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National signals epic fail – and waves flag of surrender (Part #Rua)

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When National took office in November, 2008, unemployment was on the way up. From a record low of 3.4% in December 2007, it stood at 4.8% a year later.

By December 2009, the Quarter Household Labourforce Survey unemployment rate had risen  to 7.3%,

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The unemployment rate has since dropped back to 6.3%, for the December 2011 quarter. The slow drop from 7.3% to 6.3% has taken two years to achieve – and even the cause of that outcome is debateable, as New Zealand  “baby boomers”  start retiring and others  escape our stagnating economy to Australia.

I will make one thing clear; I do not lay blame nor responsibility for the doubling of our unemployment at the feet at National. The 2008  global banking crisis, ongoing recession, and massive debt-problems were issues beyond any political Party in any country. National inherited an international situation not of it’s direct making. (Though National does espouse a neo-liberal ideology which most certainly contributed to the crisis in capitalism.)

As an interesting aside; National and it’s groupies  (quite rightly) blame the 2008 recession for our high unemployment rate. However, they conveniently ignore the 2008 recession when engaging in beneficiary-bashing – then the issue of  increased unemployment is a “lifestyle choice”.

However, this blogger maintains that whilst the rise in unemployment was not National’s fault – that National has been derelict in it’s duty to address the crisis in joblessness. Bashing beneficiaries and painting them as lazy layabouts indulging in a “lifestyle choice” will not create one single job.

Blaming beneficiaries for a global situation they had no hand in making is an abrogation of responsibility by National.

I think we all know by now that National hasn’t a clue when it comes to job creation. They have no policies to generate jobs, and what what they have been doing has been tragically counter-productive,

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This blogger is aware of one solo-mum who used the TIA to go through University; upskill; find a well-paid job;   move of welfare; and is now a tax-paying member of society. But I guess that is not the meme that National wants  entering the public consciousness. Their agenda is better served by scapegoating solo-mothers. (But never solo-dads.)

See:   Once upon a time there was a solo-mum

Paula Bennett  used the TIA to put herself through University; upskill; and then move on to a more well-paid benefit; she became Minister of Welfare.

See: Hypocrisy – thy name be National

Bennett’s axing of the TIA and other cutbacks in training and upskilling is what is colloquially known as a false economy.  It may save a few million bucks now – but will only delay the Day of Reckoning when we end up with an untrained, low-skilled society.

Even John Key made this a theme of his speech four years ago,

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The National Party has an economic plan that will build the foundations for a better future.

  • We will focus on lifting medium-term economic performance and managing taxpayers’ money effectively.
  • We will be unrelenting in our quest to lift our economic growth rate and raise wage rates.
  • We will cut taxes, not just in election year, but in a regular programme of ongoing tax cuts.
  • We will invest in the infrastructure this country needs for productivity growth.
  • We will be more careful with how we spend the cash in the public purse, monitoring not just the quantity but also the quality of government spending.
  • We will concentrate on equipping young New Zealanders with the education they need for a 21st century global economy.
  • We will reduce the burden of compliance and bureaucracy, and we will say goodbye to the blind ideology that locks the private sector out of too many parts of our economy.
  • And we will do all of this while improving the public services that Kiwis have a right to expect.  

Because the hard truth is that Labour’s economic underperformance hasn’t delivered the social dividend they promised us.  

So, make no mistake: this election won’t be fought only on Labour’s economic legacy.  National will be asking Labour to front up on their social legacy, too. Many of the social problems the Government said it would solve have only got worse.

This time a year ago, I talked about the underclass that has been allowed to develop in New Zealand. Labour said the problem didn’t exist.  They said there was no underclass in New Zealand.

But who now could deny it?  2007 showed us its bitter fruits. The dramatic drive-by shooting of two-year-old Jhia Te Tua, caught in a battle between two gangs in Wanganui. The incidence of typhoid, a Third World disease, reaching a 20-year high. The horrific torture and eventual death of three-year-old Nia Glassie. The staggering discovery of a lost tribe of 6,000 children who are not enrolled at any school.” – John Key, “State of the Nation Speech”,  29 January 2008

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John Key finished of that speech  by saying,

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We will not sweep problems under the carpet.  We will not meet the country’s challenges by quietly lowering our expectations.”

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So how has National performed?

Not so good, I’m afraid. (But that’s hardly surprising.)

Aside from cutting back on training, National seems to be engaged in a clandestine programme to actually keep wages depressed. Bill English admitted as much last year, on TVNZ’s Q+A when he let slip that New Zealands lower wages were a competitive advantage to Australia,

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“”Well, it’s a way of competing, isn’t it? I mean, if we want to grow this economy, we need the capital – more capital per worker – and we’re competing for people as well…

“… we need to get on with competing with Australia. So if you take an area like tourism, we are competing with Australia. We’re trying to get Australians here instead of spending their tourist dollar in Australia.” – Bill English, 10 April 2011

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Despite a low-wage economy being counter-intuitive for a multitude of common-sense reasons, it appears that – with National’s coded  assent – some local industries are attempting to drive down wages and develop a low-wage economy.

