Poverty, Fraud & Fairness
Poverty, Fraud & Fairness
Parenting v Poverty
There was a debate on “The Vote” earlier in the year with the subject Parenting v Poverty – what was the problem? “There was a huge lack of understanding of the principles involved by some on the show and viewers. The best line from it was: “People who say “poverty is not a problem” don’t know true poverty.” Of course there are many good parents who are poor and people who make an effort, but poverty will make things harder for any family! Of course there are many families (regardless of wealth) who could use some help with parenting – we don’t get a handbook and EVERYONE struggles sometimes,” says Rebecca Occleston of Beneficiary Advisory Service.
“I was astonished at the lack of empathy when someone said “I like huddling under a blanket in the cold” on the “It’s the parent’s fault” side of the debate, and the attitude that went with that. Living in a home that is under the recommended temperature is unhealthy, regardless of blankets! If your home is cold and/or damp, you are breathing in that air. The large number of people, especially children, suffering from preventable diseases from living in these conditions in New Zealand are due to poverty and lack of good quality affordable housing, not to bad parenting! Of course huddling under a blanket is fun if you only have to do it for an hour in a power cut. However, if you have to do it twenty four hours/day, how are you supposed to cook nutritious meals and keep your home clean? It was a short-sighted and irresponsible statement to make.”
Mind the Gap
Bryan Brice hosted another brilliant Inside New Zealand Documentary the other week called “Mind the Gap”. He mentioned that we seem to have progressed from a “We society” to a “Me society” and things have got steadily worse following this.
He points out some important cultural differences in our society – not based specifically on ethnicity here but on level of wealth! For example, the issue of benefit fraud v tax evasion. Let’s put it in numbers to help you understand: tax fraud costs the country at least $1,000,000,000 ($1-6 Billion/year) compared to about $30,000,000 (about $30 Million/year) for benefit fraud. So there is probably one hundred times as much money lost from tax evasion than from benefit fraud. Yet it is the smaller figure that the Government puts more effort into getting back. In addition to that, the legal system treats beneficiaries more harshly than tax evaders. People accused of welfare fraud are much more likely to be prosecuted. They are also more likely to go to prison for it, e.g. the average amount of benefit fraud is $70,000 with a 60% chance of prison in comparison to an average of $270,000 (nearly 4 times as much) average fraud for tax with only 22% chance of jail time.
“This kind of persecution & uneven treatment only encourages the negative feelings towards beneficiaries,” says Rebecca. “Do most beneficiaries commit benefit fraud? Of course not, only a very few.
“Also the language used shows the way these crimes are thought of: welfare fraud v tax evasion. Why is even the wording less harsh, why it is not called tax fraud? Evasion sounds quite tame – even something to strive for.
“We want to see more evenness in our society, not just here at the punishment end, but at the beginning, for everyone to have enough to live on! Having a socially just society and sharing the wealth more evenly actually makes it better for everyone, not just the poor!”
Social Security Act
In 1972, the Royal Commission on Social Security summarised the principles on which the social security benefit scheme was then based. Prominent amongst them, social security was described as a community responsibility, with the state having a legitimate function in redistributing income to ensure that everyone can live with dignity, and with benefits paid at a level which enabled people to participate in and belong to the community.
“I believe this shows how far the Governments have strayed from the purpose of social security into blaming people for unfortunate circumstances, for never reinstating the benefit cuts of 1991 (so most beneficiaries, & many low income people, have less weekly income than they need for basic costs), and for the threatening and accusatory nature of WINZ now,” says Rebecca. “It saddens me greatly to see this attitude encouraged widely – we are taught to see people on benefits as bludgers, as things rather than as people. When we remember that each person on a benefit is their own person, with their own struggles, ambitions, thoughts and feelings, maybe we will try to be more understanding in future.”