Kiwiblog were taken aback by Key’s dismissive hubris toward the Act.

Wakem said she would be ” having words with a few people, I suspect” – including Key.

Previous Criticisms of the Ombudsman

On 8 December 2015, the Ombudsman – Dame Beverley Wakem –  released a reporton an investigation into  the practices adopted by central government agencies for the  purpose of compliance with the  Official Information Act 1982“.

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eight_col_oiacomp

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In the Report’s conclusion, the Ombudsman stated;

“I commenced this investigation because of what I perceived to be growing concern
and criticism that government agencies were not complying with the requirements
of the OIA, nor acting in accordance with its principle and purposes when making
decisions about the accessibility of official information they held. Following a
comprehensive examination of how agencies have organised and resourced
themselves and currently operate in practice, I am satisfied that the OIA itself is
fundamentally sound, but it is not always working in practice.

On the positive side of the ledger, agencies are compliant with the OIA most of the
time and most government officials working within these agencies have a genuine
desire to ensure that they are compliant.” – p140

However, the report’s Conclusions also drew attention to Ministerial interference in responding to OIA requests;

“Where I have found that agencies are vulnerable to non-compliance with the OIA,
I have not found evidence of deliberate obstruction but rather the unintended
consequences of various attempts to:

[…]

try to meet the expectations of two masters ie, the public under the OIA and
the Minister under the ‘no surprises’ principle;

[…]

well-meaning practices that invite opportunities for ministerial/political
advisors to influence more than they ought to and sometimes on matters
where they have no legitimate place” – p141/142

The Ombudsman’s Conclusions then veered off onto a tanjeant shifting fault to the public, bloggers, and media. A  subsequent Dominion Post editorial was scathing;

What a shame, then, that retiring Chief Ombudsman Beverley Wakem is leaving office amid a cloud of justified controversy. Her recent remarks make her look less like a champion of freedom than a friend of the powerful.

It is truly extraordinary to hear her scolding journalists as “rottweilers on heat” and warning them not to annoy “innately conservative” officials who might then become “gun-shy”. These statements are what you would expect from a bad-tempered bureaucrat, not an ombudsman. 

It is not for the Chief Obudsman to tell anyone to be polite and humble when asking for information. It is most certainly not for her to suggest that officials can obstruct information – because that is all that being “gun-shy” can mean here – when they are irritated.

The Official Information Act requires the government to provide information unless there is good reason not to. The reasons for refusal are laid out in statute. The law must determine when the gate is open and when it is shut, not the manners of the applicant or the mood of the gatekeeper.

If Wakem had made these statements when first appointed, they would be good grounds for seeking her resignation. They show a fundamental misunderstanding of her role and an establishment mentality.

The Ombudsman also complained of a lack of public and media submissions to her Inquiry;

“I note that the public were less forthcoming in responding to the surveys, and I was
unable to determine precisely why that was. It could be interpreted many ways –
from a loss of confidence in the OIA and the work of my Office, to a demonstration
that a significant proportion of the public believed with so much official information
now being made available on a regular basis, the OIA was working for them…” – p143

Which is an astounding suggestion to make, considering that  for the 2013/14 financial year,  the number of complaints to the Ombudsman was the third-highest ever. The Ombudsman could easily have based it’s report – even partially – using information gleaned from complaints of  non-compliance and tardiness from Ministers and Ministries.

This blogger suggests that the a lack of public submissions could well be attributed to a perception that the Ombudsman’s office is powerless in the face of a government that has been unrelentingly secretive and autocratic.

Indeed, recall that in their 10 December statement to me, the  Ombudsman’s office suggested;

 “…the Minister’s Office advised that the information you are seeking is likely to be held by the Minister for Social Development. Accordingly you may wish to put your request to the Minister for Social Development, Hon Anne Tolley, directly by emailing: a.tolley@ministers.govt.nz”.

It is simply not the role of the Ombudsman’s Office to be adopting a “helpful” position for a government minister.

Otherwise, the perception – whether rightly or wrongly – is that the Office of the Ombudsman has been captured by ministers and agencies of this government.

As NZ Herald reporter, David Fisher, said on 15 October 2014;

“In the 25 years I have worked as a journalist, there have never been so many questions, or such a loss of faith, all at once.”

Dark Clouds Looming

Up to now, the two weapons-of-choice employed by National Ministers and our Esteemed Dear Leader has been Delay and Defer. For many journalists and bloggers, waiting  long periods for a response is not uncommon. By then, news stories have become ‘stale’ and public interest has moved on.

Recently, a new  weapon in government and bureaucratic armoury has been unveiled; charging for OIA requests.

On 18 January, the Dominion Post published an editorial describing how the Reserve Bank had begun to demand compensation for information;

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Editorial A tax on official information is a tax on democracy itself

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The editorial said, in part;

The Reserve Bank has started a very bad trend by deciding to charge for most Official Information Act responses. The bank says it made this decision last October, but the world only learned of it last week, when the bank invoiced a Fairfax reporter. This is not the right way to make or reveal such a momentous decision.

The bank’s move is in important ways an undemocratic act. The Act makes information available as of right to the country’s citizens; it reverses the previous legal assumption that the government’s information is secret. Information is power, and the act provides power to all.

Charging for researching and providing that information puts a barrier in the way and is an obstacle to the exercise of what is now a vital democratic right. No doubt the bank will point out that the act allows for some charging for costs. But the bank’s policy will institutionalise what has until now been a patchy thing.

This means that ordinary citizens could now face a hefty fee for information. The invoice sent to Fairfax business reporter Richard Meadows was for an estimated $651. A fee of that size would be a serious obstacle for an individual. If OIA requests routinely cost this much it would also be a problem even for large media outlets.

In the Ombudsman’s 2015 report,  “Not A Game Of Hide And Seek“, Wakem quoted an earlier  Law Commission Report from 2012, which stated;

“…access to official information is an important tool for opposition parties to be
able to scrutinise government policy, and that parliamentary research units should
not usually be charged for reasonable requests. However, there is no reason why
unreasonable political requests should be completely exempt. Voluminous and
unrefined requests from parliamentary research units can cause a great deal of
expenditure of resources. The charging mechanism should be available to agencies
as a defence mechanism in appropriate cases, regardless of the source of the request.
The public interest waiver should provide the flexibility for appropriate charging of
MPs and incentivise these requesters to ensure that requests have a sufficient public
interest basis in order to qualify for a waiver of charges.” – p96

Wakem agreed, saying;

“I agree with this approach and believe it should apply to all types of requesters.
The OIA does not provide for an outright exemption based on the identity of a requester
or their role in its charging provisions. Nor did I find many members of the media
who believed they ought to be exempt from charging, although some worked for
organisations that had a policy not to accept any charge for the provision of official
information. “

The Law Commission and Ombudsman’s Office ignore the cold hard political reality that politicians and and their bureaucratic minions will not recognise “niceties” of what constitutes “a sufficient public interest basis”.

