Presented by : Graham Foster.
17 Tuakura Way, Manurewa 2105.
Ph:  268-9166.
Date: 11 September 2010.
Closing date: 17th September 2010.
“What do you call a bus load of beneficiaries at the bottom of the Waikato river? Answer: A good start”-Graffitti on a public toilet in Hamilton.
“ Being on a benefit does not entitle one to enjoy the same standard of living as a person gainfully employed...if they don’t understand this then there is little chance of them getting off a benefit as there are not many well paying jobs for the dim”—Nicky 59 Trade Me message board.
“ Single women should be subject to an Act of Parliament that criminalises pregnancy out of wedlock and compels abortions on all pregnant single women unless they sign a declaration that waives any right to a benefit” Anonymous blog on right wing web site 2010.
“ If he Mr.... wants to get a new pair of shoes he can go the op shop and pick a second hand pair for $5.00.” [ As opposed to receiving a grant from WINZ] Muriel Newman former ACT party MP and millionaire deer farmer.
To ensure the submission is properly understood the writer assumes the
WWG has a thorough understanding of the 1972 McCarthy Report on social justice. It is also recommended that the WWG absorb the contents of a 2009 paper prepared by the economists Susan St.John and Keith Rankin “The Welfare Mess” and the 2009 edition of “The Spirit Level”by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett. .................................................................................................
At a medical conference in Auckland earlier this year organised by the Royal
Australasian College of Physicians [ Faculty of Occupational and Environmental
Medicine ] Dr David Bratt, the senior medical advisor to the Ministry of Social
Development stated quite categorically that New Zealand is a “class based
Society” and that one of the indicators of this could be seen in the way income
was distributed between those in the audience and beneficiaries. He contended,
with some accuracy, that those at this conference spent more on “coffee
and parking” than beneficiaries received by way of transfers. This, from a senior bureaucrat was as unusual as it was refreshing for it substantiated what beneficiaires have felt for years. Being on a benefit is no joy and Bratts comments gave substance to the implications of living below the poverty line. To give this more meaning, in June 2008 14% were living under the 60% threshold for disposable household income [ St John and Rankin ] and the majority would
Beneficiaries see it as quite ironic that they are often held responsible for risky
capitalist ventures and economic recessions particularly in terms of holding back
a recovery. The beneficiary will tend to suffer the opprobrium from a financial
blowout by being held accountable for any difficulty in restoring economic and
financial equilibrium on the basis that their received transfers have negative
impacts. By either the alleged indolence of an assumed ennui or a lack of
gumption, the beneficiary is perceived as devil like and thus becomes a
convenient whipping boy, the butt of demeaning jokes [ see above], stereotyping
and derogatory labelling. There are many mistaken beliefs in these views central
to which is the somewhat curious conclusion, common in middle NZ, that anyone
on a benefit either refuses to work, dislikes any form of labour and is loathe to , in
the Ministers own words.. “get off the couch.” There is never any point where any
consideration is given to the fact that many cannot work or get suitable work This
is a reality and it is a reality for a variety of reasons unassociated,as strange as it
may seem, from an innate desire to be profligate.
These misplaced social assumptions are then translated into political actions.
Given the nature of the quotations at the head of this submission it isn’t difficult
to see the ingrained prejudice evident in New Zealand and the narrow
conceptualisations of what constitutes work as an apparent panacea for all our
social and economic ills. It is suggested, again with evidence, that the constituent
elements of work are determined within narrow parameters. Possibly derived
from some sort of settler mentality bolstered by neo-liberal or Weberian
protestant ethic, work, of any sort, is seen as being fundamental to economic well
being as much as not working is seen as creating constraints to economic
sustainabilty. However, that belief clouds two equally essential elements typical
of more healthy societies than NZ. One is the many social and financial benefits
5. Work in NZ tends to be heirarchially organised and tightly controlled. Together with the influences of neo- liberalism and free market ideology [ such as individualism ] it has a tendency, in many instances, to limit or deny the strong human values central to a healthy society. Community solutions and a collective well being become fractured in favour of what’s best for an individual in an artifically constructed competitive environment. Workers in NZ become trapped in and alienated by, the frequently mundane, repetitive and unrewarding work that is most on offer in this land of limited opportunities. And this circumstance becomes blurred by such fatuous expressions as “ work is good for us all” another neo- liberal one size-fits- all false construct. This notion of work fails to take into account the social context in which work occurs. Trouble is that the concept, with its accompanying racist overtones, has become accepted very much as a given despite evidence to the contrary. Thus, being in receipt of a benefit is construed not as an inability to work through genuine illness, disability or circumstance [temporary or otherwise ] but as a consciously pre- determined unwillingness. Attempts at redress, being based on the pejorative veiw of beneficiaries and a perceived need to satisfy social disapproval, is to introduce oppressive policies based on a more stick than carrot approach, little commonsense and devoid of human values. What’s happened in NZ is that distinctive patterns of social groupings have emerged. These patterns consist of groupings of inclusion [ based around working ] and exclusion [ based around welfare ]. These assumptions though are unsound and ignore true causal factors that, in truth, lie outside the beneficiary experience. So strong is the prejudice, so compelling, insidious and pervasive are the notions toward beneficiary condemnation that it has given rise to a political paralysis to consider any new approaches better based on human values and that hold a real potential to reduce the costs of social dysfunction and disharmony.
