Study pro­duces more sound than light

Kapi-Mana News - - OPINION -

For decades, it has been an ar­ti­cle of faith in po­lit­i­cal cir­cles that get­ting tough on wel­fare is a sure-fire vote win­ner. Wel­fare re­form was, for ex­am­ple, the topic cho­sen by Don Brash for his sec­ond Orewa speech, af­ter his 2004 ef­fort on race re­la­tions had kick-started his chal­lenge to the Clark Govern­ment.

Brash’s wel­fare speech in elec­tion year 2005, though, had nowhere near the same im­pact – and a sim­i­lar fate could be­fall the wel­fare op­tions re­port re­leased re­cently by the Cabi­net-ap­pointed Wel­fare Work­ing Group.

The re­ces­sion has left few fam­i­lies in New Zealand un­touched, and the pub­lic may be feel­ing more in­clined to treat any rise in wel­fare num­bers as re­flect­ing a lack of jobs, rather than in­di­cat­ing a sud­den na­tion­wide aver­sion to work.

Re­gard­less, the Wel­fare Work­ing Group seems to think time has stood still since Orewa 2005. It pro­poses stiffer work tests, time lim­its on wel­fare, an un­em­ploy­ment in­surance scheme and the screen­ing of those on sick­ness and dis­abil­ity ben­e­fits – all in re­sponse to a sit­u­a­tion of 338,000 peo­ple of work­ing age be­ing on ben­e­fits.

The cri­sis im­plied by that huge num­ber, though, is some­what mis­lead­ing in that 85,000 have se­vere mental or phys­i­cal dis­abil­i­ties, 58,000 have been doc­u­mented by med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als as sick, 112,000 are rais­ing chil­dren alone, and 65,000 are ac­tively look­ing for work – which takes care of 78 per cent of the prob­lem.

The pro­por­tion of our work­ing-age pop­u­la­tion on dis­abil­ity ben­e­fits – and our lev­els of spend­ing on sick­ness and dis­abil­ity in gen­eral – are well be­low OECD av­er­ages.

In fact, be­fore the global re­ces­sion hit, dole num­bers in New Zealand had shrunk to record low lev­els, with only 1700 be­ing on the dole for four years or more.

When jobs ex­ist, the ev­i­dence sug­gests peo­ple will work – and when they don’t, they can’t. Room for im­prove­ment, of course, al­ways ex­ists.

Fresh re­sources and case man­age­ment would make early in­ter­ven­tion fea­si­ble, and might help some peo­ple now on sick­ness and in­valids ben­e­fits into work, at least part-time. In gen­eral though, the cli­mate for em­ploy­ment is show­ing few signs of im­prove­ment.

Last­ing so­lu­tions will re­quire ac­tion by cen­tral govern­ment, em­ploy­ers and in­vestors, be­cause they alone have the re­sources to cre­ate jobs.

No amount of pos­i­tive think­ing by a solo mother, for ex­am­ple, will cre­ate a job at her lo­cal su­per­mar­ket if it is lay­ing off staff.

Many will find it puz­zling why that sim­ple re­al­ity seems so dif­fi­cult for the Wel- fare Work­ing Group to grasp.

Could govern­ment re­sources be bet­ter di­rected into ‘‘make work’’ schemes and could en­hanced child­care sub­si­dies make a dent in the dole and DPB num­bers?

Alas, there is lit­tle anal­y­sis of such is­sues in the wel­fare re­port, which is mainly de­voted to puni­tive mea­sures in­tended to change the mind­set of ben­e­fi­cia­ries and drive them into the job mar­ket, in search of largely non-ex­is­tent po­si­tions.

The wel­fare group re­port seems to be some­what out of step with the re­al­ity be­ing ex­pe­ri­enced by most New Zealan­ders.

Gor­don Camp­bell is an ex­pe­ri­enced po­lit­i­cal jour­nal­ist and colum­nist who has writ­ten for The Lis­tener and Scoop.

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