The current industrial disputes with AFFCO and Ports of Auckland Ltd are based purely around driving down wages  by cutting conditions; casualisation; and crushing unions in the workplace.

In October last year, the Seafood Industry Council (SeaFIC) told a ministerial inquiry into Foreign Charter Vessels that their industry needed more cheap foreign labour,

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SeaFIC says FCVs hiring Asian crews was no different to companies going to low wage countries.

“Many New Zealand businesses have exported jobs previously done in New Zealand to other countries with wage rates considerably less than minimum wage rates in New Zealand.” ” – Source

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See: Is this where New Zealand is heading?

See: Foreign fishing boats, Hobbits, and the National Guvmint

The prospect of slave crews on foreign fishing vessels in our territorial waters was a step too far, even for right-wing blogger and National Party cadre, David Farrar. He seemed horrified at what a ministerial inquiry and US journalist had uncovered. (Or perhaps it was faux-disgust, to try to distance National from slavery on New Zealand’s high seas. Who can tell.)

See: A Slave By Any Other Name

However, it was not a good look for one of our industries to be lobbying National to permit more cheap labour into New Zealand. Even if it was to be far out at sea, out-of-sight-out-of-mind, our US-based clients were not too happy when they found out what was going on under our noses, and from which we were seen to be profitting,

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Now, National’s inaction on job creation, training, and upskilling is beginning to bite. Reliance on the free market has not achieved any desirable, measurable goals. In fact, business is still luke-warm at hiring and training new staff.

Global finance and accounting firm Robert Half’s director director, Andrew Brushfield, expressed surprise at  the “cautious hiring predictions among New Zealand CFOs”. Really? No sh*t, Sherlock.

So where does that leave us;

  • A National government that is cutting training allowances
  • No government employment-creation programme to speak of
  • No state apprenticeship programme
  • Leaving job creation and training to the ‘market’
  • The ‘market’ being reluctant to generate employment

No wonder unemployment is still at 150,000.

And little wonder that, with 150,000 jobless, and no jobs training, the Christchurch re-build is now hampered by a shortage of skilled tradespeople,

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To illustrate how short-sighted National (and it’s right wing hangers-on and sycophantic businesspeople),  Weltec offers seventeen week (full time) courses in the painting trade,

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If has been fourteen months since the tragic, devasting quake of 22 February 2011. We could have had a small army of in-training workforce ready to go by now.

FBG Developments managing director, Fletcher Glass,  could have his 50 painters – and more – instead of complaining bittlerly,

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You can’t train skilled tradespeople in two years, and even if you could train 24,000 tradespeople, you would over-saturate the market after the rebuild.  If you get tradespeople from other parts of the country, you will deplete those places of tradespeople, and that will drive rates up. That will make house prices go up, so buying a house would be even less achievable.’

Hiring overseas workers would prevent Christchurch from turning its problem into a nationwide problem. If you need 6000 painters at the peak of the rebuild, that’s every painter in Dunedin and Wellington.” – Ibid

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What absolute rubbish.

I have a sneaking suspicion that Mr Glass , like SeaFIC, is seeking  painters from Southeast Asia because they will accept minimum wage.

So we can add the following to the above list, as to why we have a shortage of trained tradespeople to take part in Christchurch’s re-build,

  • Employer self-interest

As a point of interest, the above media article also conducted a poll. It asked a simple question,

Should New Zealand fast track visas for overseas tradesmen?

Yes, we need more workers urgently
85 votes, 20.4%

No, we should train more NZers
332 votes, 79.6%

Nearly 80% of New Zealanders have enough common sense to realise what we should be doing. Obviously, none of those 80% are represented by any of National’s current  59 members of Parliament.

In case anyone is foolish enough to accuse this blogger of being fiscally naive, I refer to a BERL report, last year,

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Industry training has billions in benefits – study

A new study suggests the country could lose between $7.2 and $15.1 billion dollars annually if the Government withdrew its investment in industry training.

The study by the Business and Economic Research Limited (BERL) sets out to quantify the costs and benefits of industry training both to businesses and to the country.

According to one model, it found a cut in all public funding towards industry training would result in a loss in gross domestic product of 0.6 to 1.8 percent by 2014, and between 2.9 and 6 percent by 2021.

That equated to a loss of between $1.2 and $3.7 billion annually in the short-term and between $7.2 and $15.1 billion in the long term.

BERL said under such a scenario, the loss of skilled labour would have a detrimental effect on the export sector, crimping its capacity and reducing its competitiveness as industries competed for a smaller pool of talent.

