Welfare that works

08/08/2022

Christopher Luxon’s speech to the National Party conference yesterday included a firm stand on one standard of democracy, equal voting rights and no co-governance of public services and policy on welfare that works:

The video you just saw told a little about my life before politics. It also gave you a glimpse of the three most important people in my life: Amanda, who you met yesterday, and our children William and Olivia.

The lives of all children, and the circumstances in which they raise their own families, will be shaped by the decisions political leaders are taking right now.

My vision is for a more confident, positive, ambitious and aspirational New Zealand than we know today.

A country with a government that backs those who want to get ahead, manages a more productive economy, respects taxpayers, and actually gets things done.

I envisage a society built on New Zealanders’ rights and responsibilities to each other, and to our country.

A New Zealand where young people go overseas to act on a bigger stage, not to escape the cost of living and lack of opportunities here at home.

A country with welfare and education initiatives that help people flourish.

A country that meets its emission reduction targets.

A country that holds on to its ethos of fairness, including to the generations that follow ours. A country that fosters social mobility, and that encourages government, businesses and communities to work together.

I want New Zealanders who can’t support themselves to know they will always be looked after.

For everyone else, taking personal responsibility, and being proud of it, should be part of what it means to be a New Zealander.

That point was missed by several commentators. There is a difference between people who are unable to support themselves and those who are unwilling to support themselves. The former will always need support, the latter might need temporary support but have the responsibility to support themselves.

Don’t we all want to live in a New Zealand that embraces diversity and multi-culturalism, recognises the Treaty, acknowledges Auckland as the biggest Pasifika city in the world, welcomes needed migrants, but that first and foremost serves the common cause of all New Zealanders.

A country that emphasizes what unites us, instead of what divides us. A country that says absolutely, explicitly, that there is one standard of democracy, equal voting rights and no co-governance of public services.

That’s the New Zealand I want to live in.

Under Labour

However, Labour’s view is for a dependent society where big government squeezes out business and community initiatives.

Labour MPs wouldn’t have a clue how it feels to be responsible for a business whose employees’ jobs depend on that business succeeding.

I know that feeling. I’ve borne that sense of responsibility.

And I say to the Government, let businesses compete.

Stop piling on extra costs, like Fair Pay Agreements dreamed up to appease Labour’s union backers.

Make New Zealand open to the world, engaged and confident in its ability to find solutions.

New Zealanders don’t need the Government to tell them to be kind.

We need the Government to tell us when we’ll get an appointment at the hospital.

We need the Government to keep us safe from gangs and street violence.

We need the Government to get kids back to school.

Being in government isn’t about telling people that you care.

Saying you care, while taking no meaningful action, is empty.

Caring means identifying the problem, devising a solution and getting things done.

That’s what a National Government that I lead, will do.

And it’s what a Labour Government led by Jacinda Ardern, demonstrably cannot do.

Labour has shown time after time that it cannot deliver the things New Zealanders want and need.

From hospital waiting lists to being able to afford a first home. From parents desperate to get mental health support for their kids, to an increasing number of people living in cars and the thirteen hundred more children living in poverty since Labour came to office – the very things that Jacinda Ardern campaigned on are all worse.

Instead of devising solutions, Labour announces working groups.

Maybe they report back. Maybe they don’t. The general sense of Labour being overwhelmed by the burden of office, does not change.

Instead of solving problems, ministers put Band Aids on top of Band Aids.

The Government made up the cost-of-living payment to cover its own mismanagement of the economy which has seen inflation overtake wage growth every quarter for the past two years.

And then they so mismanaged delivery of the payment, that your taxes are being given to investment bankers in London, French backpackers, and dead people.

Labour cannot deliver anything.

They conflate spending more with doing more, when those are two very different things.

Labour doesn’t understand the difference between the quantity of spending and the quality.

Since Labour came into office, 50,000 more people are dependent on the Jobseeker benefit than when National was in office five years ago. It’s a Government failure that I’m going to talk more about in a minute.

That would be bad enough at any time, it’s inexplicable when so many employers are desperate for staff.

Since Labour came into office, there are four times as many people living in cars, four times as many on the state house waiting list, and 4,000 kids in motels – at a cost of a million dollars a day.

The Government is spending $5 billion more a year on education, but now only 46 per cent of our children are attending school regularly.

These are economic and social failures under Jacinda Ardern’s watch, yet she never holds herself or her ministers accountable for them.

It’s shameful.

It’s not only shameful it comes witha very high cost that we will be paying for years, possibly decades.

Government Spending

A massive increase in government borrowing and spending over the last few years has overheated the economy and super-charged the cost of living crisis.

This year, the Government will spend $51 billion more than National did only five years ago.

That equates to about $25,000 per household of additional new spending this year alone.

This year’s Budget included by far the most new spending of any Budget in New Zealand’s history, and it was delivered when the economy was already overheated and inflation was rising.

Grant Robertson is addicted to spending. He was overspending long before anyone had even heard of Covid. He has missed every new spending limit he has set for himself over five Budgets.

So, it’s not surprising that, as Nicola said yesterday, to pay for all this spending during Covid, New Zealand has borrowed more than any OECD country, apart from the United States.

You couldn’t run a household or business like this, and you shouldn’t run a country like it either.

None of those doing this spending have run a business and their reckless spending is a result of that.

If you think of the economy like a car, then the Government and Reserve Bank have been squashed together in the driver’s seat, pushing the accelerator flat to the floor. Now, like some terrified passenger realising the car’s going too fast, the Bank’s pressing down hard on the brake. The car’s got the wobbles and there’s a very strong likelihood it’s going to crash.

The impact of this hair-raising mismanagement of the economy is that homeowners, some who bought during the record house prices reached under Labour, are lying awake at night fearing that the next interest rate rise will be the one that forces them to sell up, likely at a huge loss.

Worst of all, for all this government spending, nothing is being achieved.

Economic Management

It can be different. I know it can.

The last National government came into office in 2008 inheriting a set of Treasury forecasts showing deficits stretching out for a decade.

In fact, every incoming National Government since 1960 has inherited an economic mess from Labour. In 1975. In 1990. In 2008.

We certainly know what to expect in 2023.

But the last National government got the country’s books back in order very quickly.
Its Ministers managed public spending with the same care that people manage their own household’s budget.

And did it by reducing backroom waste without cutting frontline services.

The contrast between National and Labour’s approach to economic management could not be starker.

National knows how to turn things around.

We have a five-point plan to beat inflation, and another five-point plan to make New Zealand wealthier so Kiwis don’t have to work for an hour to earn what an Australian earns in 45 minutes. National’s plans will be implemented by a capable administration that holds itself accountable.

National will not only lift New Zealand’s economic performance, it will restore New Zealand’s confidence too.

Bureaucracies & Centralisation

Labour believes in an over-bearing State that thinks people need to be told what to do and how to do it. They believe in centralisation and control.

Just look at the mega-mergers of our polytechs, health system and Three Waters. It’s always the same story. Labour thinks that Wellington knows best, and better than the rest of New Zealand. They’ve spent more money, hired 14,000 more bureaucrats, and got worse results.

Only Labour could spend so much to achieve so little.

I reject that approach.

National believes those closest to the problems should be closest to the answers. That’s why we back community-led solutions. For example, the Covid vaccine roll-out showed that bureaucrats in Wellington don’t always know best how to reach people. Just ask the Maōri organisations who had to take the Government to court so they could get people vaccinated.

National also believes in personal responsibility. We back Kiwis to make the best decisions for themselves, their families and whānau.

Welfare

I want to come back to welfare because New Zealand is rightly proud of its history of supporting people through adversity and a government I lead will build on that legacy.

In fact, we will do more, using the social investment model that Sir Bill English introduced. It uses long-term data to work out where and when targeted actions should occur to change the course of a person’s life – and taxpayers’ liability – for the better.

That is so much more effective than this government’s spray and walk away approach.

National wants all New Zealanders to be able to pursue their aspirations. A good education, followed by a job, is the best and usually the only long-term path to achieving this.

When it comes to welfare, every New Zealand government, Labour or National, will always support those who permanently cannot work and those who are temporarily unable to work.

Making the point again that too many commentators have missed. national agrees with the need for support for people who can never work and those who are temporarily unable to work.

But when it comes to those who can work, Labour and National’s approaches differ.

Having a job in early adulthood sets you up for success throughout your working life. Conversely, if you’re on a benefit before you turn 20, across your lifetime you’re likely to spend 12 years on welfare.

I know people are worried about this. I was talking to a mum in Wellington whose son has been absent from school for so long that he’s been unenrolled, and now he’s going to go on the benefit and she’s worried sick about what his future will look like.

She’s right to be worried.

Welfare dependency pushes people further away from the rungs of social mobility. It locks them out of the opportunities, sense of purpose and social connections that jobs provide.

Benefit dependency not only harms the person trapped on a benefit, but it also can harm the children who grow up in benefit-dependent households. And under Labour, there are more of them. There are now one in five children in New Zealand growing up in a household that depends on welfare. One In Five.

That comes at a high social and financial cost.

As a nation, we all bear the costs when welfare becomes not a safety net to catch people if they fall, but a drag net that pulls the vulnerable in.

