One of the cornerstones of the recommendations of the Welfare Working Group’s report (PDF) is sanctions against beneficiaries who “fail” work tests. Their thesis is that work will set you free from “welfare dependency” and if you fail to actively seek work your benefit should be cut for your own good!
The concept of “failing” work tests in a recession is a great red herring in the context of a tight labour market. However, the Welfare Working Group doesn’t discuss the reality of the current economic conditions for people looking for work, let alone admit to the economic benefits to employers of maintaining high levels of structural unemployment.
Their rhetoric is insidious because of course its bloody hard to live on benefits, and most people want a job with a living wage and the respect of a community that defines human worth through paid work.
But who decides that a beneficiary (or a “Jobseeker”, to use the Welfare Working Group’s terminology) has failed a work test? I presume it’s the Case Manager, whom they suggest should be called a “co-ordinator”, from the new “Employment and Support New Zealand” bureaucracy the Group proposes be created.
Whoever it is will have the power to cut peoples benefit by 25% after the first “failure”, 50% after the second and 100% after the third. Work testing will no doubt require people to demonstrate they have attended endless seminars on job readiness when jobs are scarce, and show that they have applied for as many jobs as possible, whether suitable for their skill set or not, and irrespective of their chances of actually obtaining a job. And the Welfare Working Group seems to think this will make the jobs magically appear.
An unrelenting round of rejections for scarce jobs will place beneficiaries, including those whose job search efforts and job choices are hampered by childcare commitments or mental or physical impairments, at risk of “failing” a work test. Becoming too disheartened to try will definitely result in severe sanctions including, eventually, the 100% benefit reduction proposed which Paula Bennett refuses to rule out. The implications for beneficiaries’ children are unthinkable.
The herding of the majority of beneficiaries into the “work test” corral smacks of scapegoating and dog whistles to the human dislike of anyone getting a “free ride”. This culture of punishment beneath the “wraparound support” promised by the reformists is not new for people who have spent time on a benefit.
But this is a new era and those who work at home as sole parents or who are discriminated against by a disabling world will have to beware. The “failure” police are about to be unleashed.