Jobs! What are they good for?

Your brighter future, New Zealand:

A Wellington employment training centre has had its Government contract abruptly pulled because it did not focus on placing people in the hospitality, aged care and call centre sectors.

More details at Stuff.

The closure of the Bowerman School is a real puzzle. It helped many people not just find any jobs, but good jobs – relevant jobs, fulfilling jobs, jobs which could lead to a career they enjoyed.

Bowerman said her students had ranged from people who had never worked, to architects and two doctors who came through the course last year.

The difference between her course and others in the region was that Bowerman would do “whatever they actually needed”, in terms of jobseeking support.

“Whether that was getting them first aid certificates, or haircuts or clothing. Just whatever was required.”

Bowerman said most of their students were also in the older age bracket.

“First, it’s so bloody hard, especially if you’re over 50 these days, to get a job. But they’re unable to go into hospo, they’re not going to go into call centres, and aged care facilities actually want trained nurses now.”

It also makes no sense in light of the rave reviews it was getting from the agency which funded it:

So what’s going on? Why the narrow focus on “hospitality, aged care and call centres”? It makes no sense!

Actually, it makes all kinds of sense. Because this government has shown, time and time again, that it doesn’t care about good jobs or careers or skills, only forcing people off benefits so the current Minister of Social Development can crow success.

This government shut down night classes, sneering about Moroccan cooking. They sneered at the Training Incentive Allowance, which gave single parents (like my mum) the ability to get a degree. They sneered at anyone over 40 who needed support to retrain or upskill through tertiary education.

So of course you can’t have a jobs centre which supports people to flourish as talented innovative creators. That would ruin everything.

This can sound as conspiratorial as you like, but the logic is pretty simple: an uneducated, desperate minimum-wage workforce is easier to exploit. People who don’t have a lot of qualifications have more difficulty changing jobs. People who are paid at near-minimum wage after 20 years on the job don’t have the luxury of sitting back and pondering the big questions of democratic governance. And people whose only other option is being bullied and micro-managed for a pittance by WINZ aren’t going to complain too much when their breaks get taken off them or their holiday pay is short.

And it’s far easier for the kinds of people who give the National Party lots of money to leech short-term profits off a service-based economy. Why build anything real when you can just put 19-year-olds through a meatgrinder of youth rates and rolling 90-day trials?

The thing is, everyone does better when wages are good, when broad-based education is available to everyone, and when skilled jobs and a solid manufacturing base are what generates the economy – not a bunch of wealthy people flipping each other properties while the rest of us make their coffee and drive their Ubers.

But building the foundations for that kind of economy takes time, and resources, and a view more long-term than next quarter’s balance sheet.

It requires the ability to understand why the state exists in the first place, and knowing that the most important thing in the world is people, not profit.

When you don’t believe that, well. Shutting down a successful jobs centre is just the logical thing to do.

 

No shit: money alleviates poverty

It’s understandable why we’ve generally accepted the rightwing line that “you can’t just throw money at the problem” of poverty. It seems far too simple: people do not have enough money, ergo give them money.

So we end up kind-of-agreeing with the idea that it’s all a big complicated systemic mess which needs to be handled in a number of different ways, which conveniently enough always end up funnelling money into the hands of private business (so they’ll “create jobs”) and making life even harder for the people who have the least (to ensure they’re “deserving”).

The thing is … money basically does fix the problem. Dr Jess Berentson-Shaw of the Morgan Foundation writes at the DomPost:

Boost the incomes of the poor with no conditions attached? Cups of tea will be spat onto the newspaper across New Zealand. However, when we brought together the highest quality evidence, the science was clear. Many will claim there is no silver bullet for fixing child poverty, but the evidence suggests they are not quite right. The best evidence we have tells us that boosting the incomes (without strings attached) for our poorest families will close about half of the gap in health, education, and employment between the haves and the have nots.

The research shows it. The Economist says it. And it does simply make sense, because we live in a capitalist society. In Simpsons quotes, this means:

simpsons money goods and services

Money, and having it, and utilising it to get the basic necessities of life, is basically the central pillar of human life in a capitalist society. (It shouldn’t be, but that’s a whole other post.) Poverty is the specific lack of money. And it’s not like there isn’t enough money to go around: it’s simply being funnelled into the hands of a few. I may sound a little leftwing here, but you know what the obvious conclusion is to me?