To be be blunt; if politicians can get away with it – expect them to do it.

The Reserve Bank’s policy of charging for OIA requests is a thin-end of a wedge. It is a test to see if they can get away with it. Other government agencies, Ministries, and Minister’s will follow with predictable succession.

Only expensive legal action could over-turn a charging policy – and few individuals and organisations have pockets deep enough to take on the State.

In a pathetic defense of his organisation, Reserve Bank deputy governor, Geoff Bascand, said;

The Reserve Bank has established a policy on when it will charge for responses to Official Information Act (OIA) requests that has drawn the ire of some critics.

Far from it being an obstacle in the path of freedom that The Dominion Post editorial claimed (January 18), the policy is a common, fair and reasonable response to a marked growth of OIA requests.

I’d like to explain our rationale, and what the policy means for requesters – most of whom will likely not be charged.

Our approach is consistent with the Official Information Act and meets the bank’s commitment to transparency.

Garbage. This is a naked attempt by the RBNZ to stifle transparency, not promote it. Any assertion to the contrary is a ridiculous attempt at ‘spin’ from a not-very-clever spin-doctor working for the Bank.

The irony is that the RBNZ is attempting to charge for information that rightly belongs to us, the tax-payer. That information was gathered  using taxpayer-funded resources and by taxpayer-funded public servants.

It is not private information – it belongs to us, the taxpayer.

Politicians, bureaucrats,  the Ombudsman’s Office, and Mr Bascand, would do well to reflect on this salient fact.

Conclusion

This blogger will vigorously pursue the OIA lodgedment with  Minister Parata; who passed it on to Minister Tolley; who passed it on to the Ministry for Social Development, requesting answers to the following questions regarding National’s Food in Schools programme;

1. How much has been spent on the programme since 28 May 2013?

2. Is the funding still set at $9.5 million, over a 5 year period from 2013 to 2018?

3. How many schools are part of the programme?

4. It was initially available in decile 1 to decile 4 schools. Higher decile schools would be able to opt in from 2014. How many other, higher decile schools have opted into the programme?

5. Are there any figures as to how many children are participating in the programme? If so, what is that data?

6. Is there a time limit as to the length of time a school can participate in the programme?

7. Have any schools been declined participation in the programme? How many? For what reason?

8. Are Sanitarium and dairy cooperative Fonterra still participating in the programme? Have any other companies joined in?

9. Does the KickStart programme in any way affect a schools allocated budget?

10. Have any Charter Schools requested to join the programme? If so, how does this affect their funding?

More than ever, I am curious what the answer(s) will be.

And I do not intend paying a cent for it.

From Radio NZ’s Mediawatch

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Information watchdog’s probe into political meddling - Radio NZ - mediawatch(Alt.link)

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“Information is the currency of democracy and my Office will play its part in ensuring the OIA is not devalued.”

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References

Red Alert: The right to know – Hekia Parata

Parliament: Official Information Act 1982

Radio NZ: PM admits Govt uses delaying tactics

TV3 The Nation: Transcript – Beverley Wakem

YourNZ: Disgraceful Key admission on OIA delays

Whaleoil: Key and PM Office told to stop farting around with OIA requests

Kiwiblog: Chief Ombudsman to review OIA compliance

Ombudsman:  OIA Report Not A Game Of Hide And Seek

Dominion Post: Editorial – Chief Ombudsman shows how not to be an information watchdog

Radio NZ: PM’s admission concerns Ombudsman

NZ Herald: David Fisher – OIA a bizarre arms race

Dominion Post: Editorial – A tax on official information is a tax on democracy itself

Dominion Post: Reserve Bank – Charging for official information a ‘reasonable’ response

Additional

Radio NZ: The watchdog and the rottweilers

Radio NZ: Mediawatch – Information watchdog’s probe into political meddling (alt. link)

Other bloggers

The Jackal: Back to school for Hekia Parata

The Jackal: various

The Daily Blog: Hekia speaks with forked tongue

No Right Turn: An attack on our democracy

Previous related blogposts

Parata, Bennett, and Collins – what have they been up to?

Karma for Key?

Hekia Parata breaks law – ignores Official Information Act

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hekia-parata b

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 25 January 2016.

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Anne Tolley’s psycopathy – public for all to see

26 October 2015 7 comments

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msd logo1

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14 October: Surplus

On 14 October, seven years after National came to power, Finance Minister Bill English, announced that  his government had posted it’s first surplus; $414 million for the last financial year. English said,

“So that means the government has to take a different approach to reducing debt and maintaining surpluses than we have done in previous cycles.

So there won’t be any sense of the constraints coming off because I think in the past that has been the expectation after a period of constraint. It’s important that we continue to focus on improving our expenditure management so that we don’t slip into old habits and put that 10 kilos back on again.

The Budget 2015 one was pretty slim. We’ve had six months of growth that were softer than expected, that seems to be coming right now. But we’ve yet to see what impact that will have on the forecast.”

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14 October: Death by Deficit

From a story broken by Radio NZ on 14 October;

Minister of Social Development Anne Tolley admitted that having to provide monthly medical certificates in the early stages of cancer was difficult, but said the government had to draw a line somewhere.

She said cancer patients could not expect special treatment, because then everyone would want it.

“Where you draw the line is always the issue,” she said.

“You start creating a whole lot of layers and there would be, I’m sure, other groups of people that would come forward and say, ‘we need special consideration too’.

According to the Radio NZ report by Alex Ashton – and released on the same day as Bill English announced his “surplus” – people suffering from cancer and about to undergo critical surgery, were being harassed by MSD/WINZ to undertake “job seeking obligations”;

Hundreds of cancer patients are being placed on the Jobseeker benefit while they are getting treatment.

