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Beneficiary Advisory Service: The “Deserving” Myth

The “Deserving” Myth

Looking at an article in the Dominion Post (Policy cuts off booze but still lacks punch by TRACY WATKINS from 15th August 2011), I noticed a comment stating:

john #2 08:03 am Aug 15 2011
I do not have a choice when the state demands my tax contribution so why should those that receive it as a benefit be able to choose when they spend it on alcohol and smokes. Extend this to all beneficiaries except the aged. This will make us a responsible state not a nanny one.”

It made me think. Not that the person who made the comment was right, as I completely disagree but about the concept of “except the aged”. Does this mean it is okay to drink and smoke if you are on Super, but not other benefits? Why would seniors be excluded? Is it from the idea that they are more “deserving” or the fact that most people hope one day to be old enough to get super, but hope never to need another benefit? If it is the latter, I daresay a lot of people hope for this; however not everyone has this hope realised.

If it is the former, it brings us back to the concept of the “deserving” poor. The concept of widow’s benefit is from this: the idea that you are more deserving for the DPB if you are a widow rather than being separated or a single mother. People seem to think Superannuation is a right we all deserve, but that beneficiaries are not deserving. I would remind these people that Super is the benefit that costs the most, being nearly half of all benefit spending!

People are on benefits due to circumstances generally beyond their control: they have been made redundant, they are permanently and severely restricted in their ability to work, they are temporarily unable to work due to physical or mental illness, they are currently caring for children alone, they are seniors, they are caring for the sick, they do not currently have full-time employment, they are studying for qualifications. Some of these are quite positive things in trying to better themselves (studying) or society (caring for the young, sick or elderly).

Many political parties say they want all young people to be in training or work. No one has said what about those with health problems or personal circumstances who can’t easily do either. Not all people fit into little boxes like that as people are individual, unique and special. Each person on the benefit is a Person, not a statistic.

So who exactly is it that is not deserving? The parent caring full-time for her children (about twice the hours of an average paid job) after losing her partner? The worker who has been made redundant due to the Christchurch Earthquakes? The person who has glandular fever and can’t get up in the morning (but will recover to rejoin the workforce soon)? The old soldier suffering from war-wounds? The person who has worked all his life and now wants to enjoy his retirement? The person who has cared for family all her life and now wants to enjoy her retirement? The guy down the street who is really struggling with depression or other mental illnesses in a society that often condemns rather than helps him? The lady round the corner who has low-paid part-time work cleaning as that is all she can find?

All of these examples could be women or men. All of these people are deserving and represent the average majority of people on benefits.

I also wonder why we are thinking about this at all. Do you want to be part of a society where we leave the jobless to fend for themselves with rising child poverty, crime, illnesses and disease? Or do we want to be part of a society that cares for every member and helps everyone to reach their full potential? I know I would prefer the latter.

Beneficiary Advisory Service is a Christchurch based Community Group who help people on benefits and low incomes with their problems with Work and Income. We are specialists in Welfare Law and provide advice, information, support and advocacy to hundreds of people every year.

Rebecca Occleston, Speaker: Beneficiary Advisory Service

ENDS

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