Matt McCarten on politics

Matt McCarten is a Herald on Sunday political columnist

Matt McCarten: No need to starve yourself, just give poor some more

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Nadene and Jonah Lomu, with their kids, support Unicef's campaign.
Nadene and Jonah Lomu, with their kids, support Unicef's campaign.

Most of us hate talking about poverty. Last week the media swooned over a fundraising campaign by Kiwis who tried to live on a couple of bucks a day.

Celebrities reported on their efforts and joined in the mutual congratulatory back-slapping for the five-day Unicef Live Below the Line campaign.

Without intentionally being a sad sack over their good intentions, the poor don't need the well-off starving themselves for a few days to show their support. They need their incomes raised so they have enough to feed themselves.

The reason people go hungry is because benefits were slashed by this Government to pay for tax cuts to the wealthy.

On Friday, many of those required to exist on a benefit through their personal misfortune organised protests outside Winz offices to show us they are not invisible and should not be the punching bag of this Government.

Paula Bennett, the Minister of Social Development and a former beneficiary, would have us believe that everyone receiving a benefit can pull up their bootlaces and be a success just like her.

She doesn't mention that she had the support of her parents, was able to buy a home with the assistance of the state and was able to have her training fully paid. Those options have been removed for those in her predicament today.

What is sickening is that she "dog whistles" that beneficiaries choose their lifestyle and are work-shy, and that sickness beneficiaries are somehow malingerers.

The fact that our political leaders run an economy where there are more than 100,000 fewer jobs than there should be, and that many of the existing jobs are low-paid, casual and part-time, is not addressed. This is the cause of our poverty.

We used to have a social contract where the state had an economic policy of full employment, and creating well-paid jobs was seen as a desirable outcome in itself.

The unemployment benefit was only for emergencies. There was a time when the minister of social welfare joked he knew all the nation's unemployed by their first names.

Have hundreds of thousands of Kiwis suddenly got lazy in one generation?

It's easier to blame the victims. The fact that 500 locals from Kaitaia (10 per cent of the entire town) recently signed up with a company that was recruiting for jobs in Australia speaks for itself.

This Government instead would have us join its fantasy that there are plenty of jobs out there if only beneficiaries get off their butts. Anyone who has been on the dole knows that is just not true.

Beneficiaries have been required to attend compulsory job-seeking classes. I'm told even the tutors think they're a waste of time. Each beneficiary is required to report weekly on what jobs they've applied for.

One beneficiary told me she'd never been so demeaned and depressed as when she was required to look for non-existent jobs. Recently, Bennett required them to submit to a drug test.

I'm sure we'd all love to see our politicians, as beneficiaries of the public purse, submitting to drug tests.

The poor can't afford their rents so the state pays landlords a subsidy of up to $180 a week to help pay their mortgages.

Employers can get a subsidy equal to an entire wage for six months if they pay a beneficiary 30 hours on the minimum wage - that's $405 before tax and travel. If these workers refuse these jobs or resign once employed, they don't get the benefit. In the old days we called it slavery.

I get enough calls to know many unscrupulous employers sack workers after the subsidy ends and pick up another worker to take their place. Who are the real bludgers here?

And don't even start me on sickness and invalid beneficiaries, and ACC survivors who can't work at all. They literally don't have money for food.

It seems we'd rather our beneficiaries just be grateful and suffer in silence.

I'm glad they are making a noise to remind us that they have a right to live their life with dignity.

After all, there but for the grace of God go I.

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

- Herald on Sunday

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