One woman, who does not want to be identified, applied for a benefit when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

She was put on Jobseeker Support, which replaced the sickness benefit after the 2013 welfare reforms.

She said she had to pay for a medical certificate every month to prove she could not work – even though her surgeon insisted she would be off for much longer.

“The letter from the hospital wasn’t sufficient. I then had to go back and get a doctor’s note to keep them happy, just to prove the fact that I was going in for surgery,” she said.

“Then I also had to, on the day of my surgery, get someone from the hospital to fax through that I had been operated on.”

Cancer Society chief executive Claire Austin said the woman’s story was common, and the system lacked common sense and sensitivity.

She said many cancer patients had never been on a benefit before, and deserved help while they were going through an extremely tough time.

“The situation really is ludicrous. We’ve got people who are already in work, who are unable to work because they are either sick and have to go through treatment, or have surgery.

“They have to then apply for a benefit, which is a benefit that requires them… to be available to work.”

The welfare “reforms” of 2013 were carried out by Paula Bennett – herself a former solo-mother and receiver of a free tertiary education paid by WINZ.

When the extraordinary situation of cancer patients forced to undergo work-testing and fulfill job-seeking obligations was put to the current Minister of Social Welfare, Anne Tolley, her response was less than sympathetic;

Minister of Social Development Anne Tolley acknowledged that having to provide monthly medical certificates in the early stages of cancer was difficult, but said the government had to draw a line somewhere.

She said if cancer patients were given special consideration, other people would want those considerations as well.

“Where you draw the line is always the issue,” she said.

“You start creating a whole lot of layers and there would be, I’m sure, other groups of people that would come forward and say, ‘we need special consideration too’.

Tolley  complained that if cancer patients were given special consideration, other people would want those considerations as well ?!

Well, yes. If “other people” were equally sick,  critically injured, or suffering some degenerative condition – they would need state support. After all, that is why we have a welfare system. That is why Ms Tolley is the Minister for Social Welfare, and is  on an annual salary of $272,581 (plus some very generous allowances, retirement  perks, and superannuation fund).

Tolley has exhibited questionable behaviour in the past. As previous Minister for Police, she made a spectacle of herself standing atop a crushed car that had been seized from some teenage boy-racer. She positively gloated at it’s destruction;

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anne tolley - crushed car - boy racers - minister of police

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Interviewed on TV3 News in June 2012, she even taunted boy-racers to carry on breaking the law by challenging them to “bring it on“, so their cars could also be confiscated and destroyed.

Thankfully, boy-racers apparently  had the good sense to ignore Tolley’s dangerous school-yard ‘dare’, leaving the Minister’s childish words hanging embarrassingly in the air – though not before an editorial in the NZ Herald voiced it’s own distaste at her actions;

“What, then, was the Police Minister, Anne Tolley, doing dancing on the bonnet of a crushed car at a Lower Hutt scrapyard this week? This was a crass stunt unbecoming of any minister of any government.

[…]

But worse than the undignified celebration of such a dubious landmark was the message being delivered by Ms Tolley. She was suggesting, in effect, that when on top, the boot should be put in as far as possible. That it was fine to wallow in the misfortune of others.”

Three years later, on 21 June this year, political reporter Corin Dann interviewed Social Development Minister, Anne Tolley for TVNZ’s Q+A. The interview was brilliant, in that we, the public, caught a further glimpse of a person who apparently has very little empathy or concern for those less fortunate than herself.

To re-cap from my previous blogpost;

Last year, two year old old Emma-Lita Bourne died last year from a brain haemorrhage. Emma-Lita had been suffering from a pneumonia-like illness in the final days of her short, misery-filled, life, leading up to her death.

In a coronial  inquest, Coroner Brandt Shortland concluded;

“I am of the view the condition of the house at the time being cold and damp during the winter months was a contributing factor to her health status.”

Corin Dann pointedly asked Tolley about Emma-Lita’s  death;

@ 6.35 –

“Some would argue with the recent case, for example, with Emma-Lita Bourne who died in the state house, [a] damp house, why not just give those families more money to pay their power bill, rather than give the organisations money to come in and work and all the rest of it?”

Tolley responded;

@ 6.54 –

“And, and, when you look at something like Whanua Ora, they are doing some of that. See, see, what we’ve got with the focus on individual programmes and agencies working in silos, families don’t work like that. They’re very complex issues so if I don’t know the details of that particular family…”

A member of the public listening to Tolley’s  comments where she admitted to “[not knowing] the details of that particular family” might have forgiven the Minister for an unfortunate turn-of-phrase  that simply came across as someone who didn’t care.

However, when placed alongside her  recent comment on 14 October, on Radio NZ’s report;

“Where you draw the line is always the issue. You start creating a whole lot of layers and there would be, I’m sure, other groups of people that would come forward and say, ‘we need special consideration too’.

–  and Tolley’s  apparent lack of interest in children dying in cold, damp State houses, coupled with an obvious  delight in crushing cars – confirms an impression of a somewhat indifferent, cold, and unpleasant personality.

But is that the sum-total of why Tolley refuses to understand the needs of families living in damp houses, or cancer-sufferers being forced to jump  through bureaucratic hoops for no discernible good reason?

14 October: Where the money went

Last year, the outlook for National to meet it’s self-imposed goal of a surplus for the 2014/15 financial year seemed bleak.  This was a problem for National, as Radio NZ’s Brent Edwards explained with simple clarity  on 21 November 2014;

“From National’s perspective, it has been a key political argument to perpetuate the narrative that only it can be fiscally responsible while in contrast Labour is irresponsible with taxpayers’ money.  Setting a surplus target of 2014-15 has been an important part of that political strategy.”

The Opposition were prepared to make the most of National’s impending failure to meet it’s own goal of generating a surplus.

It’s reputation, according to public perception, of being the Party of Responsible Fiscal Management would be badly damaged if it failed to deliver on it’s promise of a 2014/15 surplus.

English’s task was made harder by the deteriorating state of the economy, as Brent Edwards reported. English lamented;

“This combination of lower commodity prices and low inflation means that the nominal or dollar value of New Zealand’s economic output will not grow as fast as previously expected. This will affect farm and company incomes and we expect this to flow into the Government’s books through lower revenue.”

If National could not balance it’s books by tax-revenue, it had only one other option available to it – reduce spending.