I will not be a Prime Minister who allows young people’s lives to be going to waste when there is something more that could be done to propel them along a more fulfilling life path.

I will not be a Prime Minister who thinks it’s okay that the numbers of young people who are able to work, but who instead are on a Jobseeker benefit, is growing during a period of almost full employment.

I will not be a Prime Minister who thinks that work is punishment and that it’s kinder to people to prioritise their entitlement to a benefit over their responsibility to work if they can.

Right now, with businesses crying out for workers, there are 50,000 more New Zealanders on a Jobseeker benefit than there were under National.

As you know, their benefits come from the taxes paid by other New Zealanders who would gratefully have kept that money, if they hadn’t had to pay it in tax.

Every measure of dependency on the Jobseeker benefit has increased under Labour.
Disturbingly, 34,000 under-25 year olds are on it – a 49 per cent increase under Labour’s watch.

Worse still, the number of young people who’ve been receiving the Jobseeker benefit for a year or longer has almost doubled.

That’s right. The number of under 25s who’ve been on the Jobseeker benefit for more than 12 months has just about doubled – in a time of acute labour shortages.

This doesn’t make sense to anyone.

It’s not a sign of a Government that cares. It’s a sign that this Government talks itself up but doesn’t know how to deliver. It’s a sign that this Government has no ambition for the people who most need help. And it’s a sign the Government is abandoning young New Zealanders.

But National cares. National cares deeply. A Government I lead will do more to steer young people away from a life of isolation and dependence on welfare, and towards a life of independence and participation through work.

National thinks that if you’re young and you can work, you should. And if you can’t find a job, you need encouragement to keep taking active steps till you get one.

Some young people have barriers to employment like, say, not having a driver’s licence, or having an addiction.

Whether they are simple or complex, the earlier problems are identified and tackled, the sooner they can be addressed.

What we’ll do

So, today I’m announcing a new approach to getting young people at risk of long-term welfare dependency into work.

The increasing numbers of young people on welfare shows that the Ministry of Social Development is not giving them priority.

A National Government will not keep funding failure by government departments. If government departments can’t deliver, we’ll find someone else who can. So, in this case, we will bring community providers into the mix, redirecting some funding from the Ministry of Social Development, and getting community providers to do the job instead.

We’ll contract them to provide under 25 year olds, who’ve been on a benefit for three months or more, with a dedicated job coach to help them get into work.

Young jobseekers will get more support, with a proper assessment of their barriers, and an individual job plan to address those barriers, and find a job.

If we don’t do that, they’ll be on and off welfare for years.

A Government I lead won’t waste human potential and we won’t give up on people who could and should be contributing.

Currently people are not, as standard practice, required to have a plan to obtain employment until they’ve spent 12 months on a benefit. That is far too late.

And you don’t have to have a case manager, though you can call an 0800 number if you want one. That is far too casual.

Under a National Government, if you’re young and on the Jobseeker benefit for longer than three months, whether or not you ask for it, you’ll be getting help.

The very clear expectation is that your responsibility is to find a job and become independent. I know that there are many parents, just like that mother in Wellington, who don’t want welfare to be the easy option for their kids that it is today.

Unfortunately, the course for many young people is that they find a job, work for only days or weeks before quitting or failing, and going back on the benefit.

So National will offer a $1,000 bonus to a person who is under 25, has been on the benefit for 12 months or longer, and who then starts work and stays off the benefit for the next 12 consecutive months. In other words, they have successfully broken their welfare dependency.

On the other hand, those who blatantly do not follow their agreed plan – meaning they don’t turn up for courses, don’t apply for jobs or don’t engage with their jobs coach – will face sanctions.

Under Labour, the use of sanctions has fallen dramatically, so perhaps it’s no surprise there’s been a big increase in the numbers on a Jobseeker benefit, and in how long they stay on it.
If Labour thinks it’s being kind to set young people up for a lifetime of dependency, even when there are jobs they could be doing, National doesn’t.

National’s approach will be about people’s potential to contribute, not just their entitlements. That’s what a society built on rights and responsibilities is all about.

Any changes need to be fair to jobseekers, and fair to taxpayers. I believe this policy has that balance right.

In summary, I have messages for three groups of people.

First, to young people trying to find a job: That is a hard place to be and, if there was a National Government, you’d get more support and encouragement from your own job coach.

Second, to young people who don’t want to work: You might have a free ride under Labour, but under National, it ends.

Third, to taxpayers: National is on your side.

Fellow National Party members, this is a great country and all of us are so, so lucky to live here.

But under Labour, New Zealanders can see and sense that we’re heading in the wrong direction. Today, we feel insecure about things we once assumed were solid. Things we’ve taken for granted now seem uncertain.

I sense it. I see it. And that’s why I came to Parliament. What I’ve seen in the short time I’ve been in politics only motivates me more to win the next election so that a National Government can take New Zealand forward.

The election is going to be incredibly tight. Labour knows we’re back and they’re under threat. They’re trying to spin, deflect and distract from their own inability to deliver.
New Zealand needs a turnaround. And a National Government I lead will deliver it.

Only National can provide the hope that things can be different. Only National can deliver the prosperity New Zealand deserves. Only National can build the strong economy New Zealand needs.

National Party members, my enduring promise to you all is that, under my leadership, National will be the government that New Zealand needs, and National will take New Zealand forward.

Thank you all – let’s get to work. Let’s go and make it happen!

The all carrot-no-stick approach to welfare that Labour has adopted has had the inevitable result of increasing welfare dependence.

National’s plan has plenty of carrot to help young people get into work and stay there.

It also has some stick to apply to those who could work but won’t.

National accepts the government has a responsibility to help people through welfare but it also accepts that those who can work have a responsibility to do so and that there must be consequences for those who can but won’t.

This is good policy and also good politics.

After all how could anyone with both a wise head and good heart think this government’s policy of encouraging welfare dependency in young people who could work if given some help is the right thing to do?


Rural round-up

25/07/2022

Apple and kiwifruit growers tell thousands on jobseeker support during harvest: ‘we want workers’ – Gianina Schwanecke:

During peak harvest while apple growers across Hawke’s Bay were crying out for workers, there were up to 4000 people of working age on unemployment benefits in the region.

As the kiwifruit vines continued to ripen and the next harvest event rolled round a few weeks later, there were another 3000 across Bay of Plenty.

Ministry of Social Development figures detailthe number of working age people in Hawke’s Bay and Western Bay of Plenty on the Jobseeker Support Work Ready scheme between January 15 and May 15.

It found there were 4113 people on the scheme in Hawke’s Bay in January, dropping to 3684 by May. In Bay of Plenty, there were 3315 in January, dropping to 3177 by May. . . 

Fonterra”s McBride says changes to capital structure will ‘level the playing field’ – Tina Morrison:

Fonterra chairperson Peter McBride says relaxing requirements for farmers to hold shares in the co-operative would level the playing field with rival milk processors and increase competition.

The country’s largest dairy company wants to adopt a more flexible shareholding structure, allowing farmers to hold fewer shares and widening the pool to include sharemilkers, contract milkers and farm lessors as associated shareholders.

Its farmer suppliers voted in favour of the proposal in December last year, and the company is now waiting for the Government to approve the changes under the Dairy Industry Restructuring Act which enabled the creation of the dairy giant in 2001.

Fonterra is re-shaping its business as a period of rapid expansion in the country’s dairy herd comes to an end as dairy farming faces increased regulation to reduce its environmental impact. . . 

Perception of wool changing amongst millennial consumers – research – The Country:

A three-year research study into the perceptions of wool has found efforts to build the industry’s sustainability credentials are transforming how millennial consumers perceive the fibre.

Industry experts say the perceptual change is removing significant barriers to the growth of the domestic and export wool markets.

The nationwide Bremworth study, which has tracked changes in attitudes over the past three years, also shows the perception of wool carpet as having a higher cost – when compared to synthetic alternatives – is becoming less of a barrier for most consumers.

While wool was once ubiquitous on the floors of Kiwi homes, over the past two decades synthetic flooring had become dominant in the market, chief executive of Bremworth Greg Smith said. . .

Forward thinking farmer ‘walking the talk’, embracing change – Shawn McAvinue:

The only thing certain in life is change and Southland farmer Kevin Hall wants to be part of it. Shawn McAvinue visits a field day to see how the Ballance Farm Environment Awards regional winner is continuing to  keep his dairy grazing and  beef-fattening business Hollyvale Farms sustainable.

Be part of the change.

In his closing speech on a field day on his farm last week, 2022 Southland Ballance Farm Environment Awards winner Kevin Hall acknowledged the challenges ahead for farmers.

Farming was a “long-term career” requiring constant change to remain sustainable. . . 

Business management award for Mid-Canterbury farmer :

Mid-Canterbury farm manager Darryl Oldham has taken out the 2022 Rabobank Management Project Award, a business management prize for up-and-coming farmers.

Selected from a group of New Zealand’s most progressive farmers – graduates of the 2021 Rabobank Farm Managers Program (FMP) – Oldham was recognised for his business management project, which highlighted how he had utilised the lessons from the program in his role as farm manager on the 200ha farming operation he runs in partnership with his wife Anna, and parents Peter and Gael.

