Yesterday, I went along to the $8.95 Welfare Forum organised by the Alternative Welfare Working Group. I was pleased to see around 100 people turn out – twice the number I’ve been told were at the $895 Welfare Conference opened by Paula Bennett yesterday.
Minister Bennett was, as I expected, a no-show at the $8.95 Welfare Forum. She seems to only listen to those she wants to hear, and beneficiaries and those working to support beneficiaries don’t appear to be among them.
I found Alternative Welfare Working Group Chair Professor Mike O’Brien’s address particularly interesting. He said that several social policy academics had commented to him that the Welfare Working Group’s report [PDF] was one of the most academically unsound pieces of social policy work they had seen. Professor O’Brien said the Welfare Working Group had started with the “answer” which the government wanted, which was a crackdown on beneficiaries, and then posed the questions that led to that answer.
Professor Paul Dalziel from Lincoln University pointed out that the Welfare Working Group attempt to portray some sort of “crisis of sustainability” in the welfare system was not backed by the evidence. Welfare payments as a percentage of GDP are actually dropping and will continue to drop, even under the Welfare Working Group’s worst case scenario. As I suspected, the whole basis upon which the Welfare Working Group’s report was based is flawed.
Kay Brereton from the Beneficiaries Advocacy Federation followed Professor Dalziel, saying that there was a crisis with Work and Income, but that the crisis was operational, not fiscal. She talked about the difficulties people have getting benefits already. She produced figures showing that a full 46% of people who attempt to apply for an unemployment benefit haven’t been granted it within 28 days. That is something I am going to follow up.
Even more bizarre was Kay Brereton’s revelation that people were having their benefits stopped for failing to turn up to job-search seminars because – wait for it – they have taken on some part-time or casual work on the day of the seminar. And these things are happening now – before any of the recommendations of the Welfare Working group have been considered.
The most inspiring part of the $8.95 Welfare Forum was that so many groups are planning to take action to oppose the Welfare Working Group’s punitive recommendations being introduced. Actions proposed ranged from sending postcards to direct action protests at National MPs’ offices.
And here’s an action you can take right now. Send Paula Bennett an e-card asking her to reject the Welfare Working group’s report. New Zealand kids deserve access to essentials and opportunities, especially in hard-times. Cutting benefits, work-testing parents, and targeting the disabled will leave many people and their children out in the cold.