Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | News Flashes | Scoop Features | Scoop Video | Strange & Bizarre | Search

 


Letter from Elsewhere: Socio-Economic Junk

Letter from Elsewhere

TVNZ Selling Socio-Economic Junk


By Anne Else

I’m fed up to the back teeth with welfare dependency. It’s an alien term imported, like so much other socio-economic junk, from the far right of the USA.

I had hoped that I wouldn’t have to explain, yet again, why it’s a bad idea to shove poor mothers out to work in crap jobs that pay poverty-level wages, while their preschool kids get minded by other poor mothers doing forced labour. But after the pathetic excuse for a documentary that TV1 screened last week, I can’t keep quiet.

The first thing we got told, in tones of solemn concern, was the huge cost of “welfare”. The numbers varied, but by the end of the programme they were up to – gasp! - $14 billion. Now that includes the whole of superannuation, by far the biggest chunk, as well as the DPB, unemployment benefit, sickness benefit, and invalids benefit, plus a raft of minor bits and pieces.

Where does this huge pool of money go? Surprise, surprise: it almost all goes straight into the tills of New Zealand shops, banks, and landlords. (You don’t catch many people on benefits griping about what the exchange rate is doing to their overseas holiday plans.) When Ruth Richardson tried to punish beneficiaries, particularly sole parents, by slashing their income, she pulled $1 billion straight out of the New Zealand economy. That acted like a hefty dose of fertiliser on the growing recession.

We saw some sad sights on that programme last week. First there was the sole parent who had left her marriage because she was being beaten up. The house was a bit grubby, but the kids weren’t. Thanks to Ruth’s cuts and Jenny’s market rents, they and their mother routinely had a few foodless days to get through somehow. Her shopping consisted mainly of bread and baked beans.

Then there was the husband and father with years of hard slog behind him who had lost his job because of ill-health. He’d done a welding course, and applied for 243 jobs, but he hadn’t got one yet. Rod Vaughan, the interviewer, asked the chap helping beneficiaries if this guy was on the scrapheap. The helper looked shocked and said, “Well, I wouldn’t say that.” But Rod had no such delicate inhibitions. He barged up to the guy and his wife and said something like, “So you’re on the scrapheap!” Great stuff, Rod. You’re lucky he didn’t hit you. I wanted to.

Another sole parent and her four kids (two of them handicapped) lived with her unemployed father in a flat meant for two or three people at most. She had lost her previous home and everything she owned in a fire. (Yes, of course she should have had insurance, but food and doctor’s bills come first, geddit?)

Oh, and we also saw a rather smug woman who had separated from her husband, become a sole parent, gone on the benefit, told the WINZ person she wanted HER job, and got it. Christine Rankin would have loved her.

Cut to the USA, and the low-down on one of the new “tough love” programmes that insists mothers of twelve week old babies go out to work, or else they will have their benefits stopped. It costs a fortune in childcare, we were told. Then we saw one of the mothers actually working in a childcare centre. Neat, eh. Some other women did try to tell Rod that the system wasn’t actually working all that well, that mothers and kids were just as poor as ever, and that they had evidence to prove it, but they didn’t get much of a chance to give him the facts and figures.

Well, here are some. Yes, a lot of “welfare mothers” are now working in childcare. They mainly work in the for-profit commercial centres, which have been quick to seize on this new pool of cheap labour. In the USA, as here, no one earns much from working in childcare – after all, it isn’t as if they were taking care of our MONEY, sweetie! The average is around $18,000 a year. But that’s not what welfare mothers get. They get around $10,000 – well below the poverty line. But morally they must feel so much better, mustn’t they, knowing that their poverty is due to low wages and not to low benefits, and that in the future their kids will surely thank them for never seeing them, because they were busy being market failures instead of welfare dependents.

What really turns my stomach is the air of fake concern that now pervades the pronouncements of the brave welfare warriors. They seem to have realised that the big stick approach they tried back in the 1990s didn’t work too well in this country. Not quite enough people, or politicians, could be brought to believe that folk like the ones in the programme were lazy and immoral, instead of just unfortunate and downtrodden.