The Oldhams’ farming partnership is located in Westerfield near Ashburton. As the farm manager, Darryl is involved in all the day-to-day aspects of running the business which grows cereals, small seeds, peas, maize for silage, and fodder crops for finishing lambs.

Oldham says his management project assessed the viability of converting all or part of the farming operation to sheep milking. . . 

Life as a hobby farmer is not all I imagined in the winter of 2022 – Alison Mau:

My West Country grandad would have called it “letty weather” – rain so persistent you may as well just stay inside. Here on the hobby farm, I call it rainpocalypse; relentless, pitiless, unceasing rain that’s almost broken me this week.

I was once a pluviophile​. When I lived in the paved suburban world, there was nothing cosier than that rhythmic patter on the roof at bedtime. Rain was something you wanted for the roses (especially when the sprinkler was Council-banned) but didn’t otherwise think that much about.

I roll my eyes at that person, now. Last year, I moved to the sticks – one of those “Covid evacuees” who made a whole new and different life, albeit within a reasonable commute. Living on my own land has been my dream since I was six years old and we don’t often get to live our life-long dream, do we? And if not in the middle of a global pandemic, then when?

The dream’s been pretty sweet so far. The view is captivating, the community’s lovely, I bought a coffee machine. I rarely sit down during daylight hours. If I owned anything like a fit-bit, my step count would be off the charts. . . 


Award for most incompetent Minister goes to . . .

07/04/2022

Who is the government’s most incompetent Minister? There’s plenty to choose from.

Transport Minister Michael Woods is a contender for the $50 million spent on the Auckland bike bridge to nowhere and for continuing to work on the far too expensive light rail project:

While New Zealanders are in a cost of living crisis with record inflation, it is unjustifiable and irresponsible for the Government to steam ahead with their plans to build their light rail vanity project, National’s Transport spokesperson Simeon Brown says.

“Documents released by Treasury today show Michael Wood’s commitment to light rail could explode to an eye watering $29.2 billion – nearly double the cost of what was announced in January, which was already a staggering amount of money at almost $15 billion.

“Treasury’s advice was scathing of the project, saying the Government should not pick a preferred option for light rail until further analysis could be undertaken – advice the Government has clearly ignored.

“Labour’s commitment to this vanity project will cost taxpayers a whopping $100 million before the next election, with no guarantee of spades being in the ground.

“The cost for this project is entirely unjustifiable and the Government needs to accept that this project is simply not worth it. Especially when New Zealanders are dealing with a cost of living crisis, which will only get worse if the Government doesn’t rein in its wasteful spending.

Kris Faafoi is a contender for the way Immigration treated families of essential workers stuck overseas and for failing to fast track residency for essential workers already here.

Immigration policies are also likely to lead to job losses in the tertiary sector:

The Government urgently needs to get international students into the country to prevent looming job losses in the tertiary sector, National’s Tertiary Education spokesperson Penny Simmonds says.

“Universities and polytechnics are currently considering staff redundancies as a way of coping with declining enrolments this year.

“Labour is allowing 5000 international students into the country next month – but universities and polytechnics can only access 2150 students, or 43 per cent, with the remainder of students heading to high schools, Private Training Establishments and English language schools.

“This will do little to ease the urgent staffing issues facing the sector.

“Given that student visas are currently taking Immigration New Zealand three months to process, students applying in April won’t be processed in time for semester two, putting further stress on our valuable tertiary teaching staff.

On top of that, international research now shows New Zealand is falling out of favour with international students, being ranked last among the major English-speaking education destinations in a survey of more than 10,000 people from 93 countries.

“And the effects are obvious – according to the Ministry of Education in 2019, New Zealand had about 22,000 fulltime international students paying total tuition fees of $562 million. The figures for 2021 and 2022 are estimated to be 70 per cent of that 2019 figure.

“The Government must explain what the rational is for limiting international student numbers, our fourth biggest export earner, when the border is reopening.

“It is appalling that this Government has allowed international education in this country to decline to this level. We must act urgently to prevent further deterioration in this sector and that means not restricting international student numbers coming here.” . .

He’s also fallen short as Justice Minister:

Victims of crime missed out on support they were entitled to because Justice Minister Kris Faafoi failed to sign off the criteria for a $3 million victim support fund for more than five months after the fund was announced, National’s Justice spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.

“Earlier this month it was revealed that zero victims were supported by the fund announced in Budget 2021, despite applications being open since July 2021.

“Labour was content to let Victim Support take the blame for this lack of delivery, but it turns out Minister Faafoi didn’t bother to sign off the eligibility criteria until November 2021 – more than five months after the fund was announced and four months after applications opened.

Rather than letting Victim Support take the rap, Minister Faafoi should have fessed up that his incompetence is the real reason why victims are missing out on support the Government promised them.

“Governments spend months finalising the Budget every year so he would have known well in advance that this fund would be open for applications from July. What is his excuse for doing nothing for over five months to ensure victims could access the support? 

“Even worse, the Police Minister has conceded agencies who are meant to advise victims of support they are entitled to were not provided information about the fund until February 2022. . .

That Police Minister Potu Williams is another contender for the silence when police were facing the protesters at parliament, silence over repeated examples of policing by consent that let gangs disregard lockdown rules and terrorise the law abiding while doing it; and her refusal to allow National police spokesman Mark Mitchell to meet the Commissioner or district commanders:

. . . He said: “I don’t think she’s [Williams is] very good at her job and I don’t think she’s across her portfolio, but for her now to use her political power and position in government to start blocking me from meetings – that’s Third World stuff … she may as well go and join the Cabinet in Somalia.” . . 

Trumping that is her denial of an increase in gang violence:

. . .Mitchell asked Williams in Parliament on Wednesday if gang violence had increased or decreased under her watch, to which she replied: “I reject the premise of that question.”  . . .

And this:

Then there’s waste in health with expired vaccines:

Thousands of meningococcal vaccines have been left to expire instead of being given to those most at risk, National’s Health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti says.

“It has been revealed that 17,122 meningococcal vaccines have expired in the last two years, at a cost of $1.6 million, and who knows how many lives.

“The Ministry of Health has a strict eligibility criteria for the meningococcal vaccine, but these vaccines that were left unused could have been made available to those most at risk, to help protect them from this deathly disease.

“The lost opportunity to protect people is a tragedy and that $1.6 million that ended up being wasted could have been spent on other areas of health that desperately need it.

“Last week a meningitis petition was presented to Parliament, pleading to the Government to fund vaccines against the disease. This news will be a cold comfort to those petition supporters.

“This is becoming a concerning pattern of behaviour from Health Minister Andrew Little who has already wasted $8 million worth of measles vaccines in a botched catch-up campaign, and now he can add this one to the growing list.

“Minister Little needs to commit to making expiring meningococcal vaccines available to primary care for use inside and outside of the strict criteria to avoid a tragedy like this happening again.” . .

And the botched measles programme costing $1900 per person:

The botched $20 million measles vaccine catch-up programme is worse than it appears, National’s Health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti says.

“The other week it was revealed that $8 million of measles vaccines were left unused and had expired.

“However, information shows that only 11,206 people of the targeted 300,000 received the vaccine – representing a cost of nearly $1900 per person and reaching only 3 per cent of the targeted population.

“It was also revealed that Labour spent $1.8 million on public relations to frame a campaign ‘with a particular focus on Māori and Pacific people’, yet only 1181 Māori received the vaccine – a PR cost of $1,500 per person.

“Worse still, to date the programme costs show that $2.2 million has been spent on public relations while only $1.61 million was spent on actually delivering the vaccine to Māori.

“Andrew Little seems more interested in PR and spin than actually delivering measles vaccinations to Māori.

“The list of health failures is mounting under Andrew Little’s watch. He failed to deliver any extra ICU beds during a global pandemic, has completely missed every health target set and now he can add a botched measles campaign to his growing list.”

The government put so much effort, and spent so much money, justifying locking us down and persuading us to get vaccinated so that the health system wasn’t over whelmed yet did little or nothing to retain existing staff and recruit more.

That’s left  hospitals understaffed and health professionals overworked :

Their employers have warned them not to speak out but nurses say they won’t be silenced. Overworked and understaffed, they’ve told Sunday that they’ve had enough of a health system under real pressure.

The Omicron surge hasn’t helped, but there was a serious nursing shortage long before Covid struck, and now burnout and resignations are high while the pandemic shut off the supply of overseas nurses.

Nurses still on the job worry patient safety may suffer because they are so short-staffed.

Is the government listening?

No it’s not. Instead it’s going ahead with the complete restructure of the health system that will do nothing to improve pay and conditions for health professionals and nothing to improve services, and outcomes, for patients.

That would be bad enough at the best of times. In the middle of a pandemic it’s a complete waste of scarce funds and people’s focus.

While on health and the pandemic lets not forget the shortage of PPE, the delay in securing vaccines which left the rollout starting late and the RATs debacle.

Then there’s paying more and getting less in several areas.