We fix poverty by redistributing the wealth of the nation more fairly.

italian spiderman

For the NZ left in 2015, however, there’s a few challenges to face. We’ve accepted a lot of rightwing framing about the deserving poor, the undeserving poor, and the supremacy of paid work as the be-all and end-all of human value. It’s not a simple matter of taking this research and saying “see? Money does fix the problem!” Because it’s been a very long time since Labour, at least, was the party of raising benefits and supporting the poorest New Zealanders unconditionally.

Berentson-Shaw also says:

Pushing parents into work simply shifts them from welfare poor to working poor; between 40 and 50 per cent of our kids in poverty have working parents. The only time in recent years New Zealand reduced child poverty was when we gave cash to some poor via Working for Families.

And Working for Families was explicitly denied to parents on benefits. It was a step in the right direction – but one only taken by reinforcing the idea that the children of beneficiaries can be used as leverage to force their parents into paid work. By accepting that beneficiaries must be forced into paid work. Even when its simply not available.

I’m looking forward to seeing the next two articles on poverty in the DomPost. New Zealanders already agree that inequality is a massive issue and needs to be addressed. Hopefully we can change the conversation from the mean-spirited rightwing frame and get the basic message out there: we are a nation of people who care for each other. We can ensure that every family has the basics of life, and a life with dignity. That means a great public education system, healthcare, state-provided housing, feeding the kids, and giving everyone enough to live on.

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It may be that giving people money is “only” a short term fix for their situation. But I care about people, so here’s what it comes down to: right now, there are kids going hungry in our country. Paying their parents enough to put food on the table means those kids aren’t going hungry. If your preferred solution is “let those kids continue to go hungry while we address the Wider Issues” I am not going to be subscribing to your newsletter.

Anne Tolley says another unbelievably gross thing

At this point, dear readers, I’m starting to ask myself if Anne Tolley is either a masterful piece of anti-Tory performance art, or sacrificing her own humanity in order to make either Paula Bennett or Judith Collins look much more electable as leader human.

There was describing systemic sexual violence against children in state care as “some people were let down badly“, there was the retrospective legislation to deny people a day’s worth of benefit payments which they had been unlawfully denied for 18 years, and then she suggested pushing sterilisation on people who have kids while on a benefit.

Then there was this, in response to revelations that people going through cancer treatment are having to provide monthly medical certificates to Work and Income to justify why they’re not looking for a job:

Minister of Social Development Anne Tolley acknowledged that having to provide monthly medical certificates in the early stages of cancer was difficult, but said the government had to draw a line somewhere.

She said if cancer patients were given special consideration, other people would want those considerations as well.

Because God forbid that we have special consideration for people in incredibly difficult, painful, special circumstances.

Anne Tolley is a revelation of the real attitudes of this government. Literally everyone – even people with serious cancer who actually have jobs to return to when they’re able – is assumed to be a parasite on the system. The government, in her worldview, isn’t here for people. It doesn’t have a role supporting people in difficult times. Its only purpose is, by any means necessary, to squeeze the maximum possible economic value out of every meat widget person.

This is something our present government has been pretty good at hiding, largely thanks to its hyperfocus on a relaxed, bland, average-Joe-millionaire Prime Minister. I don’t know what it is, but 2015 just seems to be the year the whole facade comes tumbling down.

Anne Tolley’s next abhorrent idea: forced sterilization of poor people

It’s going to be incredibly difficult not to Godwin the hell out of this one, people.

Appearing on TVOne’s Q+A programme this morning, Social Development minister Anne Tolley would not rule out more actively trying to limit or prevent births to families which have come to the attention of authorities.

“Well, we’ll wait and see what the panel report. I expect that they’ll be saying, ‘We should get much, much faster contraceptive advice in. We should be offering, you know, tubal ligations, all sorts of things and counselling those families’,” she said.

Tubal ligation is not a form of contraception. Tubal ligation is a form of sterilization.

And sure, anybody who wants to make an informed decision to get a tubal ligation should be able to. I know plenty of childfree people who’d run at the chance, after many years of “you’ll want kids when you’re older” concern-trolling from the medical establishment.

But let’s not confuse Anne Tolley’s suggestion with any kind of progressive reproductive healthcare policy. This is simply National applying further bullying to “undesirable” people not to have children. And there are many words for that, and most of them are rightly associated with, shall we say, certain fascist societies.

Let’s remember how this government generally acts towards people on benefits, and ask ourselves if we really believe the “offer” of sterilization or counselling or long-term contraception is actually being made in an open-minded, compassionate way.

Let’s remember that their plan of offer free long-term contraception – which was an expensive failure – wasn’t just targeted at beneficiaries, but at their teenage daughters – and what kind of message that sends about “those kind of people”.