And cut spending the government did – by a whopping $1.081 billion  in ten Vote areas. According to Treasury, Total Crown Expenses cuts comprised of;

  • Government Superannuation Fund: cut by  $2 million
  • Health: cut by $52 million
  • Education: cut by $235 million
  • Core government services: cut by $42 million
  • Law and order: cut by $96 million
  • Transport and communications: cut by $304 million
  • Primary services: $108 million
  • Housing and community development: cut by $97 million
  • “Other”: cut by $140 million
  • Forecast new operating spending: cut by $7 million

Note that many of the areas cut were those relating to health, education, justice, and housing/community development – four of the most critical areas of any government’s spending.

No wonder so many hospitals are in the ‘red’ with their budgets.

No wonder so many schools cannot afford maintenance on their delapidated buildings.

The cut to Law and Order did not just affect prisons, courts, and policing. As Radio NZ recently discovered, it also impacted on legal aid for domestic violence victims;

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Legal aid rules not failing domestic violence victims says minister

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The Radio NZ report explains;

The Ministry of Justice took over legal aid in 2011, and introduced a series of budget cuts aimed at saving $250 million.

[Criminal Bar Association president Tony] Bouchier said things had deteriorated since then, and more funding was the answer.

“The whole idea of legal aid is to give people the opportunity of access to justice which is an absolute basic right in this country,” he said.

“It comes down to whether the government is going to properly fund the legal aid system; that’s where we’re at at the moment.

“The legal aid system is not being fully provided for and it’s causing all sorts of issues of justice in our court system – it’s legal aid on a shoestring budget.”

Remember Anne Tolley’s rebuke to cancer sufferers;

“Where you draw the line is always the issue. You start creating a whole lot of layers and there would be, I’m sure, other groups of people that would come forward and say, ‘we need special consideration too’.”

Fair-minded people would not  expect that women (and others) needing protection under the law, from violent partners,  should be denied access to a lawyer, and expect legal aid if they required it. Especially if their safety, and that of their children, depended on it.

But not according to this government.

According to this government, cancer sufferers and victims of domestic violence should not expect ” special consideration “.

14 October: Spending on ‘important stuff’

“I suppose that’s possible, we put the allowance in there three years ago…[and] we’ve always got the capacity to move that around.”

The Herald, though, was less than impressed at loose talk of tax cuts, suggesting instead that National address the ballooning $60-plus billion debt (see Appendix1) racked up by National;

The surplus is worth celebrating, even if it does not last long. But it would be wrong to give it away in tax cuts, even if it proves to be sustainable.

It’s editorial headline, “Use surplus for benefit of everyone” was positively socialist.

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  • National Ministers had an early Christmas when they gifted themselves 34 new BMWs. The last batch – bought in 2011 – are to be replaced only after about three years’ use.Cost? Unknown. According to National, the price is “commercially sensitive”. (Code for *politically embarrassing*.)

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  • National loves to invest. Cycleways. Aluminium smelters. ‘Hobbit‘ movies. Even farms in the middle of the Saudi Arabian desert. Cost to taxpayer: $11.5 million

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  • Subsidies and special tax concessions to Warner Bros for ‘The Hobbit‘, and to other movie companies? Cost – ongoing.

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Anne Tolley asked; “Where you draw the line is always the issue”.

The above list might be a good start.

National’s “achievement” of a $414 million surplus was paid for by ordinary New Zealanders; sick people suffering from cancer; State house tenants with sick and dying children; women bashed by their partners. Children living in poverty. The unemployed and solo-parents (mostly women) pushed off welfare for most trivial reasons. All have also paid dearly for this government’s excesses.

Some who are “paying dearly for this government’s excesses” may not have expected to be victimised.  Cancer Society chief executive, Claire Austin, suggested that up to 800 cancer sufferers could be on a jobseeker’s benefit, without  an official WINZ work exemption excusing them from job seminars, interviews, and other bureaucratic hurdles. She stated;

[There were] probably just as many who gave up because it’s just too distressing, too complex, there’s a lack of sensitivity in terms of the process”.

One wonders how many of those estimated 800 cancer sufferers who are on the jobseekers benefit, and are being chased by WINZ  to fulfill work-ready obligations, also voted National?

If one quarter of the population are represented by the 1,131,501 voters who voted for National last year, then it would be fair to assume that a similar ratio of one quarter (200) of those 800 cancer sufferers voted National.

Is this what they expected from their charismatic Prime Minister, that nice, friendly, easy-going Mr Key?

Which sector of New Zealand society will be next to feel the cold, dead hand of this penny-pinching government? A government that refuses to invest in  New Zealanders who need assistance the most – but has no hesitation throwing money at luxury limousines; multi-million dollar residences; subsidies to corporations; and a farm in the middle of nowhere in a Saudi desert.

Who will be next?

More than ever, I am reminded of this;

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FIRST-THEY-CAME

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Appendix1

According to Treasury, as at 30 June 2015, net government debt currently stands at NZ$60.631 billion. That equates to 25.2% of GDP.

In 2008, net debt stood at around NZ$10 billion, as the Treasury chart below shows;

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net debt 2005 - 2015

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Current net debt is six times what it was, seven years ago.

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References

Interest.co.nz: Treasury reports OBEGAL surplus of NZ$414 million in year to June 30, 2015

Radio NZ: Jobseeker benefit for cancer patients ‘ludicrous’

Radio NZ: Welfare should be a safety net not a trap – Bennett

Legislation.govt.nz: Parliamentary Salaries Determination 2015

TV3 News: Car crushing ‘discredits law’ – expert

NZ Herald: Editorial: Car crushing an undignified stunt

TVNZ Q+A:  Revolutionary changes in store for social services (14:11)

Radio NZ: Power Play with Brent Edwards

NZ Herald: No surplus this year – Treasury

NZ Treasury: Analysis of Expenses by Functional Classification for the year ended 30 June 2015

Radio NZ: Legal aid rules not failing domestic violence victims says minister

Fairfax media: Tax cuts ‘possible’ after first surplus for NZ government

NZ Herald: Editorial – Use surplus for benefit of everyone

Fairfax media: Crown looks to trade in its luxury limo fleet

NZ Herald: Govt backtracks on limo statements

NZ Herald: Complaints laid against Murray McCully over Saudi farm deal

Fairfax media: NZ government shells out $11m on New York apartment for UN representative