For beneficiaries one of the most impacting is that of “ work capacity,” an inanely silly method of determining benefit entitlement and one derived from an orchestrated reworking of previous policies. The concept has had wide application in Accident Compensation Insurance assessments and is now prevalent in Work and Income [ WINZ ] re-evaluations of benefit entitlements. It is a counter spin to the previous ‘incapacity for work’ assessment and has been given substance by the [poor, suspect research] of Carol Black author of the eponymous ‘ Black Report’. Work capacity as opposed to work incapacity is a sort of smoke and mirrors routine, predicated on a one size fits all approach, to which the unwitting beneficiary falls victim. Applied by medical people and bureaucrats acting as welfare police, it is a deviant rubric albeit one that has a consistency with NZs puntive culture [ see the paragraphs on imprisonment below ]. On the one hand it is based on a corrupt premise that sees death as the only true disability ie: where there is breath there is an ability to work or, as one arrogant GP recently expressed to a single parent.. “if you can have a baby, if you can hold a baby, if you can feed a baby, then you can work.” Very much a positivist position it aims to construct a general law that expresses a relationship between phenomena. The approach, being positivist, suggests that if a phenomena can’t be measured it is not worth a grain of salt and work ‘incapacity’ has always been hard to measure. This proved to be the case in the 1990s when attempts to measure it were discarded as it gave rise to an inability to reach any consensus on the constituent elements of an incapacity and therefore a percentage of what that incapacity was. This became particularly pronounced when a disablement percentage, or degree of illness, was attempted as it required alignment against employment possibilities based on a consideration of many different variables that could exacerbate the condition. It was eventually ditched. A ‘capacity’ to work though, proves not to be so difficult as the bottom line is lowered to that of, to use an insurance term, ‘functionality’. This can and does absent all those other variables. It allows for the
Work is most often considered only as a job. In the context of a captialist economy in which only the benefits of work are stated, work is promoted as enabling and, in the Black Report, as healthy and empowering. In NZs low waged economy this must be seriously doubted. In any modern developed nation [ and NZ is defined as such ] work has to be more than a job. It must hold values---- quality endeavours, quality pay and positive potentials. It is not as Carol Black would have us believe, ‘ good for us all’. It isn’t if the conditions of labour are grim and prospects limited. It follows therefore, that if people, and beneficiaries in particular, are dragooned into work from an already dislocated and disadvantageous position then the consequences of any extra burden and stress will inevitably be expressed somewhere else and a backwash of anger and outrage to follow. Socially retrograde consequences will result and the costs of that escalate. To blather on endlessly about ‘work being good for us all’ is a nonsense that can only fail if the social context in which work occurs is not taken into account and this is where the Black Report falls over.
