Comment

Let’s keep welfare for the poor

The welfare state is about those of us who are doing OK to help those who are not - manaakitanga. The goal is to give our neighbours, our sisters and brothers a hand to help them back to dignity and self-sufficiency when life deals them a tough hand. This is why the father of the welfare state, Michael Joseph Savage, called it “applied Christianity”. Today’s smart young left-wing thinkers might call it “the politics of love”.

Given our experience of colonisation, we Māori should be especially alert to the dangers of welfare becoming much more than that. There is no shame in needing a helping hand from time to time but there is no personal tino rangatiratanga or mana in being permanently reliant on the state if you don’t need to be.

This is not how Grant Robertson see things. It is now very clear that his goal is to have everyone – Māori and Pākehā – permanently dependent on the state.

Working for Families was a big step towards this. Almost everybody with children – even those earning well over $100,000 a year – would start to rely more and more on their regular handout from the Government. The policy basically worked as a subsidy of employers so they could pay lower wages than otherwise, including below a living wage, knowing that it would be topped up by the state.

Worse, Working for Families stopped making sense for parents to seek a promotion or even a pay rise because most of that would just be abated away. This is why John Key called Working for Families “communism by stealth” and why some of the unions opposed it. It was all about breaking the link between what we earn and how hard or smart we work, or how well we organise with our fellow union members.

Here’s the thing that really concerns me. Recently, the Auckland Council placed a tax on fuel: a cleaner travelling at 5.30am from Mangere to Onehunga will pay up to $500 more a year, while my elderly, yet well-off next-door neighbour gets more money in his pocket to offset the heating costs of his multimillion-dollar, three-story home.

Now Twyford says KiwiBuild is for everyone: young Max Key will qualify for a KiwiBuild house, as will English’s kids and Ardern’s new baby when it comes of age.

My kids, whose Mum and Dad are doing OK, will get the same level fees-free payment at University as my struggling, minimum wage, brother's kids. That’s perverse.

Key, though, didn’t do anything to fix it. In fact, he made it worse, introducing an Independent Earner's Rebate – perhaps the world’s first benefit designed specifically for people who might not otherwise receive a benefit. Bill English scrapped it as soon as he became Prime Minister but Jacinda Ardern has brought it back.

Other examples include the Government’s Winter Electricity Payment, which will cost taxpayers about $1.8 billion over the next four years. This goes to everyone over the age of 65, from struggling working-class widow to billionaire. It will be paid even to wealthy superannuitants who escape this cold New Zealand winter with a Grand Tour around Europe. To his credit, Simon Bridges has said a National government would cancel that con and look at ways to help those elderly people and beneficiaries who really do need help with their winter power bills.

But the worst example is Phil Twyford’s KiwiBuild. This was meant to help young Kiwi couples struggling to save enough for a house deposit take their big first step towards self-sufficiency by buying a modest government-built home. Now Twyford says KiwiBuild is for everyone: young Max Key will qualify for a KiwiBuild house, as will English’s kids and Ardern’s new baby when it comes of age. Each one of the 100,000 houses Twyford is promising to build that is bought by one of these well-to-do kids is one fewer for a young couple from West Auckland.

Twyford has done this to make his numbers look good as only those who have a level of wealth or parental support will take the most advantage of Kiwibuild. We should be helping those most in need - build state homes then build some more.

There’s not much chance the Government will change tack on all this – not without a fight. Like I say, this is a question of both ideology and cynical politics. The old conservative Labour left wants us all on the welfare hook and unable to get off because that’s the way to make us docile Labour voters for life. Those of us on the progressive Labour right need to stand up for Savage’s original vision and for tino rangatiratanga in our own lives. I don’t want to be the last socialist left standing as I say welfare should be about helping poor.

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