The report, commissioned by the Industry Training Federation, said the results underlined how the country’s skill levels could ”positively impact on the quality and value of the goods and services produced, and the standard of living in New Zealand”.

However, it also noted the economy was complex and warned that ”any attempts to prioritise or isolate particular industries, sectors, occupations or skills as being more or less important are economically unsound  “.  – Source

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Training up unemployed New Zealanders who’ve lost their jobs over the last four years of recession; it’s not just a good idea or a “nice to have” – it’s bloody well obvious!

National’s faith in free market forces is admirable. But the rest of us gave up believing in Father Christmas, Easter Bunny, and Superman as we grew up. (Though having Superman around might be useful.)  It is high time that John Key and his Merry Band gave up their quasi-religious belief in the Invisible Hand of The Free Market.

Ideology will not re-build Christchurch. We need many hands – trained up and paid well – to do the work. 150,000 pair of hands!

I leave (almost) the last word to  Dear Leader,

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We know this isn’t as good as it gets.  We know Kiwis deserve better than they are getting.  We are focused on the issues that matter and we have the ideas and the ability to bring this country forward. 

National is ambitious for New Zealand and we want New Zealanders to be ambitious for themselves. ” – John Key, “State of the Nation Speech”,  29 January 2008

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Wouldn’t that be a fine thing?

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Once upon a time there was a solo-mum…

… and a Wicked Wacko Witch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instead, she applied herself to her university course.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sally replied,

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

I asked,

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

Sally responded,

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

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

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

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

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

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Bizzarre.

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

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

This is a good outcome due to progressive government policy.

Please, Mr Key, may we have some more?

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

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“One law for all” – except MPs. (Part Rua)

2 February 2012 4 comments

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The issue of privacy, politicians,  government departments, and ordinary citizens is something that has played out in the public arena in the last few years…

In 2009,  two women;  solo-mothers;  on the domestic purposes benefit;  criticised the Government for cutting the Training Incentive Allowance (TIA).

This was the same TIA that Paula Bennett herself used to put herself through University,

I have never made a secret of the fact I have been on and off the benefit and that I did receive the TIA.

What I can tell those people who are looking at tertiary study is that it’s not going to be easy but if they back themselves, and this Government is backing them as well, then they can get off the benefit. They may even end up a cabinet minister.” – Source

The two women were on training courses to be a teacher and  nurse.

In retaliation to criticism, Bennett gained  access to their MSD (Ministry of Social Development)  files and released figures regarding the two women’s WINZ payments, to the media.  In doing so, Bennett clearly violated the women’s, privacy,

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Bennett defended her actions by stating that she wanted to  “round up a one-sided story“.  Bennett added that “she had not sought the women’s permission she felt they had taken the matter public by talking to the news media and writing on the internet“. (Source)

So there you go, folks. The rules set by the current regime are simple; if you criticise the government and talk to the media – be prepared to have the State retaliate, using your own personal information against you. (Stalin would be proud!)

Fast forward to December, last year,

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WINZ head,  Janet Grossman said,

These people have let us down badly. Their actions cast a shadow over our honest and hard working staff who understand that client privacy is sacrosanct.”

It is a shame that Paula Bennett’s – and other politicians – understanding of “sacrosanct privacy” appears to differ  markedly  from what you and I might think on the subject.

So  it was hardly surprising that  John Key was scathing in the matter of  a secretly-recorded conversation between himself and John Banks,  at the Urban Cafe in Epsom last year,

I’m not bothered in the slightest about what is on the tape, secondly, I am very bothered by the tactics that I believe have been deliberately deployed by the ‘Herald on Sunday’.” – Source

Politicians, though,  have recourse to  the full force of State power – the police – to guard their privacy. And John Key certainly seemed to have no qualms about engaging the Police on this issue. After all, as Key stated,

The good thing is we’ve lowered the crime rate by seven per cent across the country so they do have a little bit of spare time and this is a really important issue.” – Source

A politician’s privacy is “important” – even if half the media-contingent in Auckland were present at the meeeting between Banks and Key.  Folks can see for themselves just how private their conversation really was,

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The “moral” of this story?

If you’re an employee at WINZ, and access personal files of clients without appropriate reasons – then expect to lose your job.

If you’re the Prime Minister – your conversations are always private. Never mind the dozens of  journalists you’ve invited to the latest pre-arranged photo-op. (If in doubt, the Police can be called to enforce the Prime Minister’s wishes.)

If you’re a recipient of social welfare – then your privacy is at the discretion of government ministers.

Have I missed anything out?

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Previous Blog entries

Hon. Paula Bennett, Minister of Hypocrisy

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Hon. Paula Bennett, Minister of Hypocrisy

1 September 2011 35 comments

When it comes to hypocrisy, this must surely be  contender for the Double Standard of The Year…

I’m not surprised that “Bennet did not return calls”. She was no doubt holed up in her office, waiting for this  s**t storm to blow over.