Fairfax media: NZ diplomat involved in decision to buy $6.2m luxury Hawaiian mansion

Otago Daily Times: Smelter gets Meridian, Govt lifeline

Rio Tinto.com: Rio Tinto announces a 10 per cent increase in underlying earnings to $10.2 billion and 15 per cent increase in full year dividend

Fairfax media: Poverty-stricken kids resort to scavenging

Fairfax media: Cancer Society attacks ‘ludicrous’ benefit requirements for cancer patients

Wikipedia: 2014 General Election

Additional

NZ Treasury: Financial Statements of the Government of New Zealand for the Year Ended 30 June 2015

NZ Treasury: Year End Financial Statements – 14 October 2015

Previous related blogposts

Hon. Paula Bennett, Minister of Hypocrisy

The law as a plaything

A fitting response to National MP’s recent personal attacks on Metiria Turei

On ‘The Nation’ – Anne Tolley Revealed

“I don’t know the details of that particular family” – Social Development Minister Anne Tolley

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bill english - cuts - budget

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 21 October 2015

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On ‘The Nation’ – Anne Tolley Revealed

2 October 2015 5 comments

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On past occassion, I have been critical of ‘The Nation‘ for not making greater use of facts and data when confronting National ministers. Without cold, hard facts and stats, slippery Ministers like Steven Joyce can find wiggle-room to avoid straight answers and indulge in wild flights of fantasy-spin.

But when the team at ‘The Nation‘ get it right, they do it well, and Ministers are laid bare for the public to see, hear, and assess for themselves.

Cases-in-point, the 2 May interview with Corrections Minister, Sam  Lotu-Iiga, and the more recent (26 September) interview with Social Development Minister, Anne Tolley;

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The Nation - Interview - Social Development Minister Anne Tolley

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Both interviews showed Ministers out of their depths, and grappling with critical problems that apparently have “snuck up” on them – though the rest of the country had long been aware that not all was well in the Land of the Long White Cloud (and possible Red Peak).

Recent “revelations” of massive problems for children in State-care are only confirmation of what many in the sector already knew. According to Tolley’s own speech to the Fostering Kids New Zealand Conference  on 24 September;

By the time children with a care placement who were born in the 12 months to Jun 1991 had reached the age of 21:

Almost 90 per cent were on a benefit.

Over 25 per cent were on a benefit with a child.

Almost 80 per cent did not have NCEA Level 2.

More than 30 per cent had a youth justice referral by the age of 18.

Almost 20 per cent had had a custodial sentence.

Almost 40 per cent had a community sentence.

Overall, six out of every ten children in care are Māori children.

[…]

64 per cent of the 61,000 children notified to CYF in 2014 had a previous notification.

In 2013, children who had been removed from home were on average 8 years old and many of these children had been involved with the system since 2 or 3 years of age.

[…]

Seven year-old children should not have eight different home placements.

A study of those in care in 2010 showed that 23 per cent of children who exited care and returned to their biological parents were subject to neglect or physical, emotional or sexual re-abuse within 18 months. Ten per cent of those who returned to kin or whānau were re-abused, while re-abuse rates for those who exited into non-kin and non-whānau placements was one per cent.

It has taken seven years for a National minister to come to understand this? Where have they been all this time – playing golf on Planet Key?

But not only has  this government ignored this crisis in supporting young people in State care – but they have been criminally guilty of making matters worse by job cuts and destabilisation by constant re-organisation of  MSD (Ministry of Social Development);

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Job cuts for MSD

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Then Social Development Minister, Paula Bennett, was adamant that there would be more frontline social workers, despite the massive number of redundancies. Her mantra at the time was;

”I can absolutely assure them that the concentration is on frontline staff, on social workers that are working with those people that need it most, and that’s where this Government is putting their priorities.”

Take note that in the “re-structuring”  in 2009, the job cuts included “a team of 18 child abuse education social workers“.  In effect,  skilled professionals working on behalf of children suffering abuse were sacked.

Only the Minister of Finance trying to balance his books, and those who perpetrate child abuse on small bodies, could possibly have been delighted at that announcement.

To deflect criticism from the growing problem of  child poverty and New Zealand’s “under-class” (which, in  October 2011, even Key was forced to admit was rising), Bennett resisted demands to assess just how bad the problem really was;

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Combating poverty more important than measuring it - Paula Bennett - MSD

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No measurement; no way of telling how bad it is. Very clever, Ms Bennett.

But worse was to come, as National slashed the state sector to make up for revenue lost through two tax cuts and the recessionary effects of the Global Financial Crisis;

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MSD restructure lacks transparency

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98 MSD staff face the axe - union

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This time, the person over-seeing on-going job-losses and re-structuring was the current Social Development Minister, Anne Tolley. This time, the cuts were given a new euphemism; “re-alignment”.

Despite Bennett’s reassurances in June 2009  that there would be a “concentration […] on frontline staff, on social workers that are working with those people that need it most” – six years later the cutting of back-room support staff resulted in inevitable (and predictable) consequences. As Tolley herself was forced to admit on ‘The Nation‘;

“Well, there’s 3000-odd staff, but only 25% of them are actually working with children. And of that 25%, they’re only spending 15% of their time actually with children.”

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twitter - msd job cuts - anne tolley - the nation

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At that point, Lisa Owen asked Minister Tolley the question;

“So are you telling me that we need more back-room staff to allow those people to get on to the front line and deal with the kids?”

Tolley’s reply was pure gobbledegook;

“What we need is a system that is designed to look after those children when they first come to our attention, we need good interventions with them and their families, and we need to free up the front-line social workers to do the work they come in every day to do which is to work with children, not a system that’s built on layers and layers of risk management and bureaucracy and administration, which is what we’ve got now.”

The reason it is risable gobbledegook is that after hundreds of job losses – of mostly so-called “back room staff” one assumes – and restructurings, there cannot be too many “layers and layers of risk management and bureaucracy and administration” left in MSD.

Lisa Owen pushed the Minister further;

“…But some evidence that was provided last year was the case-load review, which said that you were 350 social workers short. So can we expect more social workers?”

When the Minister offered vague assurances that “we may well” expect more social workers, Ms Owen was blunt;

“But ‘may well’ is not a definitive answer, is it, Minister? So yes or no? Will we get more?”