I support reproductive choice. I support the state making options available to people, on their own terms, to control when they have kids and how many kids they have. It’d be great to see a government which actually cared enough about stopping unwanted pregnancies to extend free doctor’s appointments for sexual health to more young people, or ensuring quicker access to abortion services.

But that’s not what we’re getting. We’re getting another dystopic, daddy-state interference in the lives of people who are already pushed to the absolute limits. We’re applying the power of government to threaten people who have incredibly little with even less if they dare to have a family the powers-that-be don’t approve of.

It’s grotesque. And worse, it’s probably not even sincere. Anne Tolley knows this won’t solve any of the problems she says exist in our social welfare system. But it will get great headlines about cracking down on those filthy bludging breeders-for-a-business. And even people on the left won’t be rushing to call it out for what it is: a repugnant attack on basic human rights.

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Some people want to see the good in everything and think we should focus on the important stuff – better access to contraception – instead of calling out Tolley’s horrific agenda. Unfortunately, the coverage this morning makes it all pretty clear:

The Minister for Social Development wants to find a way of stopping the most at-risk beneficiaries from having more children.

Anne Tolley admitted it was a tricky subject, but said something had to be done about the women who have multiple children taken into care.

Emphasis mine; coercive restrictions on poor women’s reproduction all hers.

Anne Tolley desperate to screw down beneficiaries even further

So for 18 years, people who have been on stand-down periods from benefits – i.e. forced to stretch whatever savings or credit or charity they can access just in case they’re not really in desperate need of paying the rent or buying food for their kids – have been consistently underpaid.

Radio New Zealand reported Work and Income had underpaid some beneficiaries by a day since 1998, as it had paid people from the day after their “stand-down” period ended.

When people applied for a benefit, they often had to wait two weeks for it to start.

Work and Income was meant to pay a beneficiary from the day after the two week period ended, but instead had been starting payments the following day, RNZ reported.

And the government’s response to this persistent underpaying of poor and vulnerable people, who are already expected to live on less than it actually costs to live?

The Government was now trying to retrospectively change the law dating back to 1998, when the provisions took effect.

Of course they are. As many people have said in response to this article, if WINZ found out you’d been over-claiming for a day’s benefit since 1998, you’d be in jail, castigated as the worst kind of bludging, greedy parasite.

When WINZ has been stiffing beneficiaries for an extra day’s benefit for nearly 20 years? Oops, better make that all go away really quickly, we certainly don’t want people to think they’re entitled for restitution after being simply, wilfully, defrauded by the government.

(Unless they’re Saudi millionaires who totally reckon they were promised cushy trade deals.)

In fact, they’re going to “fix” the law not by making WINZ obey the damn law, but by changing it so everyone has to wait one day more before they can get the government assistance they desperately need.

This matters. We might be tempted to say “oh it was ages ago for some people and it’s not much money per person”. But benefits in this country are already at unsurvivable levels. The New Zealand Council of Christian Services says:

Real net benefit rates compared to the real net average wage have declined steadily and significantly over the past 30 years and are at levels that leave people in poverty. The Working for Families package has helped wage earners but this has further increased the income disparity between the waged and unwaged.

Benefit levels do not allow families to feed, clothe and house themselves adequately. For example, the PIP Update Report found that the disposable income of food bank clients (most of whom are reliant on benefits) is barely sufficient to cover the estimated food costs required to feed a family of two adults and two children.This leaves little or nothing for other household costs.

And that PIP Update Report was completed in 2007. We’ve had a bit of a global financial crisis since then. You reckon things have gotten any easier?

This government, and Anne Tolley in particular, have declared “success” for their punitive welfare reforms because the numbers of people on a benefit are going down. And that’s often what makes the headlines: benefit numbers down! Economy obviously hunky-dory! But when you dig beneath the numbers it’s clear this government hasn’t achieved anything meaningful. Thousands of people are being lost in the system because they haven’t managed to complete the (obscene amount of) paperwork to renew their benefit. Others may be checking out because the system is so – deliberately – difficult to navigate.

This is just wrong. It’s inhumane. It’s cruel and unnecessary. That’s why we have to talk seriously about the role of the state in supporting every person who cannot be in paid work, for whatever reason. We have to challenge the rightwing idea that paid work is the only valuable contribution a person makes to their community and society. We have to get real about new ideas like a universal basic income. We have to stop, absolutely stop, walking into the trap of blaming beneficiaries for broader economic circumstances or pussy-footing around about whether the poor are “deserving” or not.

We have to do better than this.