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.

 

How we got here

When I saw this article about the Takapuna Kathmandu store deliberately destroying clothing, sleeping bags and tents before disposing of them, I started thinking about how the hell we got into this situation.

To give full credit to Kathmandu, they responded quickly on social media saying they would look into the practice and disavowing that it was company policy. But someone, somewhere along the line decided this was an OK thing to do. And as the story spread, people talked about other incidents – shoe stores slashing apart unwanted items, supermarkets discarding perfectly edible food and pouring bleach on it to stop desperate, hungry people from raiding their rubbish bins.

Right now, New Zealand is a country where families are living in cars and kids are going to school hungry. To have retailers destroying perfectly good, but “unsaleable” stock, especially food or clothing, is just unconscionable.

On the other side of things we have organisations like Kaibosh and Te Puea marae providing amazing, inspiring care and support for people in need – but it shouldn’t be necessary in the first place. And it didn’t used to be.

A long time ago in New Zealand we all, through public services run by the government, ensured every family had enough money to feed their kids and a safe house to live in. We used to make people’s jobs secure and support people who weren’t able to work.

We knew some things were too important to leave in the hands of private companies whose first priority was profit. We knew together, as people who are part of a community, we could help each other. And the government, or the state, was the best instrument of that – because it wasn’t driven by making a quick buck, because it was accountable to the people.

We lost that. But we didn’t lose it by accident. It was by design.

Blame whoever you want, the point is that we were told, and began to believe, that the private sector was more efficient that the government. That the motivation of monety – the very reason we had taken these essential services off the market in the first place – would deliver “efficiencies” and “better targeted services” and “more responsive organisations.”

We have case after case showing how untrue this is. Serco. Compass. Telecom. Tranz Rail. Bank of New Zealand. New Zealanders end up paying more and more, either directly or through goverment bonuses, for less and less.

Yet it’s still the received wisdom, ingrained further and further as the National Party undermine the public services we have left, deliberately underfunding and straining them to breaking point so they can triumphantly declare, “See? The government can’t provide these services! Best sell them off.”

The end result? Someone overseas is making a lot of money, and children here in Aotearoa are living in cars, going to school not with empty lunchboxes – with no lunchboxes at all.

And because New Zealanders are caring, compassionate people, we step up. We open our doors and put our hands in our pockets

Imagine if we could pool all those resources across the country and had a single organisation with the knowledge and leverage to ensure every kid gets breakfast and every family has a home. An organisation motivated by providing good lives for people, not payouts for shareholders.

We could call the organisation, “government”. We could call those resources we all chip in, “tax”. We used to know what those things meant, before we got to where we are now. Together, we can decide to go somewhere else.

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Related reading: Simon Louisson at The Spinoff on why the left has to stop being apologetic about taxes.

Nicola Young’s scary “solution” to people begging in Wellington

[Content note: dehumanizing language about homeless/poor people, classism]

As we stand there are four candidates confirmed running for the mayoralty of Wellington – and one of them is Nicola Young, whose claims to fame thus far have included being the only 2013 mayoral candidate not to support the living wage and trying to gull people into joining her mailing list by pretending the Kate Sheppard lights were under threat.

Well, just in case you were still wondering whether she’s really a Dickensian villain, wonder no longer. From her Facebook page:

As Mayor I will introduce a bylaw banning begging in the CBD and near cash machines – the most lucrative spots in our city – as part of a larger strategy involving the Police, WINZ, the DHB and charities. This will help guide vulnerable people to a more secure existence. It will require extra resources from the Council – but I’m confident these can be found when we dump some of the profligate municipal expenditure for which Wellington has become famous in recent years.

The kneejerk reaction is “wow, banning people who beg? Dickensian villain much?” but Young has responded to many critics asking that they understand it’s a broad policy and that exiling people to the outskirts of Panem is just “part” of the solution. Read the whole post, she says.

I did.

brody jaws zoom

Sorry, Ms Young, but the whole post is a shocker. The first sentence summed up: “There are lots of beggars in Wellington.” The second begins “It’s a terrible look.” You aren’t going to get very far convincing me that you’re really just concerned about the people and making sure they have support when literally the first problem you identify is “they look gross when we have cruise ships in town.”

The second paragraph is the classic Tory smear: “They made bad choices so we have to boot them out.” The third paragraph is an excuse to bag Celia Wade-Brown, another tune Young has been singing since 2013. In the fourth, Young talks about working with agencies to help vulnerable people, and the first two she lists are the Police and WINZ. As one commenter puts it:

Ah yes, you’ll work with the police and WINZ. Two organizations famous for their compassion and commitment to helping to poor people.