A bit of background into Paula Bennett’s life before she came to Parliament…

  • Paula Bennet was a solo-mother, at age 17
  • Just two years later, she got a Housing Corporation loan to buy a $56,000 house in Taupo.
  • All of this while on the domestic purposes benefit.
  • Paula Bennet was a recipient of the Training Incentive Allowance (a WINZ benefit)
  • Paula Bennet obtained her degree at Massey University, through the TIA – a taxpayer-funded benefit

 

Source

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So for Bennett to then write and state,

“I know many people are frustrated that they and their colleagues and family work hard to support themselves while people on benefits receive state assistance.”

… is hypocrisy on a breath-taking scale.

And to compound that act of double-standards, Bennett is still a recipient of taxpayer funded “welfare”. As a Minister of the Crown, she is currently paid $249,100 p.a. – plus various allowances, perks, and a very generous superannuation. MPs and their partners  also recieve free air travel, at tax-payer’s expense.

Ms Bennett is no longer on the DPB.

She just found a more lucrative way to milk the system.

Hon. P Bennett, Minister of Hypocrisy

Unemployment; A right way and the Government way…

13 August 2011 2 comments

As per usual, the National Party conference this year has focused on beneficiaries and social welfare.  Listening to these people, who seem utterly oblivious to the harsh realities of New Zealand in a recession, we have the Prime Minister, John  Key, saying that the current social welfare  system,

“…is not working and needs to change.

When young people go on welfare, by definition, they stay there longer and cost the state more…and rob themselves of a tremendous opportunity.

Every New Zealander can be entitled to that brighter future, no moreso than young people”.

?!?!

Nowhere does Key or any of his colleagues acknowledge that 160,000 people are currently jobless. The current rate of 6.6% is double  that prior to the beginning of the recession in 2008, when it stood at 3.8%.

I wonder – does John Key or any other National MP believe that 80,000 New Zealanders woke up one morning in late 2008 and decided to chuck in their jobs, where they earned $600, $700, $800 or more – to go onto the dole to receive $201.40 (nett, p/w, single person 25+)? Or $335.66 (nett, p/w, married couple)?

I doubt it.

I harbour a suspicion – not backed up by any firm evidence, I admit – that National MPs are not actually thick enough to believe that the vast  majority of unemployed New Zealanders prefer to be jobless.

So why target unemployed Kiwis who happen to have had the mis-fortune to have lost their jobs – and are still being made redundant every day?

Simple. Beneficiary bashing – or “welfare reforms” to give it a more palatable, acceptable term – wins votes. There is a part of middle class New Zealand that envisions every single welfare recipient to be a character out of  “Once Were Warriors” or a dope-smoking hippy.

This chunk of middle-class New Zealand is harshly punitive in it’s attitude toward poverty, welfare, and solo-mothers (but not solo-fathers).  They see the poor; the unemployed; and solo-mothers as being there because of deliberate “bad lifestyle choices”.  Holding such prejudiced views is easier than having to think hard and deep about the complex economic and social causes that have created our own under-class in New Zealand. If someone is to blame, for their own mis-fortune,  we don’t have to act.

And if there’s one thing that human beings love; it’s simplistic answers to hard questions.

National (and it’s right-wing cousin, ACT) understand this dark streak in our collective psyche and exploit it to the last possible vote.

However, it does nothing to address the very real social and economic problem of unemployment. Bashing beneficiaries is like criticising someone for getting sick – ultimately futile and counter-productive.

To date, this National government has done very little to create jobs; to reduce barriers to education; to train young New Zealanders for life in the 21st Century.

National’s contribution to job creation has been… the cycleway. They have also cut the TIA (Training Incentive Allowance) which, for many,  was a ticket off welfare and into paid employment. That happens to be the same TIA that Welfare Minister, Paula Bennett used to get off the DPB.

Nice one, Ms Bennett.

John Key says that the “current system is not working”.

Wrong, Mr Key. The current system is functioning as it should; feeding people who are without incomes.

It is the unemployed who are “not working”.

Where are the jobs, Mr Key; where are the jobs?

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Sources:

Grim Day of Redundancies

BoP Times : 1,000 people applied for just 90 jobs

Food parcel families made poor choices, says Key

Jobs to go at textile factories

10 applicants for every one shelf-stocking job

National Party Conference – Day One

Employment Blow as Vbase cuts 151 jobs

2700 applicants for 150 jobs

National promises to unleash welfare reforms

Lower Hutt jobs to go as shops shut

Applicants queue for 20 jobs at new KFC store

Getting young people off welfare a priority

300 job losses in Hawke’s Bay

Demand Strong for New Jobs Up for Grabs in Glenfield

National Party Conference – Day One