Pride in never having been on the dole

New Zealanders have this odd fascination for saying “I was poor and struggling but I never took government handouts” with this glow of pride that says ‘I’m better than all those scum that take the dole when they’re broke’. It’s a shitty attitude, and it needs to stop.

People that are on government assistance come from all walks of life. They’re proud factory workers who have lost their jobs in hard economic times when everyone is ‘downsizing’ and have three kids and a mortgage to pay off. Are they lesser people for taking the social security that they have paid taxes to fund all their lives, the social security that is there for exactly this scenario? I would not put myself above those people if I had never been on a benefit.

They can be people who are chronically ill or disabled and unable to work. The security net is there for them as well, and they should not be shamed for using it. The way we treat our vulnerable members defines who we are as a society.

They can be people who have caught a temporary illness like campylobacteriosis which forces them off their food-handling job due to health regulations. Passing things like that on is nasty for all involved, and so they are simply not permitted to do the job that has been supporting them, so they’re on a sickness benefit until medically cleared. They have a job. They can’t do it. Does this make them lesser people?

There are many scenarios. The ones people really mean, though, is ‘long-term beneficiaries’ and sole parents. To be blunt, ‘long term beneficiaries’ is a group that’s vanishingly small – less than 0.1% of unemployment and sole parent beneficiaries are supported by the government for ten years or more. Less than three percent are on it for more than five. Those are small numbers, and judging the majority of beneficiaries by these few is unfair. It doesn’t matter that you know people that have never worked and have no intention to. The data says that they are an anomaly, not the norm.

Judging sole parents for taking the support meant for them is garbage. It’s really bloody hard to raise kids in an environment of few jobs and low pay, with few benefits like childcare included in any employment package. 71% of solo mothers have no more than a secondary education, with more than 30% having no qualifications at all. Jobs that including flexibility for mothers are generally those on the more-qualifications-needed end of the job scale, and realistically affording child care requires the more-qualifications-needed end of the pay scale. Childcare subsidies just aren’t enough when you’re on a minimum wage job and raising children.

Being proud of struggling along without using the social safety net means that you think you’re better than those who do use it, and that’s not something I would be proud of. Doing it hard but without help may be an achievement, but lording it over those who can’t or don’t is misguided.


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