Carmel Sepuloni has overseen an increase in MSD staff and deterioration in performance:

Our welfare system is less responsive than ever as phone wait times for the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) surge, National’s Social Development and Employment spokesperson Louise Upston says.

“Whether it’s superannuitants, students, people out of work, or a family who needs help to cope with soaring living costs, New Zealander’s deserve timely answers from the department responsible of administering the welfare system.

“Since 2017, the number of MSD staff answering calls has increased from 650 to 1220 people, yet the average wait time has also increased from 4 to 18 minutes, even reaching close to 40 minutes some weeks this year.

“That’s an 88 per cent increase in staff numbers, a large deterioration in performance and no better outcomes for Kiwis.  

“Appallingly, some people have waited longer than three hours while others have reported it took weeks to receive a call back.

“The cost of living crisis has increased demand for hardship grants and there is almost an extra 50,000 people on the unemployment benefit, which means preparations should have been made to cope with more inquiries.

“New Zealander’s deserve a better service given the substantial taxpayer dollars poured into MSD. Simply increasing staff numbers is not going to cut it.

“Minister Sepuloni needs to hold MSD accountable for their plummeting performance and ensures it fulfils its core responsibility to answer New Zealander’s questions and help people access their entitlements.”

Corrections is spending more money on prisoners with worse outcomes:

Taxpayers are spending more money on prisoners, yet violent crime continues to go up, National’s Corrections spokesperson Simon O’Connor says.

“New Zealand taxpayers are now spending $151,000 per prisoner, per year – an increase of over $30,000 per prisoner from 2018/19.

“Overall, there has been an increase of $139 million poured into the Corrections system over the period between 2018/19 and 2020/21, despite fewer prisoners.

“At the same time, there has been a steep decline in the number of prisoners accessing rehabilitation services. Prisoners accessing alcohol and drug programmes alone has dropped from 6311 in 2015/16 to 1065 in 2019/20 – a decrease greater than the drop in prisoner numbers.

“More money is being spent, but we’re getting worse outcomes.

“Rehabilitation is a key way for prisoners to turn their lives around, but in 2019/20 the number of prisoners taking part in rehabilitation programmes plummeted to 2399, from 5845 in 2015/16.

“It can hardly be a surprise then that violent crime is up 21 per cent since 2017, as reported by the Salvation Army, and that we have one of the highest recidivism rates in the OECD.

“This is typical for a Government who are experts at spending taxpayer money with no expectation of results.

“On top of this, Labour is taking soft-on-crime approach which is clearly not working.

“Without effective rehabilitation, re-imprisonment rates and violence will only keep climbing.”

And more is being spent on mental health for no positive results:

The mental health monitoring report out today shows that the Government’s $1.9 billion investment in mental health has delivered no benefit to Kiwis, National’s Mental Health spokesperson Matt Doocey says.

“This is emblematic of a Government that is all spin and no delivery. Labour’s only measure of success is how much it spends on things. But it needs to be about the outcomes that we achieve for New Zealanders.

“The report released today by the Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission reinforces what many mental health groups and services have been telling me for some time – that they’re not seeing any of the money promised for mental health and can’t point to where it’s gone.

“They have been raising these concerns with the Government for months about staff shortages and growing waiting lists, but have not received a response.

“The findings in the report also show that our specialist services are facing increased demand since the beginning of the pandemic, especially from younger people seeking mental health support.

“The Government says it has invested in the sector, yet services are harder to access. They must explain where the money has gone and why it hasn’t made a difference to improving people’s mental health.

“Making announcements with good intentions isn’t going to solve the growing mental health problems that New Zealand is facing, but strong leadership and a well-managed plan to execute change will. We need targeted spending that delivers outcomes for Kiwis.”

Then there are virtue signalling environmental policies that are nothing more than taxes that increase costs but do nothing at all for the environment:

The Government’s car tax comes into force today, piling on yet another cost for Kiwis facing a cost of living crisis, National’s Transport spokesperson Simeon Brown says.

“Hardworking Kiwis will be hoping that this is just an April Fool’s joke, but sadly they will still have to live with Labour’s new car tax after today.        

“The so-called ‘Clean Car Discount’ gives a rebate for expensive electric vehicles while imposing fees of thousands of dollars on many other vehicles. For example, buyers of a Toyota Hilux* will face a $5175 tax when they first register the vehicle.  

“This will have a negative impact on our farmers and tradies who need utes to do their jobs and contribute to our economic recovery.   

“The Government is penalising farmers and tradies for their choice of vehicle despite there being no viable electric ute available. Even Toyota had to correct the Prime Minister last year that it has no plans to bring an electric ute to New Zealand within the next two years.

“LDV will have an electric alternative, the EV-T60, coming from China later this year. But it is two-wheel drive and can only haul a max of 1,000 kgs for 162km. This is not enough to meet farmers’ needs, who need strength and reliability.

“While the Government gives with one hand, by temporarily reducing fuel taxes, it takes with the other by imposing the Auckland regional fuel tax, a car tax, and is now proposing a biofuels mandate which will further increase the cost of fuel. 

“All of these policies drive up the cost of living for motorists struggling to get by under rapidly rising inflation and fuel prices.

An environmental and transport failure is the train from Hamilton to Auckland:

The Te Huia train today marks its first birthday with news that it has spent more time off the tracks than on them, National’s Transport spokesperson Simeon Brown says.

“There is not a lot to celebrate about this service which has failed from day one.

“Not only has the train spent more time off the tracks than on them over the past 12 months, taxpayers have poured $98 million into a service which very few people use and which takes much longer than driving between Hamilton and Auckland.

“Furthermore, research produced by the Waikato Chamber of Commerce shows that based on current passenger numbers the train actually emits more carbon emissions than someone who drives their petrol or diesel vehicle between these two cities.

“Patronage is significantly lower than what it was when the service started despite repeated calls to ‘build it and people will come’.

“This painfully slow train is simply not fit for purpose. It doesn’t achieve the outcomes that the Government claimed it would one year ago.

“The Transport Minister is so completely focussed on his legacy projects, he is prepared to waste almost $100 million of taxpayer dollars on a train that isn’t fit for purpose and hardly anyone wants to use.

“Quite frankly this is an irresponsible use of taxpayers’ money which would be better spent on extending the Waikato Expressway from Cambridge to Piarere.”  

If all this isn’t bad enough, there’s the incompetence with funding the Strategic Tourism Asset Protection Programme (STAPP) 

The Auditor General’s Report on the Strategic Tourism Asset Protection Programme (STAPP) confirmed what many businesses have been saying – that this Labour Government has been biased and unfair, National’s Tourism spokesperson Todd McClay says.

“Every tourism business in New Zealand has done it tough over the last two years and this report has shown that this Labour Government favoured some and left others to suffer.

“In May 2020 the Government and former Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis opened a $290M fund for struggling tourism businesses. When applications opened, some businesses were accepted without any evidence that they were in financial difficulty, and didn’t have to go through the same process as other businesses.

“The Government seems to believe that only Queenstown exists when it comes to tourism in New Zealand, when in reality there are tourism operators up and down the country who are suffering just as much.

“In typical Labour fashion, they simply threw money at a problem without having a well-managed plan. Current Tourism Minister Stuart Nash has blamed the uncertainty of Covid-19 for these mistakes, but the reality is they failed to think things through at a time when tourism businesses needed them most.

“New Zealanders deserve to have a Government who are responsible with their spending, but this Labour Government has proven time and time again that they cannot be trusted to make wise or fair spending decisions.

“I am calling on Minister Nash to find those funds that were given out incorrectly, take them back and redistribute them to all Kiwi tourism operators so that they can open up quickly for international tourists.”

Bryce Edwards says the report raises questions of integrity:

Was political favouritism involved in the dishing out of millions of dollars by government ministers to tourism businesses? We can’t know, because the Government didn’t keep sufficient records or have proper processes for the handouts. That’s the obvious question arising from a scathing report released by the Auditor General on Thursday, which has received far too little attention.

The Auditor General’s report investigates a scheme set up by the Government early in the Covid crisis (May 2020), called the Strategic Tourism Assets Protection Programme. The report is one of many that have criticised government procedures during Covid for their lack of integrity. . . 

Harman draws attention to the fact that there have been a number of other reports from the Auditor General’s office that have pinged the Government for poor processes in regard to government departments dealing with private vested interests during Covid – especially the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Social Development.

Of course, one of the most problematic has been the multi-billion-dollar Wage Subsidy Scheme, which was seen to be poorly designed and administered.

There’s a theme building up from these reports – that of crony corporate welfare getting out of hand in recent years. This is one of the blind spots in New Zealand politics and society. Recent governments are prone to giving generous subsidies to business interests, often without any great systems of integrity or best practice. And unfortunately, the public never seems to mind much when it becomes apparent.

It could well be that New Zealand is just too eager to believe the annual Transparency International Corruption Perception Index results that show this country to be the least corrupt nation on earth. In ignoring reports such as this latest from the Auditor General, the Government is undermining that status.

On the subject of Ministerial oversight of money wasted, there’s plenty to choose from :

So much incompetence, it’s hard to choose which is worse but there’s one person who is supposed to be on top of all the portfolios and those presiding over them. That’s Jacinda Ardern.