Tolley’s response was anything but reassuring;

“I don’t know, because the final system proposal will come to me in December, so I’m not going to pre-empt what the panel’s coming up with. What they’ve done in this interim report is give us the building blocks…”

Listening to the Minister was not only far from reassuring, but left a sense of unease.

Our esteemed Dear Leader, John Key, has already said that “outsourcing” to private providers for MSD services is possible;

“Child Youth and Family does outsource to the private sector already some contracts, and I think last year $81 million of business went to private sector contractors, so I can’t get up and say there is no involvement with the private sector, because there already is that.

I don’t think we’re seriously talking about the private sector taking control of all the children, but if there is some small function they could do, maybe, I’d have to see what that is.”

“Some small function”?

What is Key referring to – delivery of afternoon tea and biscuits to CYF staff?

Or, as more likely, would “some small function” involve Serco – already in deep trouble over it’s incompetence over running of Mt Eden prison?

This is a possibility that Tolley herself touted as a possibility on TVNZ’s ‘Q+A‘, as recently as June this year;

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Tolley Serco could run social services - MSD - CYF

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On 31 August,  CEO of the Association of Social Workers, Lucy Sandford-Reed,was reported on Radio NZ as saying  she believed call-centre operations might be outsourced;

“That really creates an opportunity for further fragmentation of the service delivery and could potentially create the opportunity for failure. And there has been a sense that a organisation like Serco could be looking at picking up those contracts.”

Tolley was adamant on ‘The Nation‘ that there would be no outsourcing of MSD’s front-line services. She told Lisa Owen to her face;

“Look, I- Let’s put it to rest – this is a state responsibility. There’s no talk within Government at all of outsourcing that responsibility.”

However, only two days earlier (24 September), it was reported that Serco had indeed been ‘sniffing’ around CYF facilities in Auckland;

CYF sites visited by Serco – Tolley

Thursday 24 Sep 2015 4:30 p.m.

Serco case managers have visited several Child, Youth and Family facilities in Auckland, Social Development Minister Anne Tolley has confirmed.

She’s previously denied knowledge of such visits, and told Parliament today she had been given incorrect advice by her ministry.

“I apologise for giving an incorrect answer (to previous questions)… I’m disappointed that I got incorrect information,” she said.

Opposition MPs suspect the visits were connected with the possibility of some CYF services being contracted out to Serco.

The question that begs to be asked is; why has National drawn attention to the (supposed) “failings” of CYF/MSD? Why was Tolley so eager to receive a report so scathing of her own department, as she stated in her 27 August press statement;

“I welcome the release of this report, which makes for grim reading for those involved in child protection, and have met with the Commissioner to discuss his findings.”

Usually, this is a government whose ministers are desperate only to present “good news” stories. They are quick to dismiss, minimise, or deride any criticism that does not fit with their “good management” narrative. Blaming the previous Labour government has become the #1 Default position of National ministers.

The only possible rationale why Tolley has commissioned a report into MSD/CYF – where no public or media pressure had demanded one – is that Paula Rebstock’s highly critical findings of MSD/CYF were pre-determined.

As Chris Trotter wrote in his analysis of Rebstock’s report on 2 April;

“The Rebstocks of this world are spared the close-up consequences of their recommendations. They are experts at reading between the lines of their terms of reference to discover exactly what it is that their commissioning ministers are expecting from them – and delivering it. So it was with Paula Bennett’s welfare review, and so it will be with Anne Tolley’s review of Child Youth and Family (CYF).

Once again in the lead role, Ms Rebstock will not have to work too hard to decode the meaning of Ms Tolley’s comment that: “CYF has drafted its own internal modernisation strategy and while it is a good starting point, it doesn’t go far enough”.”

Without doubt, Rebstock’s eventual (and predictable?) report into MSD/CYF was highly critical of that organisation.

Key has publicly disclosed that he is not averse to privatisation (aka, “outsourcing”) aspects of MSD/CYF’s services.

Despite Tolley’s denials, Serco has shown interest in CYF facilities.

Which leads to the inescapable conclusion that the Rebstock report; the willingness of Ministers to front up to the media to candidly admit to MSD/CYF’s shortcomings; is setting up a Problem demanding a Solution.

That “Solution” is privatisation of services.

Which perhaps is what Tolley was referring to in her 24 September speech;

“While the new operational model is being developed, a feasibility study of an investment approach to improving outcomes for vulnerable children is being commissioned by MSD on behalf of the panel, and the findings will inform the Panel’s December report.”

Investment approach”?

As in business investment.

This explains  Tolley’s rejection of Lisa Owen’s suggestion of paying caregivers more money;

“Well, I think you’ve always got to be very careful that you’re not setting up a professional caregiving regime. And when you talk to people who are fostering, most of them don’t do it for the money.”

Indeed, “people who are fostering, most of them don’t do it for the money” – but it sure helps pay the bills, especially for professional services for some very damaged children.

No wonder Tolley was vague on whether more money or social workers would be provided to MSD/CYF, in her replies to Lisa Owen. This was never about increasing resources to the Ministry or caregivers.

This is about a private enterprise “solution” to a National government “problem”.

The Rebstock Report is simply the means to sell that “solution” to the public and media.

Machiavellian does not begin to cover this mad agenda.

 

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References

TV3: The Nation – Interview – National’s Chief Strategist Steven Joyce

Beehive.govt.nz: Speech to Fostering Kids New Zealand Conference

Fairfax media: Job cuts for MSD

NZ Herald: Key admits underclass still growing

Scoop media: Combating poverty more important than measuring it

Radio NZ: MSD restructure ‘lacks transparency’

Fairfax media: 98 MSD staff face the axe – union

Twitter: Frank Macskasy to The Nation

Radio NZ: Key – More CYF private sector involvement possible

TV3 News: Tolley – Serco could run social services

TV3 News: CYF sites visited by Serco – Tolley

Beehive.govt.nz: Minister welcomes State of Care report

Additional

MSD: Redesigning the Welfare State in New Zealand: Problems, Policies and Prospects (1999)

Other Blog posts

The Daily Blog: Fixing CYFs – Paula Rebstock is asked to “rescue” another state agency

The Daily Blog: Why The State Needs To Support Young People Until They’re 21

Previous related blogposts

WINZ, waste, and wonky numbers – *up-date*

Bill English: When numbers don’t fit, or just jump around

The law as a plaything

Random Thoughts on Random Things #3

John Key’s government – death by two cuts

The cupboard is bare, says Dear Leader

Government Minister sees history repeat – responsible for death

“I don’t know the details of that particular family” – Social Development Minister Anne Tolley

Polls and pundits – A facepalm moment

“The Nation” reveals gobsmacking incompetence by Ministers English and Lotu-Iiga

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Phil-Disley-30102010-005

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 27 September 2015.

