The Nation: welfare, social investment and poverty

This morning on The Nation :

What’s the best way to provide for those who need help? and talk welfare, social investment and child poverty.

These are two MPs not generally to the forefront of election campaigning. Tolley is 11th on National’s list, Sepuloni is 8th on Labour’s. Both are electorate MPs.


Tolley talking about what the Government has been doing to improve help for beneficiaries, and what is planned to happen in April next year through their Families Package.

Sepuloni is doing little more than reciting Labour’s election lines, in line with what Ardern and others recite. Some of them quite are quite misleading.

The main points from al of the panel – Lisa Owen, Patrick Gower, Fran O’Sullivan and Sue Bradford – was the vagueness and stark lack of policy on welfare from a quite likely incoming Government led by Labour. Fairly scathing from all of them.

Poverty numbers and policies

Poverty is a contentious issue in New Zealand. Even the appropriateness of the term ‘poverty’ is debated. And the numbers of people and children ‘in poverty’ vary widely.

NZ Herald editorial: Child poverty is not fixed by numbers

The total measure of children in households below 60 per cent of the median income is 295,000, which is about a quarter of all the children in New Zealand. If it is hard to believe as many as one in four children are living in such deprivation, there is a more credible survey of children’s actual conditions. It estimates 155,000 children are lacking many of the personal possessions, healthcare and housing standards every New Zealand child ought to have.

If a blunt numerical target is to guide social policy under whichever party becomes the Government next month, the figure of 155,000 would be a better one. It would invite more precisely directed programmes than a simple payment per child to all household below the adopted poverty line. The circumstances of children will vary greatly depending on whether they have wider families and on the budgeting skills, lifestyles and resources of their parents.

Labour might not believe these variables matter but if the best use is to be made of the taxpayers’ money it would to go where it is most needed and can make a difference. The “social investment” programmes the Prime Minister is advocating so earnestly in the election debates, do sound like an attempt to focus finance and social work on individuals and households with multiple problems, not just low incomes.

If the economy remains as buoyant as it has been, and generates the revenue required to boost income subsidies for all children below the poverty line, it would be a relief to all New Zealanders. Nobody wants “child poverty” in this country. But the political temptations to adopt blunt measurements and equally blunt solutions could easily leave too little money for programmes that help people to improve their lives.

DomPost Editorial: Poor biggest losers in high-stakes game

We too acknowledge National’s new-found vision, but, like Ardern, wonder why it has taken nine years, with just 17 days before the election, to express it.

The worrying news is that Ardern has also seen the need to roll the dice. Following the debate she pledged to match National’s numbers, to pull 100,000 children from poverty by 2020.

That should be good news, but it’s not: it’s a cynical card game inspired by possibly the most compelling number not mentioned during Monday night’s debate: the four percentage points separating National and Labour in Stuff’s Poll of Polls.

It’s a meaningless race to the bottom of populist politics that undermines the complexity of tackling poverty as an endemic, intergenerational issue; that reduces it to something comfortably dealt with in the space of an electoral cycle – gone by lunchtime, perhaps?

Having gone all-in with his grand pledge, he rounded on Ardern’s own weak attempts to extricate herself from the momentary brilliance of the English headlights.

The prescription, he told Ardern and the nation, was good policy that lifted incomes and tackled the “very difficult toxic mix of social issues – family violence, criminal offending and long-term welfare dependency”.

“Passing a law doesn’t get rid of child poverty,” he exclaimed.

It’s a lot more complex and difficult than can be fixed by a bit of campaign rhetoric and on the fly pledging.

Ardern matches English’s poverty pledge

In the second leaders debate last night Bill English stole a march on Jacinda Ardern.

Ardern had a vague ‘vision’ about eliminating child poverty, while English made a specific claim plus a pledge. This morning Ardern matched that pledge.

RNZ:  Labour would lift 100,000 children out of poverty by 2020 – Ardern

During last night’s Newshub leaders’ debate, National Party Bill English promised to set a specific target for reducing child poverty.

He said 50,000 children should be lifted out of poverty through the government families package announced in the Budget in May – and, if National was re-elected, further initiatives could double that result.

Ms Ardern told Morning Report this morning that she could match that promise.