Would any other recent Prime Minister have tolerated this litany of laxness from Ministers? Bill English, John Key, Helen Clark? No.

There’s a lot more to leadership than announcing announcements and serving word salads no matter how caring they sound.

Ensuring Ministers are up to the jobs they’re supposed to be doing and holding them to account if  and when they fall short is a very important one by which measure of competence this PM falls short.


Social investment was working

08/12/2021

Heather du Plessis Allan is excited about National leader Chris Luxon’s promotion of social investment:

. . .This was originally Bill English’s idea.

And his idea was to invest in kids and families who were clearly going to become problems later on.

You know the ones. I know the ones. The government knows the ones.

Kids who are sending a bunch of warning signs that things are going in the wrong direction.

Let’s say they’re growing up in a statehouse that’s had too many visits from the cops lately, their parents have been on the dole too long, they start showing up as truant on the school list too often,  maybe they get in a bit of trouble with the police themselves as a young one.

Bill English’s idea is that when you see that family is triggering alarms you know that child will end up probably committing crime later on and then in jail and costing the taxpayer a huge amount of money.

So, you break the cycle. You invest in them early, and you invest a lot. Whatever it takes to get their life in order

And it’s a win-win. They have a better more productive life with better opportunities and society aka taxpayers don’t end up with the huge bill for throwing them in jail for years on end. . . 

The policy was working but was shamefully dropped by Labour.

Because rather than spending lots of money on a huge group of people identified through something as genial as their ethnicity, wasting money on people who don’t need it and missing the ones who do, I would like the government to spend the same amount on one child helping them out and giving them a greater chance of it working.

It wasn’t only children who benefitted from this policy. It was also used for teen parents, teaching them to look after themselves and their babies, helping them get qualifications, become work ready and eventually get jobs. It could be used for anyone on a benefit to break the cycle of disfunction and poverty.

Social investment fosters independence. It’s the total opposite of Labour’s policy which encourages benefit dependency and all the high social costs which result from that.


Stats don’t tell full story

10/11/2021

The statistics on unemployment last week were good news but they don’t tell the full story:

There is a lot of falseness about the economy. 

The jobless rate was excellent. But it looks better because we are merely soaking up the people who wanted jobs based on the fact the choice has vanished. The labour market has shrunk, the population is no longer growing, we are paddling in a smaller pool, and the pool we are paddling in is filled with $50 billion worth of printed money.  . .

Lindsay Mitchell shows a fuller story:

Graphs are great tools for getting the big picture. Here I have plotted the unemployment rate against ‘unemployment’ benefits:

The heavy blue line is a combination of unemployment and sickness benefits. In 2013 the two benefits were combined into the single Jobseeker benefit (heavy brown line) but still with two categories – JS Work Ready and JS Health Condition and Disability.

The broken line is the official unemployment rate BUT expressed as a percentage of 18-64 year-olds, not 15+. Thats why in Sept 2021 it’s 4.4% – a point higher than the rate announced yesterday of 3.4%

The vertical lines mark the changes of government. . . 

The number of people unemployed is going down, but the number of people on benefits is increasing.

3/ Covid is largely responsible for the late steep upward trajectory of the heavy brown line BUT is was trending up before March 2020. My last post explained why the line has crossed the unemployment rate line and there is now a large gap between the two.

4/ The covid upturn is very similar to the GFC onset in magnitude. Lockdowns (policy within control of government) caused as much job loss as the global financial crisis (outside of government control).

5/ Another observation some would make is the gap between the unemployment rate and unemployment benefit lines during National’s term is now being corrected by Labour. Labour is more generous with benefits. The gap right now is a reversal of the period 2011-17.

There’s another line.

It’s the very fine line between being generous with benefits and entrenching dependency and all the misery that entails.

The post to which Lindsay refers gives some more statistics:

. . . Back to the Maori stats highlighted in the chart, in Northland, a region with a high Maori population the unemployment rate is 3.9% yet the Jobseeker rate is 10.5 percent.

In the general population the figures are:

Unemployment rate     3.4% 

Jobseeker rate     6.1%

 All benefit-dependent rate   11.3% . . .

The trouble is that life on a benefit isn’t necessarily miserable for everyone.

Friends in a small business employed someone for 20 hours a week. They offered her more work but she turned it down.

She has six children and is getting around $1,000 on a benefit and said she didn’t want or need to work longer hours.


Will beneficiaries be required to be vaccinated?

27/10/2021

The government is changing the law to enable employers in businesses where vaccine passports are mandatory to require staff to be vaccinated against Covid-19.

That will give them the ability to sack those who won’t – as opposed to can’t – be vaccinated.

This begs the question – will beneficiaries be required to be vaccinated too?

People on job seeker benefits are required to be work-ready.

People working in jobs which requires them to work in close contact with other people will need to be vaccinated.

The logical extension of that is that being vaccinated will be a prerequisite for many job seekers.

Yesterday’s announcement applies to work places where customers are required to be vaccinated but they aren’t the only places where people have to work in close contact with others.

One sector not mentioned in yesterday’s announcement is farming. It wouldn’t be hard for the unvaccinated to keep their distance from others outside, but it would be difficult, if not impossible, in milking and shearing sheds.

There is a shortage of workers in dairying and shearing, even in areas where there are a lot of unemployed people who could do the work.

If beneficiaries aren’t going to have to be vaccinated it will give some an excuse for not accepting  lots of jobs, including on dairy farms and in shearing gangs, when it’s available.

I understand why the government isn’t suggesting people who lose their jobs because they won’t be vaccinated can’t get a benefit, or that people already on a benefit won’t be required to get vaccinated so they are eligible for more jobs.

But it has already made it much easier for people to stay on benefits longer, in spite of the economic and social harm that comes from that, and this will make it even easier.


Why comply?

02/06/2021

No beneficiary has been sanctioned for not meeting social obligations:

No one has ever had their benefit cut for failing to have their children in school or early education, or enrolled with a doctor.

That is despite the requirement for parents who are on the benefit to meet a number of so-called social obligations to keep getting their payments.

Ministry of Social Development (MSD) said checking people’s compliance had become a “burdensome administrative process” – and it cannot offer people any meaningful help if they cannot comply. 

How hard is it to have children in school or preschool and to enrol with a doctor?

These aren’t requirements for the sake of requirements, they’re there for the welfare of the children for whom beneficiaries are being paid to care.

This isn’t the only failure to ensure compliance from MSD.

No checks are made on people claiming relocation grants to work in horticulture:

It’s touted as a way to get beneficiaries into jobs, but 1 NEWS can reveal no checks are made to see if those who move for a job, stay in the role.

This has led to accusations of workers moving just to get paid $5,000 and quitting only weeks after.

Tasman apple grower, Simon Easton, told 1 NEWS he had a few workers leave after they got paid the relocation subsidy.

“[It was] pretty catastrophic because they left and we could not employ anyone else,” he said. . .

What would happen if we didn’t comply with obligations to pay tax, get building and resource consents or obey road rules?

Would IRD, councils and police do nothing?

No, but when there’s no attempt to check beneficiaries meet the very basic requirements asked of them, why would they bother to comply?


How much do they want to pay?

23/02/2021

More than two thirds of New Zealanders want the government to increase income support for beneficiaries:

Polling out today shows seven out of ten (69%) of New Zealanders agree “the Government should increase income support for those on low incomes and not in paid work”.

The UMR poll was commissioned by a super-group of NGOs who are urging the government to include increases to income support in this year’s budget, in order to release families from the severe constraints of poverty.

The group includes unions, social service NGOs, kaupapa Māori groups, churches, child poverty experts and other organisations across Aotearoa. . . 

No doubt the polling company didn’t ask those polled how the government would pay for this and how much more they would be prepared to pay to enable it to happen.

The pollsters almost certainly didn’t remind those polled how much the government is borrowing to counter the impact of Covid-19 and that every dollar borrowed has to be repaid with interest.

They wouldn’t have asked those surveyed about the root cause of poverty and what they thought the government should do about that either.

There is no doubt that poverty is worsening with the subsequent increase in poorer health and social outcomes but solving the problem isn’t as simple as increasing benefits.

Reducing the burden of government on businesses would help, and it could start with replacing an existing statutory holiday with Matariki instead of adding a new one that could cost up $448 million.


Ulterior motive to min.wage increase?

04/12/2020

The government isn’t heeding repeated calls to increase benefits – yet.

One reason for that is to maintain a big enough gap between benefits and wages so that people in full time work earn more than beneficiaries.

But one of the government’s priorities is a steeper increase in the minimum wage. Could there be an ulterior motive in that – to enable anincrease in benefits?

That would be another reason to slow the increases. Even if there is no ulterior motive, the New Zealand Initiative warns against them:

Calls to lift the minimum wage will not fix inequality and could end up hurting the most vulnerable – particularly during a recession, according to a new report by the New Zealand Initiative.

The report is a response to a joint paper released last week by the Helen Clark Foundation and the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research which suggested lifting the minimum wage (presently set at $18.90) to a “living wage” of $22.10, among other proposals.