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WINZ, waste, and wonky numbers – *up-date*

16 July 2015 7 comments

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hungry and homeless wellington new zealand

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Radio NZ’s reporter, Ruth Hill, posted this story on Friday 10 July. Note Ms Hill’s comment;

“However, 4916 just dropped out of the system because they did not do the paperwork.”

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Thousands losing benefits due to paperwork - radio nz - winz - msd

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Even as National  boasted about a drop in beneficiary numbers;

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Benefit numbers reach a six-year low  - fairfax media - winz - msd

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– unemployment continued to rise;

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Unemployment rises to 5.7 percent - radio nz - winz - msd - unemployment

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This discrepancy can be explained – in part – with RNZ reporter, Ruth Hill, revealing;

“Thousands of people are having their benefits cut off because they are not filling in the complicated paperwork required…

[…]

… 4916 just dropped out of the system because they did not do the paperwork.”

This was a ticking time-bomb predicted by beneficiary advocates in 2013, when National implemented many of it’s punitive welfare “reforms”;

The changes sparked protests in front of three Auckland Work and Income offices by Auckland Action Against Poverty protesters yesterday who said the moves were about “cutting costs by pushing vulnerable people off the books” rather than getting them into decent jobs.

So how bad is the problem with WINZ forms?

On  8 February 2013,   I blogged on precisely this problem (WINZ, waste, and wonky numbers);

Paula Bennett has directed WINZ to make life more difficult for the unemployed, when registering with WINZ. As if losing one’s job wasn’t stressful enough, Bennet has forced the implementation of some draconian rules and requirements for beneficiaries. (The implication being that it’s the fault of  the unemployed for being unemployed?!)

One of the bureacratic bundles of red tape are the number of forms issued to WINZ applicants.

For those readers who have never had the “delight” of dealing with WINZ – these are the forms that are required to be filled out. Note: every single applicant is given these forms (in a little plastic carry-bag).

And if you have to reapply to WINZ for a benefit (if, say, you’ve lost your job again) you are required to fill out these forms all over again.

This is where taxpayer’s money is really going to waste in welfare.

All up, seventythree  pages of information and forms to  read, understand,  fill out, to collect information;

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73-pages-of-winz-forms-1

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(Blogger’s Note: for a comprehensive view of each WINZ form, please go to  blogpost: Bill English: When numbers don’t fit, or just jump around)

This system becomes even more laughable when one considers that if an an applicant has been a WINZ “client” (ie, beneficiary) before, they remain on MSD’s computer files. Much of the information sought is already  on-file.

The cost of this must be horrendous, and it is ironic that at a time when National is cutting “back room” support staff to save money, that they are permitting taxpayer funding for this ‘Monty Pythonesque ‘ exercise in out-of-control form-filling.

No wonder that this was reported in Fairfax media,

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett this morning said latest figures showed 328,043 people were now on benefits, with 57,058 of those on an unemployment benefit.

Reforms passed by Parliament require people on an unemployment benefit to reapply for it after one year. Bennett said this change had led to 5000 people cancelling their benefit.

More than 1400 of those said they had found work, more than 2600 didn’t complete a reapplication and more than 1000 were no longer eligible. ”

How many people with minimal education or poor command of the English language could hope to fill out so many forms of such complexity?

National has a peculiar – but effective – way of dealing with unpleasant statistics.

It either does not engage in collecting data (eg; foreign house buyers, poverty levels, etc), or, it implements policies that will artificially impact on statistics without actually resolving under-lying problems. Whichever is the cheapest, easiest option. And whichever draws the least worst  headlines.

If pushing New Zealanders off welfare – by making the system unnecessarily  complex and frustrating  – has the end result of an apparent drop in welfare numbers, then that is ‘Mission Accomplished’ for this government.

Pushing people into poverty; homelessness; the degradation of street living and begging; are not matters that greatly concerned successive Social Welfare ministers, whether Paula Bennett, nor her successor, Anne “Look-At-Me-Standing-On-A-Crushed-Car” Tolley, as she told Radio NZ;

There is no reason for Work and Income to continue monitoring people who have chosen not to re-apply for a benefit.

If people require welfare support, it is their responsibility to get in touch and provide Work and Income with information that allows them to assess a beneficiary’s need. Once that is complete, Work and Income can provide the assistance people are eligible for.”

This is the same minister who told  TVNZ’s Q+A, political reporter, Corin Dann, on 21 June;

DANN:

“Some would argue with the recent case, for example, with Emma-Lita Bourne who died in the state house, [a] damp house, why not just give those families more money to pay their power bill, rather than give the organisations money to come in and work and all the rest of it?”

TOLLEY:

“And, and, when you look at something like Whanua Ora, they are doing some of that. See, see, what we’ve got with the focus on individual programmes and agencies working in silos, families don’t work like that. They’re very complex issues so if I don’t know the details of that particular family…”

Tolley admitted not knowing the details of the family whose child died of cold/damp related illness.

Make no mistake, the end purpose of seventythree forms, and having to re-apply every twelve months, is to cause frustration and dissuade people from re-applying for welfare benefits.

Ministers then trumpet “success” at a drop in welfare numbers.

The next time you see beggars on the streets with signs saying “no money, please give what you can” – they are most likely telling the truth. They are this government’s dirty little secret.

Addendum1

There is no official measure of poverty in New Zealand. The actual work to address poverty is perhaps what is most important.

Children move in and out of poverty on a daily basis.” – Paula Bennett, 16 August 2012

Addendum2

One of the more bizarre and ridiculous policies by the Ministry of Social Development is annual re-application forms sent to beneficiaries with permanent disabilities such as spina bifida.

For those who are not aware, spina bifida is a permanent, life-long condition. There is no cure.

MSD seems to believe that a miraculous recovery is possible, judging by the forms it sends every twelve months to people with spina bifida.