Then there’s this Orwellian fever-dream of a sentence:

This will help guide vulnerable people to a more secure existence.

At the point where you’re actually typing a sentence like that, surely you have to ask yourself:

mitchell webb nazis

The core of Nicola Young’s campaign is convincing people she’s not a nasty Tory, which is why she says things like “the council already helps people with genuine homelessness issues”. She’s trying to draw a line around certain “undesirable” people – people whom surely no one would stand up for – in the same way the right always talk about “the working poor” (not those lazy bludgers) or “genuine hardship” (not those families who live in a car because it builds character).

She’ll deny this till she’s appropriately blue in the face, but the proof of the hate-pudding is in the eating, and the supportive comments Young’s Facebook post reveal the tune of her dogwhistle.

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(Comment in between these two posts removed)

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It seems a little early to pull out the Trump comparisons, but what can you do? You’ve got a conservative using marginalized people to stir up hate in her fanbase. Nicola Young’s going to build a wall around the Wellington CBD, and you can be sure she’ll try to pretend Celia Wade-Brown paid for it.

Fortunately, there are alternatives, like the candidates who think it’s more important to ensure Wellington’s night shelter gets emergency funding instead of driving out the unworthy.

Make the bludgers pay their fair share

Few things in this world make me eyeroll as strongly as the quibblers who jump up whenever you point out the discrepancy between the amount of money lost to benefit fraud – which our government pursues like a greyhound hopped up on E – and the amount lost to tax evasion – which isn’t nearly such a big deal, unless you’re a tradie, in which case you get doomsday language like “HIDDEN ECONOMY” slapped on you.

“But it’s different!” the quibblers cry. “Tax evasion is legal!”

As though “legal” is the same as “ethical”.

As though this doesn’t just prove how strongly the system is rigged – as though the loopholes aren’t there for a reason. As though the grey areas just evolved naturally.

As though all those just-legal-enough mechanisms are coincidentally only accessible to the people who are already wealthy.

As though the way we talk about tax and welfare aren’t designed to make this all seem okay.

That’s why I got a bit cheeky in the title of this post. When you saw it, who did you think I was talking about? Who do we usually frame as “bludgers”, and who do we usually assume isn’t paying their “fair share”? When politicians talk about people “taking responsibility”, do they mean the people with money? Or the people without?

Here’s the radical idea. Tax isn’t a burden. It’s one of the contributions we all make (yes, including people on state benefits) towards maintaining our society. Towards having strong infrastructure and free healthcare and education and a social safety net for people who need it.

The right like to scream and moan about the wealthiest 15% paying 75% of taxes – but it’s rubbish. What they love to avoid mentioning is that 1% of people in this country own 16% of everything while 50% of people own 5% – and they’d die before acknowledging that the 50% are the ones doing the actual work, while the 1% drain off the profits like leeches.

When it comes to lamenting the poor little rich boy who has to pay tax, there’s plenty of numbers and statistics to justify the status quo. When you ask the government how many kids they are letting go hungry because there aren’t enough jobs for their parents, and the jobs that do exist are paid poverty wages – oh no, that’s too difficult to measure, they say, we can’t do anything about that.

The truth is this. The rich aren’t paying their fair share to keep our country running. And even if they stopped using their wealth and power to dodge the spirit of tax law, if not the letter, they still wouldn’t be paying their fair share, because the tax system has been set up to benefit them.

This is a conversation the left desperately need to stop running away from, especially if we keep letting the first question for any progressive policy be “but what will it cost?”

Let’s just stand up and say it. Yes. It will cost a hell of a lot to institute a universal basic income, or raise benefits to a survivable level, or rebuild our health system. But we won’t be paying for it – those dickheads over there, who have been bludging off other people’s hard work and living the high life through fancy accounting tricks will. Because for too long they’ve dodged paying their fair share and it’s time they took some responsibility.

Let’s stop the bludging. The filthy rich have spent decades stockpiling the wealth other people worked to create, exploiting our country’s social support systems to enrich themselves. It’s their turn to pay the price for a strong, healthy democratic society. They won’t be impoverished by having to sell off one of their yachts or settling for just two investment properties. And they’ll benefit, as they always have done, from being able to do business in a country of healthy, educated, happy, productive people.

It’s really that easy. We just have to change the conversation.

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.

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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.