Deborah Coddington
Deborah Coddington is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Deborah Coddington: Sad school system leaves us lacking smarts to save

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Middle New Zealand enjoys spending up large on their credit cards. Photo / APN
Middle New Zealand enjoys spending up large on their credit cards. Photo / APN

The government says it is Budget Day on Thursday, but that's a lie.

We're fed spin that it's a zero-budget because times are tough. Through no fault of the politicians, of course.

It's the earthquake, the finance companies, the insurers or KiwiSaver.

Whatever. Eyes. Rolling.

To frugal folk like you and me, budget means living within our means, not spending more than we earn. Paying our bills by return mail.

I'm at a loss to understand what the National Government, a supposedly conservative party - which is meant to be careful with the nation's coffers - thinks it is doing with our money. But whatever it is, it's not prudent.

The Budget is nothing more than a lolly scramble scattering sweets taken from us unnecessarily. We've already been told what's coming.

And National isn't solely responsible.

Right now, about 12,350 school-leavers who are not in tertiary education are out of work, on welfare. That's one out of every three people under-20, about 27 per cent - the highest since record-keeping began.

Why? Some, like Roger Douglas, attribute this to the scrapping by the Labour government of youth wage rates, and he's probably mostly right. I also blame the gradual dumbing down of the education system and the chickens of the NCEA coming home to roost.

Where is the career path for someone with NCEA credits in stripping and making beds, cleaning toilets, cleaning windows and answering phones? This is what parents should be teaching children, not schools.

So what is the Government doing about youth unemployment? Something bold and liberal, as becomes a centre-right party, like putting choice back in the market?

That's the ticket, John Key - release the employers from the restrictions of the state a little so they can choose to take on, with their own money, a 16-year-old school-leaver at youth rates and train him/her on the job, whatever the job.

Hush my mouth. This is Big Government. It does the choosing and, in its eyes, only certain industries are winners; industries such as aged care, horticulture and agriculture qualify for taxpayer subsidies under the Budget's $55 million Youth Employment Package. According to Employment Minister Paula Bennett, this will get young people into jobs.

No doubt. A select few will be directed for one year into stripping and making beds, cleaning toilets and picking asparagus until the subsidies run out. Then what? Back to $4-an-hour on welfare when, if youth rates were reintroduced, they could be getting twice that on a career path.

These employer-subsidised job schemes have been tried before and, aside from the fact that they're philosophically bankrupt, they're a recipe for disaster.

The government of the day always announces schemes like this with fanfare, bursting with a pride matched only by first-time parents. But once they turn their backs, reality sets in and the schemes are ripe for rip-off.

But I'm probably being too hard on Key and Bill English - savaging them for running up debt of $380 million a week. They're only doing the same as most New Zealanders; that is, putting everything on the credit card. Why else would their support be so high?

Middle New Zealand is comprised largely of fashion victims buying stuff they don't need with money they don't have to impress people who don't care. And our grandchildren will pay for it.

Meanwhile, grinding slowly through the courts, the lowlife, the greedy and the ignorant - who take advantage of the vulnerable, the greedy and the ignorant - are being held to account.

It's partly because of these debacles, and fools who believed you could buy property with zero-deposits, that we're all paying the price.

It all comes back to education, and therein lies the rub. We can budget our way out of this mess and get the nation's accounts back into black. We can regulate against greed, cap spending or lower taxation as much as we like.

But while our state-run education system remains so appalling, we're forever doomed for Third World status.

- Herald on Sunday

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