I tend to write a lot about social welfare and the attacks that our current government are making on it. I defend those who are harmed by the changes being made to the system fairly unconditionally. I’m sure there are people who raise an eyebrow and write me off for such unconditional support.
I’ve been broke. I’ve had to rely on a benefit after my daughter was born, because my partner didn’t work and it took me a couple of months to find a job. I’ve also lived on the Student Allowance, which is a payment specifically for people studying. It’s a lot easier to be on than a benefit, because you don’t have to deal with WINZ all the time. But it’s still not a lot of money, and it’s really not a lot to raise a couple of kids on.
I sympathise with people living on the dole, because I’ve been there. I sympathise with the working poor, because I’ve been there too, working a minimum wage job and trying to raise a child. So when people start having a go at people like me, I get a little uptight. I’m not lazy, or bludging. I used a tool I needed to get out of some holes that I was in.
People back up a bit when I say that I was on the dole. They start sputtering a bit about how I must be an exception or something. thing is, I’m not. There are thousands of people out there that do exactly that. Three quarters of all unemployment beneficiaries on it for less than a year, and all that. the image of the average beneficiary as a useless bludger has to change. It’s just not true for the majority of beneficiaries, and it’s not fair to portray them like this.
But what about all the people who are there long-term? They’re just abusing the system, right? Well, maybe. But the numbers are vanishingly small. By the four-year mark (the first mark after the one-year mark in the study) around 93% of beneficiaries are off the dole, and less than one percent make it to the ten-year mark. So yeah, there are some people who are long-term beneficiaries, and the dole was not supposed to be for people like that, but it’s reality, and the scale is so small that they shouldn’t be used as examples of what people believe the majority of beneficiaries to be like.
I’m not going to try and say that beneficiaries are all sunshine and roses. They have all of the problems that poverty brings, and some do turn criminal. Some game the system, working under the table while claiming the benefit. Some people might get their doctors to give them ‘soft’ medical certificates, so they can keep claiming even when they’re well again. Some mothers might even keep having kids in order to keep getting the DPB. But the point I will always come back to is that these are the exceptions, not the rule.
In general, people don’t fill out a WINZ form with the intention of screwing over the taxpayer. They go through the awful process of getting a benefit because they need it – because they’re newly a single parent, because they’re unwell, because they’ve lost their job or because they came out of school and just couldn’t find one. Making the few that abuse the system the public face of all beneficiaries is unjust, un-called for, and unrealistic. It needs to stop being the idea that people who have never been broke imagine whenever someone brings up the subject.