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Muriel Newman: Race-Based Welfare Not The Answer

Race-Based Welfare Not The Answer

The Column by Muriel Newman ACT MP

Revelations that the Government’s newly-introduced Jobs Jolt welfare initiative has different rules for Maori and non-Maori provides another insidious example of Labour’s racist agenda.

This new scheme exempts Maori living on ancestral land in low-employment areas from the need to relocate to find employment. Non-Maori living on such ancestral land will have no such exemption. Such a double standard will widen New Zealand’s growing racial divide and take us another step closer to apartheid.

Yet Maori is the very group that most desperately needs to escape the disastrous effects of long-term welfare dependency. While Maori comprise only 15 percent of the population, they make up more than a third of all long-term welfare dependents.

The consequence of three decades of reliance on a welfare system, which provides money without principle or obligation, can be seen to be a social disaster. There are entire communities relying on welfare for their economic base: alcohol, drug and gambling addiction problems are rife, as are violence and crime. Children raised in these chaotic households are not only highly prone to being abused, suffering ill health and educational failure, but they are increasingly likely to become the nine-year olds committing burglary, drinking booze and selling “P”.

Many of these communities are found in isolated areas, where successive governments have made the disastrous mistake of building state houses – even though there are no jobs. By giving millions of dollars to Maori families in these regions, to repair their sub-standard homes, Labour is making the problem worse – these families will not want to leave their newly renovated homes to find employment.

Under Jobs Jolt, of course, and because they are Maori, these families won’t need to move. They will instead be marginalised in dependency for the foreseeable future. Worse, the scheme will create a huge incentive for Maori in areas where there is employment, but who want to escape work-testing requirements, to move to these isolated low-employment regions.

But this programme’s failure is more widespread. Commonsense, and an analysis of the unemployment statistics, shows that the group that should have been targeted for a genuine welfare crackdown are not the elderly unemployed, but the young. There are around 35,000 unemployed young people aged between 16 and 25 who are at risk of wasting their lives, but who desperately need the structure, purpose and rewards of a good job.

I know of five such unemployed young men, who – cut adrift from the need to be personally responsible for earning their living – waste their lives in aimless, destructive ways. They share a flat and, between them, bring in almost $1,000 a week in benefits. That’s enough for them to start drinking mid-morning, and continue drinking all day and night. Any shortfall is made up through drugs and crime. Unless they are weaned off welfare and forced to take responsibility for their lives and futures, they will end up in prison.

If Labour were truly serious about getting beneficiaries into work to solve the skills shortage problem – which is their stated aim – they would target these fit young people, rather than the elderly. Not only would young people benefit most from being in a good job, rather than being idle and getting into trouble, but right now, up and down the country, employers would welcome them with open arms – just so long as they wanted to work.

I know of orchardists unable to have their fruit picked, and who have lost millions of dollars in cancelled export orders this season. There are growers desperate to have their crops planted, and who are now searching for alternatives that do not require manual labour. There is a critical lack of cleaners, truck drivers, forestry and farm workers, even storemen. All over the country – at a time when there are still around 370,000 working age adults on welfare – productivity is being lost because of a crucial lack of unskilled workers.

Yet the Government fails to require fit and able young people – like the five boozing their lives away – to have to take a job. Welfare has replaced participation at the low end of the real economy, because Labour regards those basic jobs as not ‘worthwhile’.

Well, I say bollocks to that! Any job is worthwhile. If employees work hard and are conscientious, they rise up the employment ladder to better opportunities – but everyone has to start somewhere and, for those people starting out, a bottom rung is better than none at all.

If people were required to turn up every day of a 40-hour week of activity designed to lead to a job – with proper sanctions for such non-compliance as turning up late or not at all – then those five young men would have to choose: work full time for the Government each day, or get a proper job, with real prospects and a career. Experience shows that, given that choice, most would want a job.

On analysis Labour’s Jobs Jolt programme is seen to be little more than a cheap stunt in response to polling that shows the Government is perceived to be too soft on welfare. By picking on elderly beneficiaries, Labour has captured media attention with its tough talk, hoping to change public perceptions.

The problem that Labour has created, however, is that by structurally weakening the welfare system over the past four years, the numbers moving onto benefits will rise relentlessly. If there is an economic downturn, the numbers will escalate. Increasingly, it will be Maori who fall into the welfare trap. That is a disaster for the whole country.


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