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jesus christ an the official from MSD

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References

Radio NZ: Thousands losing benefits due to paperwork

Fairfax media: Benefit numbers reach a six-year low

Radio NZ: Unemployment rises to 5.7 percent

Fairfax media: Number on benefits drops, reaction mixed

Fairfax media: 5000 beneficiaries quit dole rather than reapply

Fairfax media: Foreign house owner register downplayed

NZ Herald: Measuring poverty line not a priority – Bennett

TVNZ Q+A:  Interview with Anne Tolley

NZ Spina Bifida Org

Previous related blogposts

The law as a plaything

“I don’t know the details of that particular family” – Social Development Minister Anne Tolley

Bill English: When numbers don’t fit, or just jump around

WINZ, waste, and wonky numbers

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6a00d83451d75d69e20163022de8ed970d-450wi.

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 12 July 2015.

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The REAL reason for the drop in welfare numbers

22 December 2013 23 comments

There is an underlying reason for this headline,

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Number on benefits drops, reaction mixed - 16.7.2013

Source

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In the above July 2013 article, Social welfare Minister, Paula Bennett proudly asserted,

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said today there are now 309,782 people on a benefit compared with 320,041 last year.

[…]

That’s a reduction of more than 10,000 on welfare over the past 12 months and I am particularly pleased that 5600 of them are sole parents.”

IBID

Nowhere in the article does it state where those 10,000 welfare beneficiaries ended up.

Was it in paid work?

Did they go back into full-time education or other courses?

Or were they simply dumped from WINZ’s books?  Like the recipient of these letters that were recently provided to me? (We will call him/her “Citizen X” – all identifying details have been redacted to respect his/her privacy and protect him/her from possible reprisals by Bennett, her office, or MSD official. Same for the WINZ officials whose names appear on the letters.)

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WINZ letter dec 2013 (1)WINZ letter dec 2013 (2)

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A few days later, “Citizen X” received this letter. Adding insult to injury, they were demanding that an outstanding amount (an amount between $200 to $300) be repaid;

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WINZ letter dec 2013 (3)

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This was despite that “Citizen X” had had her/his unemployment benefit cancelled – not because s/he had found paid employment (s/he hadn’t) – but because s/he had fallen foul of National’s harsh new welfare laws.

In part, the MSD website states,

On Jobseeker Support for more than 12 months

If you still require Jobseeker Support after 52 weeks you’ll have to re-apply for your benefit. We’ll let you know when you have to re-apply and tell you what you need to do.

When you re-apply, you’ll also need to complete a Comprehensive Work Assessment. This will identify what steps you’ve taken to find work and what help you might need from us to be more successful in getting a job.

Source

In effect, National has placed a one year time limit on all unemployment benefits. They haven’t advertised it as such – they refer to it as “re-applying”.

As Simon Collins reported in the NZ Herald back in January (2013),

The Council of Christian Social Services pointed yesterday to “a growing gap between those who receive a benefit and those in genuine need who are either losing or unable to obtain social welfare assistance”.

Unemployment increased in the two years to last September from 144,500 to 170,000, but those on unemployment benefit dropped by almost a quarter from 65,281 to 50,390.

Sole parents on the domestic purposes benefit have also dropped in the past year. Rules for both benefits were tightened in September 2010, when unemployment beneficiaries had their benefits cancelled if they failed to reapply after a year.

Sole parents were required to look for part-time work when their youngest child turned 6, an age reduced to 5 last October.

Christian Social Services executive officer Trevor McGlinchey said his members were reporting increases in demand for their services as people found benefits harder to get.

[…]

Ironically, the tighter welfare rules may also partly explain the rise in unemployment, as beneficiaries are counted as unemployed only if they are actively looking for work. Employment slipped only slightly from 63.6 per cent to 63.2 per cent of adults in the two years to last September, but the “jobless” rose from 7.1 per cent to 8.4 per cent because those not looking for work fell from 29.3 per cent to a record low of 28.4 per cent.

Source

What this  means is that eventually a significant number of people simply give up re-applying for the minimal amount that the dole pays ($206.21 per week).

Constant, repetitive, incessant demands for information and a less than helpful attitude created by MSD policy create an atmosphere of naked hostility.

The complexity of applying, with the multitude of 73 pages of WINZ  forms and other bits of paper, may also prove to be a dis-incentive for many – especially those for whom English, reading ability, and general low education is a real problem.

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73 pages of WINZ forms

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The massive number of WINZ forms and other documents handed out to applicants has been covered in this previous blogpost; WINZ, waste, and wonky numbers

These are some of the bureacratic barriers which National and MSD have created for the most vulnerable and dispossessed people in our country.

All done to “massage” beneficiary statistics.

As Bennett said, back in July,

That’s a reduction of more than 10,000 on welfare over the past 12 months and I am particularly pleased that 5600 of them are sole parents.”

No doubt, National will use this “success” at the next election and a sizeable portion of the voting population will be sufficiently uninformed and  gullible enough to accept this without question.

It will be up to those who oppose National and it’s virulent brand of right-wing politics to spread the truth; under this party, poverty and inequality will continue to worsen.

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Hungry kids scavenge pig slops

Source

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Because even the Prime Minister has had to reluctantly concede the enormity of what we are facing,

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Key admits underclass still growing

Source

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Pushing people off welfare, regardless of whether or not they have jobs to go to, just to massage welfare statistics, is a vile obscenity.

This will not “lift people out of poverty”, as Key has promised.

It is increasing poverty.

How long will it be before this growing poverty, sense of hopelessness, and constant attacks by National and MSD results in the inevitable outbreak of violent civil disturbance? Desperate people tend not to care – especially for the empty promises of well-fed, well-housed, comfortable politicians.

Is this really what New Zealanders want for their country?

The clock is ticking…

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clock.

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 15 December 2013.

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Sources

NZ Herald: Welfare rules force people to struggle on without benefits

Fairfax media:  Number on benefits drops, reaction mixed

Fairfax media: Hungry kids scavenge pig slops

NZ Herald: Key admits underclass still growing

References

Work and Income:  Jobseeker Support

Additional

Gordon Campbell: Ten Myths About Welfare -The politics behind the government’s welfare reform process

Previous related blogposts

Class act, National – taking money of widows?!

How Paula Bennett and National are wasting our taxdollars

National ramps up attack on unemployed and solo-mums

Random Thoughts on Random Things #4…

OIA Request points to beneficiary beat-up by Minister Chester Borrows

The REAL level of unemployment

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