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The Underclass Isn't Stupid

The Underclass Isn't Stupid

By Lindsay Mitchell

An attitude prevails in New Zealand that poor and uneducated people need our sympathy, indulgence and money. What is actually a patronising impulse masquerades as 'compassion'. Those who don't share it should jolly well be ashamed of themselves.

It is easy to chart the effects of this worldview. The more we've catered to material impoverishment the greater the spiritual impoverishment we've created. Moral values lost are very difficult to regain because they rely primarily on inter- generational transmission from parent to child.

Naturally, the prevailing attitude originates and persists among those with no knowledge or experience of the mayhem it has created. The moneyed, particularly women, allay irrational guilt about their wealth by voting for governments that promise to take some of it to fund the 'war on poverty'. Less frequently do they use their time to physically help those in the lowest socio- economic group.

If they did, they would learn some harsh and unpalatable lessons. Their money has spawned a growing sub-stratum, which consists of people who are in and out of courts, whose primary motivation each day is finding money to buy smokes, alcohol, and drugs. Or money to gamble so there is a prospect of more smokes, alcohol and/or drugs than their benefits will allow.

The basics go neglected. Food cupboards and fridges go bare. Rubbish piles up and the lawns go unmowed. Cars go unregistered and unwarranted. Phones get cut off. Children go hungry. The animals get scrawny.

But the mistake so many make about these people is that they are somehow just stupid; unintelligent and unable to cope with the real world. In fact, their resourcefulness is often quite remarkable.

The underclass is often adept at getting WINZ to look after staples like rent and power so when they get 'paid' on benefit day that cash can be used for life's 'pleasures'. Sometimes they work under the table, turning up spasmodically if they haven't got a hangover. But any money earned is never for life's necessities. That's the responsibility of WINZ.

Use of the internet to sell goods or find a bargain isn't uncommon. Whether all of these goods are legitimately owned is another story. Crime amongst the underclass is rife. One of the reasons surveys show a much higher level of crime than the reported statistics is people in poor neighbourhoods don't ring the cops. They won't report a burglary of pre-stolen property or a sexual assault by an undeclared lodger. Fear of retribution means many largely law-abiding folk put up with hell. Knowledge about how to declare bankruptcy isn't unusual. Neither is having more than one identity.

Some of the ways extra money is made or saved are quite innovative. Mothers convince a GP their child needs Ritalin, for which there is a lucrative black market. Long-acting contraceptive injections stop menstruation, which saves on tampons. Unfortunately, this also means that a pregnancy is masked.

Most women would want to know about a pregnancy to avoid smoking and drugs. But not the underclass female. She doesn't want to stop. And the act of continuing gives her leverage when she gets around to demanding an abortion, on the tax-payer of course.

Some don't choose abortion because babies bring extra money. And, in all fairness, having spent a lot of time watching soaps and talk shows some romantic but self-delusional notions are at play. Such as, giving their partner a baby will bind him to them (in reality the opposite is more likely). Or they want to give the child they had by the last partner, a brother or sister. They want a baby the way a child wants a pet rabbit. But as parents who have capitulated find out, most children don't know how to look after a pet.

Just as these women don't know how to look after children. Typically their own mothers didn't. Usually their childhood experience was being carted around the suburbs or country avoiding debt or Mum's jealous ex. They've been exposed to drug taking, violence and sometimes incest.

We know this because they are quite vocal about their victim status. Forget tea and sympathy. Victims get perks and absolution. Money for counselling, money for drug cessation programmes, money for childcare so they can have a break from the stress. But rather than resolving not to inflict the same experience they repeat it.

Look at the statistics if you think I'm overdoing it. Over 5,000 children and young people are in the care of CYF, thousands more are being brought up by grandparents or other relatives. The courts are overflowing with young men, and increasingly young women, whose pathway to prison has been a near certainty since birth. The Principal Family Court judge warns that young criminals are getting more and more "savage". Most of these people have abuse or addiction problems but the drugs didn't come first. An absence of family values did. What permits their chaotic and destructive lifestyles is a society that does two things. It indulges them by funding their basic living expenses with guilt money and then, self-satisfyingly turns a blind eye.

No. It isn't the underclass that is stupid.


Lindsay Mitchell describes herself as a welfare commentator. Ms Mitchell was no 10 on the ACT Party list in the 2005 General Election campaign and wants a parliamentary review of the Domestic Purposes Benefit


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