Under the smokescreen of 'reform' the Government is set to launch a major attack on what remains of the social democratic consensus of the post war era - the welfare state. The dismantlement of the welfare sytem began with the fourth Labour Government of David Lange and, some twenty five years later, a new and far-reaching assault is about to commence.
The first stage in that assault is being orchestrated by the government appointed Welfare Working (WWG) group on Welfare.
It is acting on the neoliberal agenda set down by the Minister of Social Development Paula Bennett. Despite her repeated and transparent attempts to portray herself as a ' good old working class gal' she is proving to be a notorious beneficiary basher.
She has warned beneficiaries 'that the dream is over', claiming that 'too many people view welfare not as a last option but as a way of life'. Using Bennett's logic another 19,000 people have just recently made a 'lifestyle choice' to become beneficiaries.
In April, Bennett told the Welfare Working Group (WWG) to address 'long-term welfare dependence and to look for ways to turn around the growth in beneficiary numbers and expenditure'.
This attack comes at a time when the official unemployment rate has climbed to a ten year high and the real jobless figure is now over 260,000.
Such is the level of economic hardship in this country that Work and Income issued over one million hardship payments in 2009 - the highest on record.
As I wrote in another post some months ago, food banks can barely keep up with the demand. in 2009 the Auckland City Mission handed out 50 percent more food parcels than it did in 2008. I guess this must be all part of beneficiaries and the poor living Paula Bennett's 'dream'.
The number of hardship grants not only underlines that the economy is in crisis but also the level of benefits is inadequate - which is something that the last Labour Government also failed to address.
But the WWG is not reviewing what beneficiaries get paid. 'It is outside the scope of the review' the WWG chair Paula Rebstock said in April.
Dr Susan St John of the Child Poverty Action Group has said that this not make sense because the purpose of a benefit is to provide people in need with the means to live.
"The whole level of the assistance is vital to any consideration.' she said.
But Bennett is actually trying to slash benefits
Beneficiary groups are reporting that Work and Income are actively shifting people from the invalid’s benefit, which pays $242 a week, onto the sickness benefit, which pays $194.
This is simply yet another austerity measure that will drive people into even deeper poverty. And it will have a social cost via more demands on health services and the inevitable increase in crime.
We do not have a 'welfare crisis'. What we have is an economic crisis.
In an effort to save capitalism from itself the National Government intends to dismantle the post-war welfare state in the interests of international capital, the banks and the rich.
A few weeks ago frmer Green MP Sue Bradford said that we need to make the links between the attacks on workers (eg National's proposed new labour legislation) and the attacks on the welfare system and beneficiaries.
I heartily agree.
We need a broad movement of resistance to the neoliberal agenda - a movement that campaigns for a radical economic alternative that puts people first.