Catherine Delahunty

Inside the welfare forum we were un-invited to

by Catherine Delahunty

Today and tomorrow, the Welfare Working Group is hosting a forum on welfare issues to look at the big picture.

It was advertised as open to the first 250 people who enrolled, and billed as bringing together “a diversity of opinions and experience”.

Metiria and I immediately registered, along with one of our researchers, because we have a deep interest in these issues, and received emails accepting our registrations and sending us the forum timetable. It was never suggested that the forum was closed to MPs.

However, about five days before the forum we all received an email telling us that they were sorry but we couldn’t attend because “priority has been given to community and voluntary sector organisations”. Not even our Parliamentary advisor on work and income has been allowed to go along.

This was pretty rude given the way the Forum was advertised as open to all (especially because it looks to me in this video like there are were plenty of spare seats today!)

Fortunately, we have our contacts from the community and they are keeping us briefed.

At the end of Day One they tell us it is feels like a closed conversation promoting the Government’s agenda. They tell us that it was opened by Social Development Minister Paula Bennett who said she was there to listen and then promptly left. The keynote speakers have been advocates for a range of depressingly draconian welfare ideas from time-limited benefits to turning welfare into ACC.

My contacts tell me this discussion is ridiculously 1990s and is an attack on the fundamental principles of welfare which include supporting the vulnerable and the poor.

No matter how many times they say “empowerment” the reality on the ground is that the Government’s “Future Focus” Bill is planning to sanction the sick and sole parents by cutting benefits – all at the same time as cuts to Early Childhood Education.

So the forum won’t hear the Green challenges about welfare and they probably won’t listen to heroes of the unemployment movement like Sue Bradford and Kay Brereton who do have a brief platform at the event. We look forward to the Working Group’s conclusions which will no doubt help the Government to rationalise this latest attack on the poor.

When times get tough the tough attack the easy targets, but lets not pretend it has anything to do with fairness or positive change for beneficiaries and their children.