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Sharples: Social Security Amendment Bill

Social Security Amendment Bill (Second reading)

Dr Pita Sharples, Co-leader, Maori Party

Tuesday 8 May 2007

In considering the complex web of issues entangled in our social security system, I sought some conventional wisdom from the Waitangi Tribunal.

I found their conclusions highly relevant to today’s debate, and I quote:

“When such a system produces children who are not adequately educated they are put at a disadvantage when they try to find work. If they cannot get work that satisfies them they become unemployed and live on the dole. When they live on the dole they become disillusioned, discontented and angry.

They are no more than representatives of many others in our community.

When one significant section of the community burns with a sense of injustice the rest of the community cannot safely pretend that there is no reason for their discontent. This is a recipe for social unrest and all that goes with it.

This description, Madam Speaker, is as true in 2007 as it was twenty one years ago in 1986.

And yet when we in the Maori Party dared to raise the heat on the issue of welfare dependency, the wolves were out on attack – accusing us of redneck politics; benefit bashing; joining with the right, te mea, te mea, te mea.

The issue that all people should have sufficient income to be able to participate in society and in their communities, must be above the petty politicking that we see from time to time in this House.

The Maori Party will continue to bring heat to bear in the debate; to talk about the alarming dependency on welfare in Aotearoa as a symptom of a much bigger picture - a picture which successive governments desperately try to hide and deny or blame previous governments for.

We refuse to refrain from asking the questions – why is it that 28% of Maori over 15 are receiving a benefit, compared to 10.5% for the national average?

Why is it that 26.2% of those receiving the sickness benefit; (some 48,000) are Maori?

Why is it that 21.1% of those receiving the Invalids benefits (some 77000) are Maori?

Madam Speaker, the last time I spoke on this Bill I said it had at its core a clever move by Government to focus on beneficiaries claiming the necessity for people to participate in the labour market with work as an appropriate outcome.

I am pleased that this most obvious neo-liberal tenet has been removed, that is it is now not a requirement for beneficiaries to undertake activities in the community in order to receive a benefit.

But the ever-pervasive threat of neo-liberalism can still be found in the “Work First” approach that any paid work – however menial, however poor the conditions and rate of pay – is better than no paid work at all.

We must work together in this House, to ensure that people are not isolated, alienated and made to feel that they are of little value. We must work to dispel any notion that the circumstances in which individuals find themselves in, is a result of their individual failings and shortcomings.

Let us, instead, sit down and really examine the notion of market forces, the role of the state in that, and the creation and maintenance of the rich and the poor.

And there is one thing I can say, the poor did not create poverty; so if they did not, then who did?

Too often in this debate, individual beneficiaries are targeted.

The Maori Party knows too well the sense of hopelessness that exists amongst some of our benefit dependent families.

We have tasted the terror of substance abuse, of alcohol, of negative health statistics that devour some of our whanau.

We have smelt the fear of rising crime, and violence, and suicide statistics.

We have watched in horror as whanau disintegrate, falling through the cracks of the education system, alienated from their families by the state; incarcerated in ever increasing droves.

And it has worn our people out.

Where does hope lie?

We are intolerant of a persistent focus on producing and supplying workers without necessarily considering the availability of appropriate jobs.

I am also concerned at the impact in my very own electorate of Tamaki Makaurau, of the closing of the Fisher and Paykel factory and the loss of 350 jobs. This House demands to know, what are the economic philosophies and circumstances which have caused this?

We have had enough of our people becoming entrapped in a welfare net - with the only hope of escape a job paying an amount that no one in this chamber would get out of bed for themselves.

When will we see a Let's Create Full Employment Bill, a Good Jobs Only Bill prohibiting poor work conditions, an Affordable For All Quality Childcare Bill? This House pulled together last week to progress legislation to increase the safety and well-being of children, but we are back here today to debate a Bill that entrenches the poverty of the most vulnerable of them.

We must face these particular failures before we can even hope to address welfare dependency. The failure of an economic system to redistribute wealth equitably.

The failure of a political system to provide meaningful work; sufficient income to participate in society; optimum conditions to stimulate well-being.

This Bill, the Social Security Amendment Bill, seeks to change the benefit application process; to tinker with the bureaucracy.

We do welcome some of this tinkering as a matter of course.

We support the fact that beneficiaries are not going to be required to submit to ever-increasing processes for determining eligibility, the Scoble principle.

We welcome confirmation that the Taylor principle will be upheld in part – that is, that applications do not necessarily need to be in writing.

But despite the Scoble and Taylor case laws, we do not see any incentives in this Bill, for the quality of service that Maori clients receive to be improved.

Nowhere in this Bill does it do anything to look at the broader structural problems, the problems which for well over a century our Maori leaders have identified as undermining our tikanga, our thinking and endangering our life force.

And yes, I am referring to the colonial policies of land thefts and the appropriation of resources - for we can never forget this context in any debate on Maori welfare dependency; a context which the Foreshore and Seabed Act proved is also a 'this' century context.

There is little or no analysis of why it is that numbers of people on sickness and invalid benefits have increased in the first place.

We know that the numbers of New Zealanders in these two categories of benefits has risen, sharply, to 124,000.

The Minister confirmed in March this year, that there has been a transfer of 8.5% of people from the unemployment benefit to the sickness benefit.

The Child Poverty Action Group has explained the increase of numbers of people on sickness and invalids benefits as being part of a broader cycle throughout OECD Nations. They see it as:

The “cyclical feedback loop of poverty – the more people there are in poverty, the more people there are who get sick”.

We must talk real in this House. This Bill, does nothing to address the disproportionate and ongoing unemployment of Maori.

This Bill does nothing to put a halt to the spiralling storms of cynicism, apathy, anger, and despondency that beset too many of our communities.

This Bill does not address the trauma of the working poor, the tragedy of unrealised potential; the desperation of inadequate housing; the morbid consequences of escalating levels of crime.

This Bill continues to paint the proposition that the beneficiaries are victims of their own making.

It ignores the deep, underlying systemic causes of poverty; and of vast disparities. Issues such as institutional racism.

We have called, and will continue to call for a fresh look at the way in which we can assist people to be productive, to be gainfully employed in work which is meaningful, productive and skill-enhancing.

And we do not mean by that, people pushed into programmes which make it look as if a society is busy being busy.

I like the comment from Daniel Quinn, in ‘Beyond Civilisation: Humanity’s Great Adventure’, where he said, and I quote:

"If programs don't work, then what does work? In fact I have an even better way of asking the question: What works so well that programs are superfluous? What works so well that it never occurs to anyone to create programs to make it work?

"The answer to all these questions is: vision."

This Bill, Social Security Amendment Bill, is not about vision. It is not about hope.

The Maori Party will not support this Bill.


ENDS

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