A hydrocephalic, spina bifida, wheelchair dependent Invalids beneficiary with a brain shunt and colostomy was reassessed under a work capacity requirement for Invalids Benefit entitlement. This assessment was conducted by a WINZ ‘designated doctor’ with an apparent bias.This doctor concluded that as the patient had the ability to communicate and to breathe unassisted he could be re- assessed for work as he had ‘ a capacity’ of some sort. This effected two things. First, it removed any entitlement to an IB and was replaced by an Unemploymeny Benefit paid a signifcsntly lower rate until employment was found.Placed in a mall kiosk as a sales assistant by WINZ he was ill suited to the task for a variety
9. Anecdote 2:
A Sickness Beneficiary applied for an IB in 2007. His GP agreed to the transition on medical grounds although the State required another assessment by a designated doctor. Applying the really credible dualities of assumption and ideology! The designated doctor proclaimed without examination of the determining conditions, that no IB would be approved on the basis he could clearly see the applicant could walk, talk and read. The applicants medical issues did, of course,require a greater examination. A complaint was lodged with the Health and Disability Commissioner who found against the medical practitioner referring him to the Medical Council. The incident is indicative of the all too prevalent precipitate, petulant, pretentious and presumptuous pronouncements by those who have assumed an over deluded sense of self importance and are divorced from the ethical aspects of their profession. Doctors as prosecutor, judge and jury.
10. Anecdote 3:
Quite recently an Invalids Beneficiary, was directed by a WINZ case
Manager to be more pro- active in finding a job.To this end she was ordered to obtain a driving licence. The only difficulty was she was totally blind! Obviously new processes around unassigned case managers that apparently makes for a more effcient service [ yeah right! ] meant that the allocated manager had no background knowledge of circumstances. The real issue though is that the present obssession with work has become so schiozid, the drive to acheive‘efficiency’set in a structural functional dynamic has clouded the wood from the trees. WINZ staff are inefficient enough in daily routines as it is without any need to compound
11. Anecdote 4:
A 26 year old single woman on DPB with three children aged 9, 8 and 6. Resides in Otahuhu, South Auckland.Her 6 year old has a small degree of autisim, the 9 year old already evidencing anti- social behaviour problems for which counselling is required. WINZ, under current policy, believe she now has a capacity to work as her youngest is 6 and “ work will be good for her”. She is unskilled and poorly educated. She was denied a right to any re- training as there was a job available for her in Henderson that did not require a skill base and would accommodate her need to work only limited hours. She could not drive and the work hours were 9am – 3pm.There was a train service between Otahuhu and Henderson that further rationalised the WINZ decision but no account was taken of the need for child care before and after school and in school holidays. Travel time to and from work was not thought to be an issue. Effectively at the very least her working day would have been 6.30am to 4.30pm!! When challenged the case manager, assigned under the Rebstock efficiency model and who was unaware of her circumstances in a more intimate detail , advised that WINZ had no responsibility other than to find her a job and she should appreciate that working would “be good for her”.It would be good for her as it would give her more money [ wrong—the costs of travel and child care saw to that ] independence [ wrong as it created a different set of dependencies ] and more self worth [ wrong again. the job was pressing clothes on a steam press 8 hours a day standing up on a concrete floor and the going home exhausted to engage in her work as a mother]. So much for efficiency.
The Social Consequences of Poverty and Unequal Incomes:
12. Taking into account that New Zealand is listed as a developed, rich nation it comes as something of a surprise to note that we are one of the most unequal
13. The costs of health can also be attributed to the high level of income inequality in this country. By looking at just one health issue we can get a good picture of the costs of inequality. Our high incidence of obesity [ 5th highest from 21 others ] is revealing. Obesity, and its costs, can be attributed, in the final analysis, to a disparity in incomes. It is well documented in the research data that in nations with a greater equality of incomes there is a corresponding reduction in obesity. Ergo, less expenditure on health. The Otago Medical School Health and Nutrition Research Unit [ Dr Winsome Parnell ] has advised the writer that the health
The use of illict drugs is equally troublesome. People in more unequal societies
are more likely to use illegal drugs[ Wilkinson & Pickett ]. Enormous damage is
done by widespread drug addiction both to its victims and in funding organised
crime. The World Drug Report 2007 compiled by the UN Office on Drugs and
Crime, contains the results of sample surveys on the prevalence of the use of
opiates, cocaine, cannabis, ecstasy and amphetamines. Wilkinson and Pickett
combined these into one index, giving them equal weights, and found a strong
tendency for drug abuse to be more common in more unequal countries eg: NZ.
The evidence shows, on the index of drug use and income inequality, that NZ is
the second highest.
Homicide rates are lower and children experience less violence in more equal
societies. NZ has a high incidence of violence. Figures for domestic violence tend
to reflect that of violence elsewhere in society. A 2004 study [ Fanslow and
Robinson ] showed that between 33% and 39% of women have been forced to
have sex by a partner at least once during their lifetime and 18% of men had been
assaulted by their partner. Emergency Department studies on the prevalence of
16. Recently the WHO established world mental health surveys that provide the necessary data on mental health issues. These show that different societies have different levels of mental illness and that mental ill health is more prevalent in rich countries with high levels of income inequalities [ NZ ]. This country has a poor record of mental illness and comes in at 4th place.
