Tapu Misa on current affairs

Tapu Misa is a Herald columnist focussing on Pacific affairs

Tapu Misa: Precious little sense on Planet Paula

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Cost should not be only driver of social policies; principles matter, too, writes Tapu Misa.

This should not be seen as a cynical attempt by the Government to scare the bejesus out of taxpayers. Photo / Natalie Slade
This should not be seen as a cynical attempt by the Government to scare the bejesus out of taxpayers. Photo / Natalie Slade

Why do the papers spelling out the lifetime costs of beneficiaries call them "clients"?

Clients have rights (including the right to a measure of dignity). I'd have opted for "second-class citizens" myself, but apparently even they have rights.

"Losers" or "bludgers" would have been more fitting, but the PC brigade can be so precious about that kind of thing.

Doesn't everybody know that when you get money from the state, you automatically lose the right to make decisions about your own children?

It stands to reason: if you're too hopeless to work, you're too hopeless to be trusted with the care of your own children.

Clearly, only ignorant and lazy people are unemployed.

It's true that people who get Working For Families are also receiving money from the state, but they still have rights because people who do a minimum of 20 hours a week never neglect their children.

It's just common sense, isn't it?

This is how it is on Planet Paula.

The lifetime cost of benefits, by the way, is $78 billion.

Paula Bennett says it's useful to know this, even though the vast majority of people don't stay on benefits all their lives. Unless they're severely disabled. The unemployed get off reasonably quickly when there are jobs, and even the majority of DPB mums are off the benefit in under four years.

Still, this should not be seen as a cynical attempt by the Government to scare the bejesus out of taxpayers and soften us up for more so-called commonsensical "reforms" driven by a manufactured "welfare crisis".

No, no. It's to help the Government decide where it should spend our money. For example, thanks to the nearly million-dollar actuarial valuation from Australian firm Taylor Fry (a much better use of our money than feeding hungry kids), the Government now knows that it should invest more in getting young people into work. Apparently, it would never have known this otherwise. The "investment approach" is trumpeted as the "foundation for the benefit reform package".

It's no accident that this sounds a lot like the ACC approach.

As a Cabinet paper explained, it's "similar to insurance schemes, such as ACC".

Such an approach had "enhanced ACC's understanding of its clients, driven improvements in its services, and led to a significant drop in long-term costs".

It was a National government which in 1998 changed ACC's funding from a pay-as-you-go social insurance model to a fully funded private insurance one, a change which had the immediate effect of making ACC look unaffordable and in crisis.

It wasn't; ACC posted a surplus of $3.5 billion last year.

But that change led to the "culture of disentitlement" that's seen thousands of ACC claimants shunted off the corporation's books and on to lower-paying benefits.

Will the benefit system go the same way?

The abovementioned Cabinet paper suggested the Government might want to "revisit the question of whether forward funding would enhance the performance of the benefit system even further".

How we count, and what we count, matters.

How many of us would think of children as affordable if we were told that we'd need to have, upfront, the lifetime cost of a child before being permitted to bring one into the world?

Just so you know, a 2009 Inland Revenue estimate reckoned the cost of raising one child to 18 at $250,000.

But to really scare yourself childless, I suggest the more recent costing from a UK insurer, which puts the price tag of raising one child to the age of 21 at $427,923.

Since the Gross Domestic Product began measuring national progress, critics have decried its failure to distinguish between bad (prisons, air pollution, cigarette advertising) and good growth, or to account for the uncountable.

As Robert F. Kennedy famously said in 1968, GDP measured "neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country.

"It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile".

It makes sense to have an official measure of poverty so we can see if we're making a difference.

We should know, too, how many jobs are being created or destroyed so governments can be held accountable, like beneficiaries.

Last week, for example, the Government boasted that it had created more than 50,000 jobs in the last two years. Inconveniently, Statistics NZ then said we actually lost 13,000 between March 2008 and June 2011 (or 47,000, as CTU president Helen Kelly told Radio NZ, if you count from December 2008).

An investment approach has its uses.

If the Government were to measure the cost of child poverty (it doesn't; but others estimate it at up to $10 billion a year), investing a few million a year to feed kids at poor schools would make fiscal sense.

In earlier times, our social security policies were underpinned by clear principles.

Like the need for a dignified existence, of the kind that allowed all New Zealanders to thrive rather than merely survive.

If we no longer believe this, it should be spelled out, alongside the lifetime costs of welfare.

Debate on this article is now closed.</strong>

- NZ Herald

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