Wednesday, 25 February 2009

the urine test

i can't even begin to express how much i hate viral emails. this one that came to me today left me seething with anger:

The Urine test

This was written by a rigworker off the Taranaki Coast - he makes a lot of sense!
I work, they pay me. I pay my taxes and the government distributes my taxes as it sees fit. In order to earn that pay cheque, I work on a rig for a drilling contractor.I am required to pass a random urine test, with which I have no problem.

What I do have a problem with is the distribution of my taxes to people who don't have to pass a urine test. Shouldn't one have to pass a urine test to get a WINZ cheque because I have to pass one to earn it for them?

Please understand that I have no problem with helping people get back on their feet. I do on the other hand have a problem with helping someone sit on their ass drinking beer and smoking dope.

Could you imagine how much money the government would save if people had to pass a urine test to get a WINZ cheque?

Please pass this along if you agree or simply delete if you don't. Hope you will pass it along though, because something has to change in NZ, and soon!

there are so many things wrong with this little message that i hardly know where to begin. but begin i shall.

the whole email buys into the notion of the "deserving" poor, which many have written about. this is the notion that only those should receive welfare who measure up to some moral standard. if you don't measure up, you don't get it.

let's think of the consequences, in this case. the writer is saying that WINZ could save a lot of money by doing urine tests, which i would interpret as saying that anyone who fails the test should lose their benefit.

the writer may be assuming that if they had to undergo a random urine test, they would immediately stop drinking or taking drugs. that, of course, doesn't take into account the nature of addiction which rather does away with rational thinking. it doesn't take into account depression and hopelessness which overwhelms some people, and again, means that they won't make rational choices. besides which, if they made the rational choice and stopped taking alcohol/drugs, WINZ wouldn't save any money at all, cos they'd all then still be on a benefit.

so, effectively, in the world view of this taranki rig worker, if you fail the urine test because you have partaken of alcohol or drugs, you don't deserve any money from the state whatsoever. no money for food, no money for rent, no money for clothes, no money for transport, no money for electricity or telephone.

this will put you at significant risk of homelessness, disease and starvation. so what the writer is saying, in effect, is that the punishment for alcoholism or drug addiction should be starvation & death. and if you happen to be a child of a beneficiary? he doesn't say. either he would expect the state to take up the care of such children, in which case WINZ wouldn't end up saving any money really; or he is happy for those children to also suffer homelessness/disease/starvation because of the actions of their parents.

the writer doesn't suggest that beneficiaries should get treatment for any addiction, or counselling for potential underlying problems. hey, i would even settle for a conviction for the abuse of illegal substances, and support that position, if it had been advocated. but no, the writer would prefer abandonment by society and a total lack of support, because the undeserving poor person hasn't measured up.

what bugs me so much is the total lack of empathy, the smugness and superiority inherent in these few paragraphs. there are so many reasons that people fall off the rails or fail to perform. for example child abuse; sexual abuse; having to care for a disabled person when you're really too young to do so, thereby limiting your ability to gain an education; not having a computer at home or internet access or parents who are educated enough to help you with your homework, so that you get into trouble at school, fall behind and leave at the earliest possible age; a recession which sees you lose your job, your home and maybe results in a relationship breakup; mental illness; a genetic predisposition to addiction; and many, many others.

of course some people face these terrible life events and survive without having to be dependent on the state. some survive after a short period of dependency. some are able to educate themselves as adults and improve their circumstances. and others aren't so lucky or able. others succumb to addictions and waste their lives away because they just can't cope or they can't see a way out.

for this latter group, the undeserving poor, our writer above has the option of saving some of his tax money by denying these people any income whatsoever. my option for saving my tax money is to get these people stronger support via a decent addiction programme (of which there are far too few in this country), childcare (if this is a barrier to seeking further education), free education, budgeting advice, and basically any other support they require to help them get back on their feet. once they are taxpaying members of society, they will be contributors not only of tax dollars but so much more. isn't that a much better solution than the homelessness/disease/starvation model suggested above?

of course the writer puts in his bit about having no problem helping people get back on their feet. it's pretty much like starting a sentence with "i'm not racist but..." or "i'm not sexist but...". because in the next sentence, he effectively tells us that he doesn't want to help those that smoke or drink, regardless of why they are in that particular circumstance.
i could talk about the lack of logic in his framing: WINZ benefeciaries should get urine tests before they get paid, because he has to get a urine test before he can get paid. this is plainly wrong. he has to undergo urine tests because he will be operating dangerous machinery and putting himself & others at risk of serious injury or death if he is incapacitated. it's not a condition of his pay. it's a condition of him operating that kind of machinery. so it's a silly comparison to make.

and yes, alcoholics and drug addicts can cause harm at any place and any time. but we don't require random urine tests for checkout operators, accounting staff, bank workers and any number of other professions. we do have random breath tests for drivers, because again, they are operating machinery that can be harmful to themselves and others. and we have laws against the use of illegal substances which punish those who are caught.

what the writer also fails to recognise are the stringent requirements of WINZ and the fact that they do actively push people to get jobs where they are available or to undertake further education. with the massive reduction in unemployment under the last government, WINZ workers have been spending increasing time on supporting people back into work. but that reality doesn't fit nicely with the notion of beneficiaries sitting on their fat, lazy bums, drinking beer & smoking dope.

i've been told that i'm reading too much into this; that it's just a light-hearted view of things. i don't know, maybe it's just me, but i don't find poverty light-hearted. i'm pretty sure that none of the people whose email addresses were on the viral email i got (all 49 of them, and many of them are known to me) are on a benefit. i just imagined this email being received by someone who just lost their job because of recession, or who has a permanent disability that prevents them from working. i just can't imagine they'd find it very funny.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

MMMMmhhh now by any chance are you a. On benefits?
b. A heavy drinker on benefits?
c. A pot smoker on benefits?
d. A drug user on benefits?
e. All of the above?
What the original writer is getting at is, why should hard working tax payers foot the bill, remembering that benefits are to support an out of work person to cover his essentials ie food rent power utilities, not to fuel his drug and drinking habits, that are probably preventing his lazy ass getting a job in the first place...or as in the UK, he can get the money for nothing so why shoul he work.......
.....if you have a real addiction then medical help is required not for you to spend all your benefits on drug or alcohol take it to get addicted why should we pay to keep you drunk or stoned....get a job and sober/ dry up...