Monday, 11 August 2008

the crime of poverty

while everyone is occupied with the olympics (including moi), there are other happenings in the world. the oil wars are spreading. we already have US & the "coalition of the willing" in iraq; what looks like US/europe/israel against iran maybe backed by china teetering at the edge; and now russia against georgia, with the UN taking a strong interest. while the current situation in georgia may die down, the quick escalation of the conflict shows that it won't take much for things to go seriously wrong.

in local news, i can't believe that christchurch city council has bailed out property developer dave henderson, at a cost of $17 million. this is the same council that couldn't see fit to provide rent relief for its poorer citizens. most galling with this decision is the 3 day time limit for councillor to make a decision, and the lack of public scrutiny allowed. it's so typical of the right, providing corporate welfare while ignoring those that really need help. this similar to the situation in america, where billions of dollars of federal funds have gone to failing finance companies, while those at the bottom are losing their homes through foreclosures.

and in that spirit, the national party has decided to dump on solo mothers and sickness beneficiaries. there's plenty of analysis at the standard, as well as from gordon campbell and a piece here from rogernome. best bit from the standard to show what a waste of time this policy is:

All of this is silly solutions in search of a problem. Beneficiary numbers are falling, the cost of the system is falling, and the number of long-term beneficiaries is falling even faster. The DPB work requirements would not apply to the 60% of recipients caring for a child under 6, or the 20% already earning an income, or the 22% who state their child’s health is a barrier to work. The 29% who state their own health is a barrier to work might simply be shifted to the invalids’ benefit. And what of the few it does apply to? What if they can’t find work that neatly fits within school hours? Should they leave their children home alone or just keep attending taxpayer-funded training? There is no long-term DPB dependency problem: 64% of DPB recipients have been getting it less than four years and only 11% (that’s 10,000 parents) have had it for longer than 10 years (many of them will have children with severe health issues). This is not about solutions; it’s just beneficiary bashing to grab a few votes.

another tendency of those on the right is to save their nastiest attacks for those they deem the least able to speak back. hence in the 2005 campaign, we had the rt hon winston peters with his "end of tolerance" speech, taking it to the muslim community. beneficiaries are a much easier target, because a lot of them also tend to be people of colour. so you can have a subtly racist attack without appearing to do such a thing. you can ignore the structural barriers that are a large factor in the under-achievement of this group of people, and punish them for problems that are often not of their making.

but this is also a gender attack (given that the majority on the DPB are women). it's an attack on women who are deemed not worthy enough to be mothers. that such women, and more importantly their children, need greater support to achieve better outcomes is totally ignored. as rogernome points out, national has not yet shown it's prepared to put the money towards the kind of support solo-parents need:

As justification for its attack on solo parents, National decries NZ's low solo-parent employment rate (44%), whilst celebrating the success of the Nordic countries, which have comparable figures of 70-80%. See page 7 of the background paper . What National doesn't reveal is the fact that, these results have only been achieved through a generous welfare state, which provides very cheap day-care ($50 per-week in Sweden) and long periods of paid maternal leave (13 months at 80% of total normal pay). These of course are policies that National wouldn't dream of introducing, so it's a bit hypocritical for them to be citing these countries as success stories.

finally, this story about an indian diplomat coming to seek support for its nuclear deal with america. india used to be the country that lead the non-aligned movement, and a key campaigner on international disarmament. i find it especially sad to see that they have moved so far away from that good work, as the governments of the last decade or so have become increasingly right-wing and hardline. i hope that our government will be able to stand out against this move. nuclear escalation is a bad thing, no matter where it happens.


Ben R said...

The sickness beneficiary scheme seems in need of greater scrutiny to avoid GP's getting pressured.

See MacDoctor's post:

"You might be wondering why a GP would fill in the sickness benefit form for these people.

There is the obvious reason that these people are our clients and we don’t want to irritate them. For every patient who leaves your practice in a huff, expect to lose at least ten families. But this is too pat an answer.

There is the obvious rationalisation that, if you don’t sign the form, they will just take it to someone more willing. Although this is true, it isn’t a very good rationale for fraud. But this isn’t the real reason either.

The real reason that all GPs blithely sign sickness benefit forms, even though we know they may not be genuine, is that we don’t know that they are not genuine, we only suspect. For most of the suspicious cases, you would need a number of investigations, or a specialist opinion to confirm your suspicion. Your patient will either refuse to go, or make appointments with the specialist and then simply not attend. And there is no way you can force them.

File under “too hard”. Sign the form.

The only way this can stop is if you compel sickness beneficiaries to have an annual (or six monthly) medical with an independent doctor, preferably a specialist. This is not only good politics, it is actually good medicine, as specialist review of long-term illness is good clinical practice. Frankly, I don’t see this as being unpopular with sickness beneficiaries, apart from the ones milking the system. The majority of them would love to get better and go back to work, if they could."

Ben R said...

"it's an attack on women who are deemed not worthy enough to be mothers. that such women, and more importantly their children, need greater support to achieve better outcomes is totally ignored."

The question is what sort of support?

I think there's an issue with some people who have poor parenting skills, or alcohol/drug/gambling issues & the welfare money is not well spent on the children.

Instead I think National and Labour should look at ensuring essential items are provided by offering vouchers for baby items, food & clothing rather than money.