Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Silver Spoons are Few and Far Between

Life is Hard

The New Zealand government has trumpeted another decline in beneficiary numbers.  This is good news.
Social Development Minister Anne Tolley said today the 309,145 people on benefit at the end of the December 2014 quarter was 12,700 fewer than last year.  "This is the lowest December quarter since 2008 and the third consecutive quarter with such record lows," Tolley says.  Numbers on the Jobseeker Support benefit had fallen by more than 5500 since last year and had declined consistently since 2010, even as the overall working age population increased. [Stuff]
There is a peculiar world-view which takes great heart from permanently increasing beneficiary numbers--and the emergence of a class of perpetually unemployed.  It celebrates this as evidence of the success of government welfare programmes and of the central importance of the government in everyones' lives.  It is offered as a hallmark of an advanced, civilised society . . . until the "house that Jack built" runs out of citizens' money and the cards tumble down.  Politicians love to be doing "good things" with your money to justify their existence and ratchet up their ratings on the meter of self-importance.  The unintended consequences, however, are inevitable and very painful.

But for the most part people see reducing welfare rolls as very positive--for all concerned.  But not all.
  In the light of New Zealand's decreasing unemployment beneficiaries, the left's Labour spokeswoman, Carmel Sepuloni has claimed that there is no positive correlation between employment numbers and beneficiary numbers.  People coming off state welfare are not going into employment, she claims.
But Sepuloni questioned whether sole parents were just going off the benefit and not accessing financial support from anywhere.  She said recent sanctions had led to more hardship, with an increase in special needs grants and other help.  "You see increasing numbers of people who are out on the street begging, so you have to wonder whether or not they are just not complying with Work and Income NZ and, again, not accessing any financial support from employment or from the state."
And the problem is . . . ?  Work and Income now have compliance standards in order to access unemployment benefits.  Doubtless some of these are unnecessarily bureaucratic, but not all.  At the very least, however, compliance standards for welfare have undermined the dangerous idea that welfare is an automatic and perpetual right.  They have underscored the principle that welfare requires taking responsibility for performance.

The plain reality is that most--if not all--jobs have an intrinsic "nuisance" factor.  Employees are required to do stupid, even mindless things.  The more inefficient and badly run a business is, the more this will likely be the case.  Moreover, most jobs have aggravation factors that come from the boss being grumpy from time to time, or suffering offence from the behaviour of work colleagues, or having to navigate the arcane peculiarities of the public transport system, and so forth.  Therefore, having to put up with some bureaucratic inefficiencies from the welfare agencies in and of itself is not a bad thing.  It is a real-life training programme for getting and holding down a real-life job.

But some people drop out and end up not getting any financial support from anyone, says Sepuloni.  So . . . , maybe they did not really need it in the first place.  Maybe they are being supported by an extended family.  Maybe they have started odd-jobbing.  Necessity is the mother of invention, and extended family bonds and loyalties are often far stronger than politicians think.  What Sepuloni is arguing, however, whether she is aware of it or not, is that people she thinks are on the street begging, having gone off an unemployment welfare benefit, are there because of a lifestyle choice--a foolish one, maybe--but a choice nonetheless.  Help remains available and voluntary social agencies are there to help them access it. 

It seems to us that this is a far, far better approach than what Sepuloni is implicitly promoting: namely, that welfare should be handed out without conditions or qualifications, no questions asked.  Socialists are always generous with other people's money.  After all it is "free money", is it not?

We would respect politicians such as Sepuloni a whole lot more if she and her colleagues voluntarily tithed their parliamentary salaries and supported a charity to provide aid to street beggars.  We expect at that point some politicians would become a whole lot more picky and choosy as to who benefited from their generosity. 

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