So now they’re trying to tell us that it’s really, really bad for people to have to live on benefits, that they’ll never get anywhere doing that, and that all they need to turn their life around is a job – any job. I don’t know what the ill chap could do. I mean, he was well over 40. (Soon after the programme, he filled out a form wrongly and WINZ chopped his benefit by 40 percent.)

Sole mothers could work all night, I suppose. That would save having to bother with childcare centres. The young sole mother on her own had thought of that. She said that without the benefit she’d probably be a hooker. She was being quite practical. She’d only need a babysitter, and the pay is better than most other “unskilled” women’s jobs – certainly much better than childcare. (Soon after the programme, she nearly got evicted for not paying the rent. The landlord didn’t get had up for not fixing the taps or mending the broken window.)

Steve Maharey thinks everyone who can work (whatever that means) should have a job. But he doesn’t mean just any job, he wants them to get good jobs. He’s now busy marshalling, and paying, an army of advisers to make beneficiaries talk to them about what they’re doing to get “back into the workforce”. Looking after kids isn’t work, we all know that. It’s just something you do for fun in your spare time.

It’s the old story – one law for the rich, another for the poor. Maybe it would be better to stop mucking around and set up a system of mandatory abortions and adoptions for any mother, or couple, who can’t cope without a benefit. Either that, or turn them into an army of indentured servants to mind kids and do housework for all the worthy, decent parents, the ones with jobs.

But it could take a while to get that in place, so in the meantime, better cut those benefits again. One of those sole mothers had the gall to admit she was regularly buying her kids stuff at the two dollar shop.

ENDS

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
Top Scoops Headlines

 

Werewolf: Living With Rio’s Olympic Ruins

Mariana Cavalcanti Critics of the Olympic project can point a discernible pattern in the delivery of Olympics-related urban interventions: the belated but rushed inaugurations of faulty and/or unfinished infrastructures... More>>

Live Blog On Now: Open Source//Open Society Conference

The second annual Open Source Open Society Conference is a 2 day event taking place on 22-23 August 2016 at Michael Fowler Centre in Wellington… Scoop is hosting a live blog summarising the key points of this exciting conference. More>>

ALSO:

Buildup:

Gordon Campbell: On The Politicising Of The War On Drugs In Sport

It hasn’t been much fun at all to see how “war on drugs in sport” has become a proxy version of the Cold War, fixated on Russia. This weekend’s banning of the Russian long jumper Darya Klishina took that fixation to fresh extremes. More>>

ALSO:

Binoy Kampmark: Kevin Rudd’s Failed UN Secretary General Bid

Few sights are sadder in international diplomacy than seeing an aging figure desperate for honours. In a desperate effort to net them, he scurries around, cultivating, prodding, wishing to be noted. Finally, such an honour is netted, in all likelihood just to shut that overly keen individual up. More>>

Open Source / Open Society: The Scoop Foundation - An Open Model For NZ Media

Access to accurate, relevant and timely information is a crucial aspect of an open and transparent society. However, in our digital society information is in a state of flux with every aspect of its creation, delivery and consumption undergoing profound redefinition... More>>

Keeping Out The Vote: Gordon Campbell On The US Elections

I’ll focus here on just two ways that dis-enfranchisement is currently occurring in the US: (a) by the rigging of the boundary lines for voter districts and (b) by demanding elaborate photo IDs before people are allowed to cast their vote. More>>

Ramzy Baroud: Being Black Palestinian - Solidarity As A Welcome Pathology

It should come as no surprise that the loudest international solidarity that accompanied the continued spate of the killing of Black Americans comes from Palestine; that books have already been written and published by Palestinians about the plight of their Black brethren. In fact, that solidarity is mutual. More>>

ALSO:


Get More From Scoop

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Top Scoops
Search Scoop  
 
 
Powered by Vodafone
NZ independent news