Or so the National government would have us believe. They’re introducing a bizarre range of measures designed to control the behaviour of a whole section of the population, using the threat of benefit reduction or removal to ensure compliance.
There seems to be a belief out there that real poverty doesn’t exist in New Zealand and that people who are on benefits would be fine if they just got their shit together, made better choices, and stopped living the life of riley on the taxpayer’s money. Any time someone mentions child poverty (and the stats are appalling – almost 1/4 of NZ children are currently living below the poverty line) people start frothing about all the beneficiaries out there who are drinking and drugging and smoking and buying expensive flat screen tv’s instead of providing for their children, as if this imagined profligacy is the only reason that kids go to school hungry and insufficiently dressed.
There’s a weird assumption that beneficiaries aren’t people like the rest of us. But are instead a separate category of dysfunctional bludgers who just don’t try hard enough, unlike us responsible people who work and pay taxes and look after ourselves. It’s as if the illness, or marriage breakdown, or job loss or other unexpected hardship that puts people on benefits won’t ever happen to us. And as if, once you’re on a benefit, you’re irrevocably cut off from polite society.
The government maintains these fictions despite the personal experiences of some MP’s. The prime minister grew up with a mum who received a widow’s benefit to support her family, and the current welfare minister was a teenaged single mother who used the domestic purposes benefit and state-funded training allowances (allowances which she has removed for today’s single parents) to get herself a degree and boost herself out of poverty. And good on both of them.
Given this though, I have to wonder why they’re presiding over such a draconian and punitive overhaul of the public welfare system.