Yesterday, I came across a video by our beloved Prime Minister, John Key. He was pontificating on one of his very favorite subjects: beneficiaries. As always, he was deeply sympathetic to the difficulties of life on the poverty line, and had intelligent and helpful things to add to the ongoing conversation around unemployment. </sarcasm>
Mr Key opened the video with a bit of pride at his party’s desire to improve the lives of New Zealanders (or at least those of the wealthy ). He then related the heartwarming story of a young solo mother he met while pressing the flesh at a Life Skills group. She said to him on that occasion, probably rather unhappily, that after paying her bills, she only had $18 left for food each week. Mr Key told her to get a job.
Wait. Back the truck up. She had $18 left for food each week? That’s awful. Just plain awful. What about the other things that she and her child needed? If she needed to go to the doctor, how many weeks’ food did she have to sacrifice? $18 per week is absurd. It’s not possible to have any sort of good diet on that little. Maybe some cheap fruit, but the basis of their survival would be the cheapest carbs possible, so that they feel full. A nutritionist would be appalled.
Mr Key, this is a solo mother and her child. For whatever reason, she’s on a benefit, and she’s too poor to take her kid to the doctor (please don’t get sick baby, I can’t afford it). She’s too poor to buy then even very cheap clothes. She’s in a bad position, and she’s not the only one suffering. She has a child or children who are all suffering with her.
The benefit is not enough money. It’s too little to live on, even the most bare bones life. The circumstances of the people on it are irrelevant. The way it’s seen, the way it’s administered, are shameful. Dehumanising. Punitive. No one deserves the things that WINZ do, the way they treat their ‘clients’, the chicken feed they call enough to live on. Whether they’re newly redundant from the job they held for forty years or a ‘career beneficiary’, they deserve to be treated like people and paid like people. Living within your means is important, but it’s not possible if the amount you’re given is not enough to live on. Raise the benefit to at least a liveable amount. It would do wonders for the petty theft and drug-dealing rates.
Anyway. We have our dear leader advising this young woman to get a job (of course, the jobs are there for the taking for unqualified young solo parents. Place is absolutely heaving with them). Our young woman cites the difficulty of childcare, and Mr Key asks if there is family around. Turns out her mum is around to help. What the hell would he have said if there was no family, if her mum worked a full 40 hour week, and she was an only child and so on. Would we go down the chain of whanau, friends, passing acquaintances, guy that you saw down the river once who had caring eyes? How fortunate that she had her mum around, and woe betide those poor unsupported souls who are left with the choice of professional childcare or nothing (apparently leaving them alone in the mall while you work is not the done thing, and the cat is not considered an adequate caregiver).
So we have our young woman’s mother being pressed into service as an unpaid caregiver. I’m sure she’s thrilled. But she’s on a benefit, meaning that a) she’s in the same financial boat as her daughter, and caring for the child is going to put her under more pressure (oh, but the daughter could pay her. Not at market rate, though. Not even at minimum wage. Both of those would put daughter back in a worse financial position) and b) what happens when mum fulfils her work obligations under WINZ rules? She has to be actively looking for work and take any suitable work offered. Somehow, I don’t think ‘looking after my grandchild when my daughter works’ will be enough for her case manager. So she’s got to be actively looking for a job, and ready to start in a timely manner at any job she lands. Not exactly the most reliable babysitter, unless she’s not really trying to get work, and how could Mr Key accept that kind of slacking off by a beneficiary?
And then we have a follow-up call, by some politician in the woman’s electorate office. God alone knows why they knew anything about the woman, or her progress in life, but they had the news that she had managed to land a 30-hour-per-week job, and she had doubled her income. Evidently gran had decided to take the kid and ignore the WINZ rules, and maybe daughter was sharing some of the wealth. Maybe now she can clear some of the debt she must owe from however long she was on the benefit, because if you’ve already spent your food money for the week and you need to go to the doctor for something, the money doesn’t appear from nowhere. Little things build up. And doubling your income from too little to live on tends to not put you far above the poverty line. She’s not as poor as she was, but she’s by no means going to be even comfortably-off. And of course, we have gran, poor gran who is now tied into poverty herself, with no chance of pulling herself out of poverty. But forget gran, she’s not part of the little happy ending we have here.
Now, for the disclaimer (her life is still going to be hard graft, so she hasn’t gone and got uppity on us) and the scary statistic for the viewers at home. Apparently sole parents under the age of twenty will spend an average of twenty years on the dole. Scary, for the taxpayer. And there we have revealed who this is for. It’s not an inspirational story for beneficiaries to aspire to. It’s a confirmation for the rich that those poor people just need to go get jobs, and they’re just being lazy layabouts if they don’t. After all, it only took encouragement and support for this woman to become a productive member of society. Why can’t all the rest of them do it? Must be lazy dole-bludgers or career beneficiaries.
So that’s why Mr Key is in politics. Not because he gives a shit about DPB mums, but because he can spin a hopeful anecdote into a condemnation of those parasitic beneficiaries for his wealthy constituents to nod and smile over.
Another perspective: The Daily Blog