17. There are now over 170 studies of income inequality in relation to various aspects of health. Life expectancy, infant mortality, low birth rate and self rated health have been repeatedly shown to be worse in unequal income societies. These studies, should the WWG be interested, feature in the journal Science and Medicine. The most consistent interpretation of this evidence is that inequality makes life more stressful. Chronic stress is known to affect the cardiovascular and
The high rate of infant deaths in NZ [ second equal in the developed world ]
evidences the above with 6 infant deaths per 1000, second only to the USA.
Societies with significant income inequalities have significant social problems.
Decisions not based on issues of equality and human values will always have a
marginalising tendency. Thus some of the alleged remedial options put forward
by the WWG are complacent, ill thought and foolish. The Canadian “ insurance
model” is fraught with potentials to fail [ and negatively affect beneficiaires in the
process ] given the ‘profit at all costs’ mentality of insurance companies and the
claw backs they impose to sustain and increase profit. The “ work is good for us
all” model based on the Black Report is a limited, weak and woefully inadequate
research exercise that concludes on a one- size- will- fits- all basis. It is fatuous
and it is sophistory and it recommnedations sets up doctors as state paid welfare
cops. Taken overall, the options for welfare cut backs thus far suggested or
inferred by the WWG fail to address the most elementary problem that underlies
the issue. That is, income inequality and the discordant consequences of that for
all members of a society.
The interests of beneficaries and the options for change.
New Zealanders need to shed their prejudices. They need to be better informed
and the state needs to get its facts right. If the WWG is to be “ free thinking” as
John Key has claimed then it best utilise that opportunity to achieve the best
outcome for all. This “free thinking” agenda set by the Prime Minister-- in a
statement to John Armstrong of the NZ Herald [10 August 2010 ]-- would permit
the WWG to interrogate the adequacy of benefit payments that are elsewhere said
to fall outside its remit. The WWG can ‘free think’ and comment on the issue. It
also provides an opportunity to set things straight for, at the very least, the WWG
21. There is a difference between what beneficiaries need and want. What we need most is respect and equality. To achieves this we need, and urgently I suggest, a substantial increase in benefits [with a corresponding increase in lower paid earnings ]. It is not sufficient for the WWG to deny this as an option simply because Bennett has excluded it from the brief. No consideration of welfare reform that makes any sense and that would make our society more equal, healthy and prosperous, can exclude benefit increases as a fundamental necessity. Raising the incomes of those at the bottom, with a corresponding decrease in incomes for those at the top can result in social benefits for all.
22. What beneficiaries also need is for WINZ, as the administrative arm of the state, to cease the over zealous use of targeting. We also need a cessation of the practice that joint income tests for couples.
23. We need a re –evaluation of the allowable working hours criteria.
24. We need a cessation of ‘modelling’ specifically medical models and an end to the use of the designated doctor system.
We need a re-introduction of the designated case manager practice so that
relationships can be forged and an option to change managers when there is need.
What beneficiaries need is for equality to be created across the social spectrum.
The cessation of stigma borne from conservative ill informed prejudice.The ever
widening gap between rich and poor in NZ is working against its credibility as a
decent, healthy, modern nation state. It is distressing for a beneficiary to hear, for
example, that $1.8 billion dollars is owed by absent fathers under their obligations
to their children, former partners and the state and that nothing is done about this.
The writer, as advocate, has dealings with a DPB recipient who is being pressured
into work by WINZ but her ex husband, who owes nearly $100,000 to the state in
unpaid child support and now lives in the UK, is not being pursued for this debt
despite his periodic return to NZ to visit his family in Aucklands elite suburb of St
Heliers. Inland Revenue take no action against him despite the data matching
technology available. This is serious stuff and it is somehow ironic that the
woman on DPB is seen, in a social context, as the problem when it is the ex
partner that owes over $100k???
