Social policy failure damaging New Zealand

It is one of the most contentious areas of Government policy. Every Government since I started paying attention to politics in 1993 has made social policy reform a priority for one reason or another. All of them have said that they want to reduce the child poverty; domestic violence and the social circumstances that lead to it, and so on. For the most part nothing has changed.We still have shocking levels of child poverty. Domestic violence figures are as high as they have ever been and the basics – food, clothing, medicine – are still as expensive as they have ever been.

As a person who lost his job in the wake of the Christchurch earthquake on 22 February 2011, and then spent 2.5 years on the unemployment benefit, I am rather well qualified to comment on the failings of the social welfare system in New Zealand. I made a few observations in that time:

  • The governing legislation is totally inflexible
  • Training for M.S.D. department staff is not adequate
  • The allowances and benefits are weighted wrongly – I was paid more per week to sit on my backside on the unemployment benefit, than to study at Vision College
  • The benefits and allowances are wholly inadequate
  • Poor and sometimes pedantic communication – stating the brazenly obvious, or only telling a person their benefit has been cut when they come to complain about a lack of money

I don’t feel nearly so sorry for the politicians and the managers in higher levels of the Ministry of Social Development whose (mis)management of the Ministry and its umbrella agencies – Work and Income, Child Youth and Family, Study Link, and so forth – leads to inept implementation of something that needs (in my honest opinion)a ground-up review.

Very sadly – although no one will admit it – Government policy was probably an aggravating factor in the Ashburton Work and Income murders. A horrible thing to say, and perhaps before time, but given the coldness of this government to anyone who is disadvantaged, unemployed, disabled or needing assistance getting out of a personal situation that may or may not have been of their making, there is a degree of truth in this.

But it is not just National that has poorly managed their opportunity to do some meaningful good for N.Z. social welfare. Labour had nine years in which to effect a turn around like the National governments preceding them and succeeding them, failed. There were a host of child abuse cases in that time which shocked the nation, such as Lillybing and led to a clamour for action. One of the options could have been to require that the right to remain silent in the case of child abuse be suspended where the caregiver/s are suspects in a case. Another could have been to compulsorily assign a case worker to at risk families.

The situation is like a compost heap at risk of self combustion. Peoples problems are (in place of organic matter)slowly fermenting, and gathering heat as they do. What is the temperature at which self combustion occurs and where might it happen? Nobody except the gunman could have reasonably seen the Ashburton murders coming.

Unless the flaws in N.Z. social welfare law are addressed, another compost heap is going to ignite, causing further wholly unnecessary distress and politicking. The Ashburton murders were the first in a government office in New Zealand.

I sincerely hope they are the last.

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