The minimum wage received a boost earlier this year and the Government may lift it even higher during 2021.

But New Zealand Initiative senior fellow Dr David Law says while international evidence on minimum wage increases is complex, it is wishful thinking that it might fix inequality or enhance productivity.

“This country already has one of the highest rates in the OECD. If this rises to a ‘living wage’ of $22.10, that would take it to 82% of the median wage. Only Colombia would have a higher rate than us.

“Such a high minimum wage would put jobs at risk,” Dr Law says.

The joint paper also justified its ideas by downplaying the negative effects on employment.

But Dr Law says international studies do not nest well with New Zealand’s economic realities and where they do, the positive effect on employment or productivity is vanishingly small.

“Even MBIE’s predictions suggest at least 33,500 jobs would go if the minimum wage rate rose to the proposed ‘living wage.’

“While the authors of the joint paper say such a rate would help the most vulnerable, the evidence actually shows the work prospects of the young and low-skilled are hit the hardest by rate increases,” Dr Law says.

The New Zealand Initiative report advises scrapping any plans to further lift the minimum wage and suggests winding back the 2020 increase as well.

You can read the full paper at: MINIMUM WAGES TO THE MAXIMUM: THE RISKS OF LIFTING THE MINIMUM WAGE


Paying more to pay more

10/11/2020

A large group of social agencies and welfare advocates is calling for the government to increase benefits before Christmas.

There is no doubting the difficulties facing beneficiary families.

But that doesn’t change the fact that every dollar the government is spending is borrowed money that has to be repaid.

The signatories of the open letter to the government don’t seem to understand they are asking us all to pay more in repayments and interest to pay more in benefits.

They also ignore the growing disincentive to work when income from a benefit gets closer to income from wages.

And they are seeking a band aid without offering any treatment for the underlying causes of the multiple problems which face many who depend on benefits.

The last National government made a good start in addressing these with its social investment programme, but much of that good work was abandoned or  undone in the last three years.

If these groups really want to help the people for whom they’re advocating, they need to understand the solution to their problems is not as simple as more money.


For the sake of the children

21/07/2020

Lindsay Mitchell points out two contrasting approaches to welfare:

Perhaps the single-most underrated and under-reported issue in New Zealand is the practice of adding children to existing benefits. Oodles is spoken and written about child poverty, particularly by the Prime Minister who appointed herself Minister of Child Poverty Reduction in 2017. But the fact that 6,000 children are added to an existing benefit and a further 3-4,000 are reliant on welfare by their first birthday never rates a mention. The numbers have varied only slightly over the past 30 years and persist at very high levels. One in ten babies goes home from hospital to a benefit- dependent family.

Most of those one in ten babies will be behind most babies who go home to a family where at least one adult is in work from the start.

The links between welfare dependence from birth and poor, if not disastrous outcomes, have now been well-explored by institutions like AUT and Treasury. The latter identified 4 indicators:

1)    a finding of abuse or neglect;
2)    spending most of their lifetime supported by benefits;
3)    having a parent who’d received a community or custodial sentence; and
4)    a mother with no formal qualifications. . . 

The outcomes for those children are much poorer than for children in families not dependent on benefits.

They are more likely to have contact with Youth Justice services, leave school without qualifications, follow their parents onto a benefit, and be jailed. They are also more likely to be Maori.

Is it kind to perpetuate this intergenerational failure?

Is it kind to contribute to these bad outcomes?

Is it kind to foster the causes rather than address them?

Act doesn’t think so.

 They point out that it isn’t acceptable for these families to keep having children when other families wait and sacrifice, and sometimes never have their own or additional children. More to the point, it is entirely unacceptable for children to be carelessly thrown into environments that harm them and rob them of their potential.

ACT’s policy says that if someone already on a benefit adds another child their benefit income will thereafter be managed. Rent and utilities will be paid direct, with the large part of the remainder of their benefit loaded onto an electronic card to be used in specified retail outlets. Work and Income already has the technology to do this. They operate income management for Youth and Young Parent beneficiaries in this fashion.

Under this regime children should be guaranteed a secure roof over their heads instead of the insecure transience resulting from unpaid rents, evictions and homelessness. Their schooling would be less interrupted with increased geographical stability. They should have adequate food in their tummies in and out of term time (not assured under school lunch programmes).  Their  mother may be encouraged to take advantage of the fully- subsidised, highly effective,  long-acting contraceptives now available, ameliorating the overcrowding which is a significant factor in New Zealand’s horribly high rate of rheumatic fever. Perhaps most importantly their parent(s) will actually decide working is a better option if they want agency over their income. There is a risk caregivers will try to supplement their incomes in other undesirable, illegal  ways but no policy is risk free, and this almost certainly already happens to some degree.

Increasingly throwing money at dysfunctional families provides no assurance parents will suddenly become better budgeters, or not simply spend more on harmful behaviours. Gambling and substance abuse don’t just hurt the parent. They hurt the child directly (damage in the womb, physical abuse or neglect under the influence) not to mention indirectly through parental role-modelling that normalizes bad behaviours, especially violence, to their children.

The last National government took an actuarial approach to benefit dependence, worked out the long term cost and began putting more money into preventing benefit dependency. It was working but the current government has undone that good work.

There is a need for a welfare safety net and with the Covid-19 induced recession numbers needing benefits are already increasing but welfare should not be a life sentence.

There are sound financial and social benefits to stopping people going on benefits and getting those on benefits off them as soon as possible.

The current government’s approach could be seen as being kind. It stopped sanctions against people who could work but don’t and women who don’t name the fathers of their babies.

That isn’t kind to the adults and it’s even worse for the children.

The two approaches to child benefit dependence are a world apart. One continues the ‘freedom’ of the adult to use taxpayer’s money as they wish; the other prioritizes the best interests of the child -their right to security, stability and safety – or, as ACT puts it, what the taxpayer thinks they are paying for.

The country cannot go on merely paying lip-service to the idea of ‘breaking the cycle’. Now is not the time for more of the same. More than ever New Zealand cannot afford the social cost and lost potential that occurs monotonously in an easily identifiable portion of every generation.

The choice at the election is stark – a vote for any of the parties currently in government that are perpetuating the cycle of benefit dependency and the poor financial and social outcomes that result  or a vote for a National-Act government that will address the causes and break the cycle.

The truly kind way is to vote for change for the sake of the children.


False kindness is cruel

26/02/2020

Benefits have been indexed to inflation rather than wages for good reason – to ensure there is a big enough gap between the two to make work more attractive than a benefit.

Lindsay Mitchell points out that the previous government understood the danger of this:

 “…it is desirable to create a margin between being dependent on a benefit and being in employment….
The Labour Party isn’t the party that says living on a benefit is a preferred lifestyle. Its position has always been that the benefit system is a safety net for those who are unavoidably unable to participate in employment. From its history, the Labour Party has always been about people in employment.”
Michael Cullen, 2008

This is supposed to be a government of kindness but linking benefit increases to wage rises is false kindness, cruelly disincentivising work and trapping more people in poverty.

The Taxpayers’ Union points out that beneficiaries are getting something denied to the people who pay the taxes that fund the benefits:

The indexation of benefits to wages means that taxpayers are treated less fairly than ever, says the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union.
 
Taxpayers’ Union spokesman Louis Houlbrooke says, “The Government says it’s fair to index benefits to wages because we already do this with superannuation. So about tax brackets? These aren’t indexed to inflation, let alone wages. The result is that each year, taxpayers keep less, while beneficiaries get more.”
 
“Politicians often say we cover the costs of super and benefits by increasing productivity. But under this Government’s policies, increases in productivity will automatically trigger hikes to benefits and super, meaning we can never dig ourselves out of this spending hole.”

 

Mike Hosking also raises the issue of productivity:

Most who got a three per cent wage rise did so because they did something productive. They made more, produced more, worked more – that’s the productive side of the economy. That’s how you incentivise people: there is reward for work

Beneficiaries got the same rise, that’s the non-productive side of the economy. Nothing more was produced, but more was put into it. And that is why the money is gone and we are borrowing.

Economies grow because of productivity, not because of non-productive spending. You need one to fund the other, and one must be stronger than the other. That’s how you move forward, run surpluses, and afford to cover difficult days.

A level of redistribution, the likes of which we are currently experiencing, leads nowhere sound fiscally. It makes us increasingly vulnerable to global shocks, and we are too small to be running that risk.

The spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) is bringing a global shock ever closer, threatening jobs and increasing the likelihood of more people on benefits.

It is neither kind nor sensible to be doing anything that will discourage work and add to the burden placed on taxpayers.

 


What are the parents doing?

21/02/2020

A scheme that will eventually provide lunches in 120 low decile schools has been launched.

School principal Robyn Isaacson said the programme, only recently introduced in Flaxmere, had helped the key aim of raising student achievement.

Isaacson said the programme meant children were able “to open a lunch box, to never actually complain about what’s in it, to know that it is nutritious and is able to fill their pukus so they can learn in the afternoon”. . . 

In his autobiography, *The Good Doctor, Lance O’Sullivan said if children were fed and had any health problems treated at school the chances of them learning and breaking the cycle of poverty were greatly increased.

