In March Paula Bennett launched an assault on welfare beneficiaries announcing. among other things, including tougher work tests and forcing mothers of young children into jobs - all 43,000 of them.

It was the opening salvo in a new ideologically-driven assault on beneficiaries and the welfare state.

Of course Bennett didn't describe it this way. She wasn't harassing beneficiaries she claimed, she just wanted to 'help' people into jobs. And if they wouldn't let her help them - well, she would just cut off their benefits and make their lives even more desperate and miserable.

Although she consistently attempts to massage the figures, the official figures tell us that there are over 260,000 people jobless in this country. On top of that over 100,000 people are 'underemployed, people in casual or part time jobs but who really need full time jobs to make ends meet.

And youth unemployment is now at its highest level since 1994.

This is nothing short of a social catastrophe and one that Bennett has no answers for.

Bennett's response to these damming figures has been to flatly deny them. 'I'm convinced there are jobs out there,' she told the New Zealand Herald a few weeks ago. Yes, how how many jobs Paula? 260,000? I don't think so.

Just a fortnight ago over 2000 people applied for just 100 minimum wage jobs at a new Bunnings warehouse in Dunedin.

But, really, the figures don't seem to matter anymore to Bennett. She has taken what can only described as a moral position on how beneficiaries and the poor should be treated in New Zealand.

Her arguments are blind to economic conditions, the failure of an economic system to provide the jobs required.

Bennett's now infamous remark that 'the dream is over' for beneficiaries not only betrayed her prejudice that beneficiaries are living the high life but her odious belief that the poor are somehow different from everyone else and can be kicked around whenever she feels like it.

This week Bennett held a two day Welfare Working Group Forum at Victoria University, where plans to 'overhaul' the welfare system were to be supposedly discussed and debated.

This conference though was just window dressing. Bennett will claim that the Government has listened to the views of the community and then do what she wants to do anyway. She already has an agenda mapped out which involves more attacks on the rights and the living conditions of beneficiaries and a further dismantlement of the welfare state.

Despite saying that she wanted to 'listen', Bennett opened the conference and then promptly left.

She has some nasty policies in store for us all including insurance-based welfare. Workers and their employers would pay levies out of their wage bills into social insurance funds which would pay out a proportion of a worker's previous income when he or she becomes sick, disabled or unemployed.

These schemes typically last only a year or so and people are then expected to survive on a flat-rate benefit. Given the lack of jobs, it is a recipe for even more poverty and social distress.

Former Green MP Sue Bradford told the conference shifting to an insurance system would overturn 'a fundamental principle of the 1938 Social Security Act, that there is a community responsibility for making sure that people are helped when economic conditions mean they are unable to help themselves'.

Bennett is planning an attack not only the fundamental principles of the welfare state, but on an ethos that has shaped the development of modern New Zealand.

What is contemptible is that Bennett follows in a long and dismal line of politicians who have presided over the decline of the economy but still blame the unemployed for their inability to find work.

While Roger Douglas never managed to take the neoliberal axe to the welfare state, Bennett is going to have another good go at it over the coming months.


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