24 We beneficiaries want meaningful action to amend this whole sick and sorry state of affairs. Where to start? Well, let’s try the public sector first. The civil service is easy pickings being paid by the state but the salaries of the CEO of the MSD, [ well over half a million a year ]TVNZ [ $3 million ]and Telecom [ even more ] need, amongst others, to be addressed. It is ludicrous for the MSD CEO to be on a salary of more than $560,000 a year. It is outrageous that this is more than that received by the Chief Justice and the Prime Minister. Similarly with TVNZ/Telecom where both individuals are paid excessively from the state purse. Senior staff in all those organisations need to experience salary reductions. At the same time workers on their shop floors perhaps need pay increases. Reducing public service expenditure comes
24.1 Beneficiaries are sick to the back teeth on hearing, pretty much on a daily basis, that the gap between rich and poor is widening and that any rewards, both health and financial, of economic growth have disproportionately gone to those at the top. We fear that this entrenched inequality is set to continue. Those with the broadest shoulders are not bearing the broadest burden of reducing any deficit or any social costs. Inequality, as per the free market mantra, is not good for us all. Likewise. competiton is not good for us all particularly when there are those who, for whatever reason, are unable [ note: not unwilling ] to compete because the playing field isn’t level. It was interesting to see that those with those broad shoulders had, post Budget, the broadest smiles whereas the impact of benefit changes instituted thus far, the rise in GST [ always a regressive tax] and rising unemployment will be felt much more keenly by those at the bottom of the social class ladder
25. Those nations with less of a disparity in incomes between top and bottom have far less social problems and thus less welfare and other costs. There are two ways of achieving this same equality and I will draw the WWGs attention, again, to the work of Wilkinson and Pickett of the Equality Trust to demonstrate this. First, smaller differences in pay before tax [ Japan] and second, redistribution through taxes and benefits [ Sweden] with the two approaches capable of being combined. Differences in Japanese earnings are smaller even before taxes and benefits. While Sweden has a large state and well developed public services, in Japan public expenditure makes up an unusually small part [ compared to other OECD countries ] of its gross national income.
What this means is that how societies become more equal is less important than that
they do. The NZ government, at any one time, has plenty of policy options to make
society more equal. There are hundreds of different ways of doing so: indeed, with
government expenditure, both central and local, averaging close to 40% of GDP in
developed countries [ NZ ], it is impossible for governments not to affect income
distribution. Preventing excessively high incomes and concentrations of wealth
at the top is as important as pulling up the incomes at the bottom, and the first
clearly provides the means for the second.
As well as more progressive income and property taxes and more generous benefits,
we also need policies to reduce the differences in incomes before taxes and benefits.
That means higher minimum wages, more generous retirement and other pensions,
running the national economy with low levels of unemployment, better education
and retraining policies and increasing the bargaining power of trades union. Good
labour law, protection of union rights and a minimum living wage are amongst the
factors contributing to greater equality of incomes in the US state of New
Hampshire for example. One of the factors that makes a difference in Japan is how
companies are owned and run . Differences in incomes of directors and employees
in Japanese companies used to be smaller partly because almost all directors were
people who had been promoted from the shop floor. Other differences in corporate
governance made unions influential stakeholders and union leaders were sometimes
given seats on the board. Patterns such as these led to different ethical standards.
Political will expressed by the public and politicans alike, is always a precondition
to attaining equality. That will only eventuate when NZers recognise how important
greater equality is to the quality of social relations and thus to the real quality of
life. The evidence is overwhelming that greater income equality improves health
and life expectancy, and dramatically reduces the frequency of a wide range of
social problems—violence, drug addiciton, mental ill health, obesity, physical
illnesses and rates of imprisonment.
The converse also holds true. If beneficiaries are held responsible for much longer,
if they are pressured anymore, or given no relief from current oppression then no
matter how any alternative expression is dressed up by the patronising spin of such
unmitigated idiocy as the “ work is good for us all” dictum when work is not
socially contextualised, when the true enemies of the “ high cost of welfare” are
those at the top not the bottom, then there will be an escalation of social costs
elsewhere. These in that case, will be the true costs of welfare—more jails, more
criminal behaviour, more violence, more suicides and more ill health. The current
welfare system cannot be reformed by undermining the living standards of
beneficiaries and the poor or by further stigmatising and alienating us. NZ society
will do this at its own risk.
In conclusion, the WWG needs to remind itself and its political masters to reinforce
the notion to middle NZ, that it is not possible to talk of a ‘ bludging beneficiary’
when there is no equality. ‘ Bludging can only occur in a circumstance of total
social and financial equality. Current thinking of the beneficiary as a sponger and a
problem is thus misplaced.