I can’t argue with that but it begs the question: what are the children’s parents or caregivers doing?

Some will be doing all they can to provide for their children but finding that despite their best efforts the money coming into the household falls short of the costs of providing for their families.

Some will be trying to manage but lack the skills to do so.

And some won’t even be trying.

There is no easy answer to dealing with this but the National-led government was making headway with its social investment initiative. That took some of the money that would be spent on the long term costs for people on benefits and was spending it up front in equipping beneficiaries for life and work.

Not all the people who can’t, or won’t, feed their children will be beneficiaries but they are the ones who get public money to provide for their families. If they can’t, or won’t, look after their children, they ought to be getting whatever is needed to ensure they do.

And if they still don’t or won’t? There’s no easy answer to that question but we must find one, and it must be one that doesn’t put the children at risk.

*The Good Doctor by Lance O’Sullivan, published by Penguin.


Living better lives

07/11/2019

National’s welfare proposals have been condemned as beneficiary bashing by the usual suspects, but the party’s welfare spokeswoman Louise Upston says their aim is to help people live better lives:

. . .When people are in need, it’s important we support them to get back on their feet and give them a hand-up. We believe there should always be a safety net for Kiwis who need it. . . 

A safety net for those in need should not be confused with a hammock for those who could but don’t support themselves.

 At the heart of our policy proposal is the Social Investment approach. The previous National Government designed it, and it transformed lives – using data to identify the best ways we can solve the problems faced by Kiwis. Underpinning it all is the idea that the best interventions are the earliest ones.

This approach targeted spending, often at a greater initial cost but with a much lower long-term cost and it worked.

We know that families are the best form of welfare we have, so in helping families, we’re helping all Kiwis to live better lives.

That’s why National’s committed to investing in the first 1,000 days of a child’s life. We know that not all mums and dads feel prepared for what life as a parent will bring, so we’ve proposed a range of ways we can support young parents.

Whether that’s more home visits for all families in the first six months, or a focus on intensive home visits for vulnerable young mums who are at risk, we want to ensure we’re supporting families as they navigate their first moments with a new baby.

Plunket nurses used to visit all homes with new babies every week at first then gradually reducing the visits unless there was a need for more. There was no stigma attached as because visits were universal.

That’s why we’ve committed to giving all new mums a guaranteed three day stay in a hospital or postnatal facility just after giving birth, and why we want to change parental leave so parents can take it at the same time, for the whole family to help each other out and bond in those early days.

By getting Kiwi kids off to the best possible start, we’re giving New Zealanders the best chance to reach their full potential.

Better starts for babies improve their chances of better lives and provide a foundation for happier fmailies.

We’re looking for solutions that break cycles of poverty and tackle the root causes, not just the symptoms of disadvantage. We want to measure the success of those solutions using targets. Targets work, ensuring clear, focussed goals on positive outcomes for Kiwis.

When we introduced targets for immunisation, rates went up. We introduced targets for the number of people achieving NCEA level 2, and the numbers went up. We know targets are effective.

This Government scrapped targets – but we’ll reintroduce them so that we can help more and more New Zealanders to live better lives.

Targets are about spending taxpayers’ money responsibly – and we believe in spending taxpayers’ money responsibly. We wouldn’t have social welfare at all without the hard work of New Zealanders every single day, paying their taxes.

National believes work is the best route out of poverty, through the security of a regular pay cheque and the chance of career development. Children do better when their parents are in work, and parents do better too.

A relatively few people have health problems which mean they will never be able to work. But those who could work, should work and those who need it should be given help to be work ready and secure employment.

National is committed to having the right mix of obligations and sanctions, so that those who can work, do work, with all the opportunities that brings. We want to reduce the number of children in benefit-dependent households.

We want to hear your feedback on how we can best support New Zealanders, ensure taxpayers’ money is spent responsibly and give all New Zealanders the opportunity to live better lives. Please have your say at www.national.org.nz/social_services.

Sir Apirana Ngata’s prediction that welfare would destroy Maori has become true but not just for Maori.

The statistics are clear, people in work are much likelier to live better lives than those on benefits.

The government must look after the most vulnerable but it also has a responsibility to help those who could look after themselves to do so.


Delivering $132m more on dole

29/10/2019

The government’s year of delivery has delivered an extra $132m in jobseeker benefits.

An additional $132 million of dole payments have been dished out to people who are able to work in the past year, Leader of the Opposition Simon Bridges says.

“New Zealanders deserve a fair go but not a free ride. Since Labour came into Government an additional 22,000 people have gone on the Jobseeker Benefit.

That’s around the total population of the Waitaki District who could be working but aren’t and on a be fit because of that.

“Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni doesn’t seem to care how many people go on the dole and she doesn’t believe there should be sanctions if people show no willingness to get into employment.

“Being in work lifts people out of poverty and improves the lives of families. There’s no excuse for taxpayers having to pick up an additional $132 million, a figure that doesn’t include inflation. This figure is just for people on the Jobseeker Benefit – people who are fit to work and doesn’t include other benefits.

Employers are crying out for workers so there shouldn’t be people who are able to work lining up for the benefit.

These aren’t people who can’t work, they could be working and aren’t.

“This week National will release our Social Services Discussion Document. We’ll release our positive plans to get more people into work and improve the lives of individuals, families and communities.

“National is aspirational for New Zealanders, we want people to have a safety net when they need it but we recognise that this is paid for through taxes and there needs to be accountability and obligations with that.

“The Minister needs to explain to taxpayers why they’re funding an additional $132 million in welfare and what her plan is to get people back into work.”

There are lots of reasons why people who are able to work might not be able to find a job in the short term and benefits provide a temporary safety net for them.

But there’s something wrong with a system that allows the safety net to become a hammock that traps people in dependency when so many employers are desperate for staff.


Two years and what have we got?

28/10/2019

The Labour, NZ First, Green government has just passed its second anniversary in power and what have we got?

  • Fee-free tertiary education which hasn’t had a positive impact on participation, and a third of those who got the help failed or withdrew.
  • KiwiBuild turned into KiwiFlop.
  • Higher fuel taxes for all to pay for public transport in Auckland which includes the stalled project of rail to airport about which officials can’t get direction from the Minister.
  • Two Ministers resigned/sacked.
  • Thousands of hectares of productive land converted to forestry.
  • Subsidies that incentivise forestry over farming.
  • Foreign ownership of productive land encouraged by much less rigorous requirements than for purchase for farming, horticulture or viticulture.
  • Business confidence in the doldrums.
  • Interest rates heading towards zero and below.
  • DHB deficits growing.
  • Polytechs that are working well to be sacrificed for those that aren’t.
  • Virtue-signaling environmental policies that come at a high economic and social cost here and add to environmental cost elsewhere.
  • Policy at the mercy of the minor coalition partner’s leader’s whim.
  • The waka-jumping legislation.
  • The Provincial Growth Shane Jones Promotion/NZ First re-election Fund.
  • Policy announcement after policy announcement that is high on feel-good but low on planning.

It was easy to come up with those negatives, and it wouldn’t be hard to add more.

But what of the positives?

The only one that comes to mind is a Prime Minister who  gets a lot of focus and high praise internationally.

But how much is that worth when there are so many problems that aren’t being solved at home?

A new government needs some time to get up to speed, but more than two-thirds through its term is too long on training wheels.


Poverty stats government’s shame

03/04/2019

The nine child poverty statistics that will be used as the baseline for improvement show released yesterday by Stats NZ show all but one have got worse under the current government:

David Farrar compares the stats under National and Labour:

  1. Percentage of children in households with income under 50% of median, before housing costs. 156,000 in June 2008 and 156,000 in June 2017 so no increase under National (rate dropped 0.3%). In June 2018 increased by 27,000 and rate increased 2.3% for Labour’s first year.
  2. Percentage of children in households with income under 50% of median, after housing costs. 329,000 in June 2009 (no data for 2008) and 247,000 in June 2017 so a drop of 82,000 under National (rate dropped 8.1%). In June 2018 increased by 7,000 and rate increased 0.4% for Labour’s first year.
  3. Percentage of children in households in material hardship. 196,000 in June 2013 (no data before that) and 140,000 in June 2017 so dropped 56,000 under National (rate dropped 5.4%). In June 2018 increased by 8,000 and rate increased 0.6% for Labour’s first year.
  4. Percentage of children in households with income under 60% of median, before housing costs. 252,000 in June 2008 and 243,000 in June 2017 so a drop of 9,000 under National (rate dropped 1.3%). In June 2018 increased by 38,000 and rate increased 3.2% for Labour’s first year.
  5. Percentage of children in households with income under 60% of median, after housing costs. 355,000 in June 2008 and 314,000 in June 2017 so a drop of 41,000 under National (rate dropped 4.6%). In June 2018 increased by 27,000 and rate increased 2.2% for Labour’s first year.
  6. Percentage of children in households with income under 50% housing costs for the base financial year. 258,000 in June 2008 and 236,000 in June 2017 so a drop of 22,000 under National (rate dropped 2.5%). In June 2018 increased by 18,000 and rate increased 1.4% for Labour’s first year.
  7. Percentage of children in households with income under 40% housing costs for the base financial year. 156,000 in June 2008 and 178,000 in June 2017 so an increase of 22,000 under National (rate increased 1.6%). In June 2018 dropped by 4,000 and rate dropped 0.4% for Labour’s first year.
  8. Percentage of children in households in severe material hardship. 84,000 in June 2013 (no data before that) and 74,000 in June 2017 so dropped 10,000 under National (rate dropped 1.0%). In June 2018 dropped by 9,000 and rate dropped 0.9% for Labour’s first year.
  9. Percentage of children in households in material hardship and under 60% median income after housing costs. 96,000 in June 2013 (no data before that) and 86,000 in June 2017 so dropped 10,000 under National (rate dropped 1.1%). In June 2018 increased by 12,000 and rate increased 1.0% for Labour’s first year. . .

