Key’s em­pha­sis on wel­fare mis­placed

Kapi-Mana News - - OPIN­ION/NEWS -

The ri­ots in Bri­tain lent ex­tra ur­gency to Prime Min­is­ter John Key’s speech to the Na­tional Party con­fer­ence last week­end, dur­ing which he un­veiled a pack­age of mea­sures on how the wel­fare sys­tem should re­spond to teenagers on ben­e­fits.

The fact that the fo­cus would be on tight­en­ing the con­di­tions for of­fer­ing state sup­port for young peo­ple – rather than on, say, cre­at­ing the jobs likely to avoid them go­ing on ben­e­fits in the first place – was re­veal­ing.

All around the world, gov­ern­ments are find­ing it dif­fi­cult to cope with an en­tire gen­er­a­tion of young peo­ple who seem to be largely sur­plus to re­quire­ments, at least within a global econ­omy wed­ded to cheap labour and job­de­stroy­ing technology.

In that re­spect, the speech had an air of mi­cro-man­ag­ing the deck chairs on the Ti­tanic.

More de­tails of the Gov­ern­ment’s crack­down on wel­fare, Key in­di­cated, would fol­low in the run-up to the elec­tion.

Once the nec­es­sary changes to the Pri­vacy and Education leg­is­la­tion have been passed, al­most all ben­e­fi­cia­ries aged be­tween 16 and 18 will have their ben­e­fit pay­ments man­aged by wel­fare bureau­crats, with only those on in­valids ben­e­fits be­ing spared the new regime.

The cost of rent and power bills will be au­to­mat­i­cally de­ducted and a lim­ited amount of dis­cre­tionary in­come would be al­lowed on a pay­ment card, which will be un­able to be used to buy al­co­hol or cig­a­rettes.

All 18-year-old moth­ers would be ex­pected to be in work or train­ing, Key ex­plained, by the time their child was one.

To­day, there are about 13,000 16 and 17-year-olds not in work, education or train­ing.

Also, about 1600 16 and 17-year-olds are liv­ing on a spe­cial ben­e­fit, be­cause it would be un­safe for them to be liv­ing at home. No-one knows how many of those 13,000 young teenagers on wel­fare are ac­tively seek­ing work, and fail­ing to find it.

What is known is that when work is avail­able, the ben­e­fit num­bers go down. That’s why the dole num­bers re­duced sharply from 40,000 to 18,000 be­tween 2006 and 2008 – and then reached a peak of 62,000 af­ter the global re­ces­sion hit, be­fore de­clin­ing slightly this year.

As even the So­cial De­vel­op­ment Min­istry web­site con­cedes, un­em­ploy­ment is not be­cause of a sud­den out­break of ir­re­spon­si­bil­ity among to­day’s teens, but to changes in eco­nomic con­di­tions.

The cur­rent wel­fare statis­tics do, how­ever, con­tain an alarm­ing trend.

Five years

ago, 18

to 24-year-olds com­prised 22.5 per cent of those on the dole. To­day, they com­prise nearly 30 per cent.

Over the same pe­riod, there has been an al­most iden­ti­cal rise among those aged from 40 to 54. If the cause was one of mo­ti­va­tion, it surely couldn’t be strik­ing teenagers and ma­ture work­ers alike, at the same time. Nor, in any case, is the con­di­tion par­tic­u­larly long-last­ing.

Cur­rently, 98.3 per cent of those on the dole re­ceive it for less than four years, and 72 per cent for less than a year.

All of which sug­gests that the best way of get­ting peo­ple – of all ages – off wel­fare is to man­age the econ­omy in a way that en­cour­ages job cre­ation.

For now, though, the Gov­ern­ment seems far more fo­cused on crack­ing down on teenagers out of work than in fos­ter­ing poli­cies of full em­ploy­ment.

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

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