Who would have thought it? Seven of the child poverty measures dropped under National, one was static and one went up.

And under the Labour/NZ First/Green government that purports to be compassionate and set reducing child poverty as a priority?

Seven of the child poverty measures worsened and only two improved.

What’s behind the difference?

Former Prime Minister and Finance Minister Bill English was determined to search out the risk factors which lead to poverty and the disastrous social outcomes that usually accompany it.

Having found them he used the social investment approach – spending more upfront on helping those most at risk. The higher short-term cost was justified by the expected reduction in the long-term human, social and financial costs should those at risk not be helped.

The compassionate and intelligent response of the Labour/NZ First/Green government would have been to continue and build on what was working.

The failure to do so is this government’s shame.

Instead it sabotaged business confidence, wasted money on policies including fee-free tertiary education and winter heating subsidies for people who don’t need them, and got soft on policies that used both carrot and stick for those who could be working but don’t.

Early days is no excuse, this government is almost half way through it’s first term.

It can’t blame National for what’s going wrong when under it, seven of the measures were improving, one was static and just one was going the wrong way.

The government has only itself and its ideological blindness to blame which will be no comfort at all to the families whose situation has worsened.

Lindsay Mitchell blogs on the causes of poverty:

The Canadian think-tank, the Fraser Institute has just released a paper which suggests an elegantly simple framework in finding three causes of poverty: bad luck, bad choices and enablement. The first two need no explanation. The third is described thus:

We can say that poverty is “enabled” when systems and structures are in place to discourage the kinds of efforts that people would normally make to avoid poverty, i.e., find employment, find a partner (especially if children are present), improve one’s education and skill set, have a positive outlook, and take personal responsibility for your own actions. Ironically, it is government programs (welfare, in particular) that are intended to help the poor but end up actually enabling poverty.

In NZ, many of our current influencers (MPs and media) pooh,pooh the idea that bad choices are responsible for poverty despite this being self-evident. They base their disdain for the idea on a belief that greater systems, for example institutional racism, drive bad choices. Of course when they do this they excuse bad choices and even compensate the person making them. Undoubtedly, most of those sitting on the Welfare Expert Advisory Group would hold views of his nature. . . 

The soft bigotry of low expectations is not a cliche, it’s a fact.

This government’s low expectations are enabling poverty and turning around the improvements that National’s policy of social investment were making.


Does not compute

18/01/2019

A business offering $400 a day to people willing to plant trees can’t get staff.

Aged care workers are concerned about under-staffing.

But one in 10 people are on a benefit.

That does not compute.

A Taxpayers’ Union report found that benefit sanctions, the help-but hassle approach to welfare reduces poverty.

. . . If the Government wants to reduce child poverty, it should encourage the unemployed and single parents back into work and off welfare.

Our report advocates a help-but-hassle approach that nudges beneficiaries back into work, leaving more to spare for those in genuine need.

If the Government took this approach, it could afford to be more generous, within existing budgets. The difference is that the money would be more targeted to those who most need it. . . 

Is it that simple?

That benefit numbers reduced when National took that approach suggests it is.


More than $1b/year + human cost

09/10/2018

The Green policy to remove benefit sanctions would cost more than $1 billion a year.

A new report from the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union shows the success of benefit sanctions, explains why efforts to make life on a benefit easier simply encourage a culture of welfare dependency and fraud, and exposes that more than one third of unemployment and single parent beneficiaries admit to failing on their obligation to seek employment.

The release of the report, Benefit Sanctions, coincides with a Green Party campaign to remove sanctions for beneficiaries who don’t comply with associated obligations. The report also works as a submission to the Government’s working group tasked with providing recommendations to overhaul the welfare system.

Taxpayers’ Union Executive Director Jordan Williams says, “Beneficiary advocates have good intentions, but their prescriptions – removing requirements to seek work and removing sanctions – are a social and moral failure. The Green Party’s policy to make life on a benefit will simply encourage a culture of welfare dependency and fraud.”

These good intentions lead to bad policy and high costs in both financial and human terms.

Removing obligations and sanctions might look like kindness but it’s not.

It’s giving up on beneficiaries, entrenching welfare dependency with the poor outcomes which accompany it and adding to the costs imposed on the rest of us.

“Rates of welfare fraud are many times higher than most New Zealanders would expect or find acceptable under the current system. The report canvasses the evidence that easing up on sanctions and obligations for beneficiaries would dramatically increase fraud and dependency. That means driving up the cost of the welfare system for taxpayers and leaving less room in the Budget for other forms of social spending.”

Every dollar spent on benefits for people who could be working is a dollar not available for people who can’t work and other priority areas including health and education.

“If the Government wants to reduce child poverty, it should encourage the unemployed and single parents back into work and off welfare.

The report’s author, economist Jim Rose, says, “Our report advocates a help-but-hassle approach that nudges beneficiaries back into work, leaving more to spare for those in genuine need.”

Help but hassle is a far better approach than getting rid of sanctions.

Beneficiaries need to be given the help they need to get and keep work and encouragement should be firm enough to ensure they’re not more comfortable on a benefit than being independent.

“If the Government took this approach, it could afford to be more generous, within existing budgets. The difference is that the money would be more targeted to those who most need it.”

And while the billion dollar plus cost of dropping expectations and sanctions is bad enough. The human costs of long term benefit dependency for beneficiaries and their children are worse.

Benefits must never be more generous than full-time work and the longer the time on a benefit the greater the gap between earnings from work and welfare.

On top of that, long term beneficiaries are more likely to have no or low education qualifications, poor health and a greater chance of committing and/or being a victim of crime.

Some people need permanent help.

Others require temporary assistance and it is best for them, and the rest of us who pay for it, if they get the help when they need it as long as they need it but no longer.
The report is here.


Social sabotage

02/10/2018
AM show host Duncan Garner called Green co-leader Marama Davidson incompetent for good reason yesterday morning:

The Green Party co-leader appeared on the show on Monday morning to discuss her party’s commitment to raising benefits by 20 percent, but was unable to say how much it would cost. . .

I am staggered by the lack of facts and detailed knowledge that she showed in her interview with me this morning,” Garner said after the interview.

“No detail at all. She’s exposed herself as being underdone at best, and completely incompetent at worst. It’s called flaky. . .

Flaky is a charitable description of the policy she couldn’t give costings for too:

Increasing the baseline amounts for benefits is pretty clear. That increase hasn’t followed wage increases or inflation for far too long. And removing sanctions which we’ve been very, very vocal about, which is about trying going away from that punitive or punishing approach.

Not only doesn’t she know the cost, she doesn’t know the current policy. Benefits do increase with inflation. When it’s low as it has been for some time, the increases aren’t big but they do increase with the cost of living. No sanctions? That means people who, for no good reason, don’t turn up for interviews, don’t try to find work, don’t pass drug and alcohol tests will face  no consequences. People in work are expected to turn up in a fit state to work when and where required, what’s wrong with similar expectations for beneficiaries? No sanctions will also allow non-custodial parents to get away with making no contribution to the support of their children.

Changing the threshold for benefit reductions. There are so many people who want to work, even part time, while raising young children in particular. But those incentives are just really clumsy, confusing , messy, and they don’t make it worth it,” Davidson said.

It’s sad that people regard getting paid for work which gives them a measure of independence as not worth the effort. There might not be much difference financially but even a small increase on what comes from a benefit should be regarded as a bonus, especially when it could be a stepping stone to more work and eventual freedom from benefit dependence. Davidson is right that benefit abatement for people in part-time work are less than ideal, but the alternative is worse.  If the benefit isn’t abated when people start earning, beneficiaries in part-time work would earn more than some people in full time work.

The Greens would also look at combining the in-work tax credit and family tax credit and making them less discriminatory.

They also wanted Work and Income to stay out of people’s personal lives by “moving towards entitlements based on individual needs rather than a blanket policies around starting new relationships and losing entitlements”, Davidson said.

This would mean a beneficiary could be living with someone more than capable of supporting them both and any children, and still be able to keep claiming a benefit. National put a lot of effort into social investment based on the indisputable  financial and human costs of benefit dependency. The Green policy would be social sabotage, creating an underclass of benefit dependents with neither the expectation nor hope that they might become self-supporting. They would turn the welfare safety net into a noose that would entrap people on benefits and saddle the rest of us with the financial and social costs that would result.  

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