“We can lift up about 50,000 as well, when it comes to the extra 50,000 that is something that we of course will have to set targets around in government,” she said.

“He said he’ll do 50 [thousand] based on his tax package, the extra 50 [thousand] I’m assuming that means he’s going to have another tax package.

“If that means he’s going to only target low-income families, look, that’s positive. I believe we can match that.”

When asked if Labour would commit to the same number by 2020, she said yes – measured as 50 percent of the median income.

Sounds good, but I’m not sure how you can lift people ‘out of poverty’ when it is measured by a measure based on median income.

Greens: ‘not popular, but important’

It may not be popular in green circles but it is important to include the economy when tying social and environmental issues together.

Greens have always promoted both environmental and social reform. This is ingrained in their constitution:

GreenConstitutionObjects

Their policy headlines:

GreenPolicyheadlines

Marama Davidson is the MP in a new caucus leadership team who is ‘leading the charge’ on poverty. She has just sent out this email:

Not popular, but important

I’m most proud of being a Green MP because we’re not afraid to have important conversations, even if they are not popular. If we are serious about looking after our people and taking real action on climate change we cannot be afraid to talk about these issues.

Unless our communities feel capable and confident we can’t protect our environment. For sustainable communities our people need to be strong and have what they need. For our environment to be protected we need our people to be living good lives.

We know we need urgent action on climate change. We know our success requires not just individual actions, but bold commitments backed by real actions and plans from our politicians. Our success requires all our people to work together. By working together we will succeed. When communities on the front line feel well supported they are better able to come up with long term action on climate change. Climate action that protects the the places we love, the people we love.

It seems odd that Davidson states the Green mission as not popular.

People haven’t been ‘afraid’ to talk about social and environmental issues, there has just not been enough action on them for the Greens (and for many others).

Davidson seems to think that if people are somehow given good lives they will devote themselves to action on climate change.

She says “For our environment to be protected we need our people to be living good lives”.

To an extent she is wrong – environmental policies can be promoted and implemented without the need for social equality.

To an extent she may be right right – many of the the poorest people may be too busy just trying to survive to care about the environment.

Many of the richer people consume far more resources than they need to. They have more material possessions that they don’t really need, they use cars more, they travel by air more.

So I can sort of understand how some may think that lifting living standards for the poor and reducing them for the rich may somehow result in a society in equilibrium, and an environment in equilibrium.

But while Davidson integrates social and environmental as if they are co-dependant, she has omitted the third of the Green policy headlines – economic.

People have long advocated for social and economic equality. Some countries have tried to achieve it, like the USSR, China, Cuba, Cambodia, Venezuela. They have all been economic disasters, and have also failed on social equality and environmental purity.

The Greens get the need for better social parity. I’ve seen claims that New Zealand governments deliberately oppress people and keep them poor , but this is ridiculous. Our governments and our major political parties want to improve things for their people, they just have different ideas on how best to achieve that.

But some of the Greens, like Marama Davidson and Metiria Turei, don’t seem to grasp the necessity for an economy that will allow and enable better qualities of life for those at the bottom.

Taking more and more money off those at the top has never really succeeded anywhere. Neither has giving more and more to those at the bottom with no incentive to be productive.

It may not be popular in Green circles to talk about economic realities, but that is important if they are going to succeed in achieving better social and environmental outcomes.

A healthy society and a healthy environment needs a healthy economy.

Greens need to understand that alongside social and environmental priorities a conversation about the economy is important, no matter how unpopular.

Campaigning for electorate and mission Metiria

Metiria Turei stepped down from Green leadership and she has withdrawn from the party list, but she is still standing this election, for the Te Tai Tonga Maori electorate for the first time, and that is her only chance of staying in Parliament.

Turei has done well in the Dunedin North electorate for the last three elections, and has been especially successful at growing the Green vote in Dunedin (although Greens have always done relatively well in Dunedin North):

  • 1999: electorate 4.22%, party 7.43%
  • 2002: electorate 6.87%, party 12.36%,
  • 2005: electorate 7.46%, party 10.82%
  • 2008: Turei 11.09%, party 15.81%
  • 2011: Turei 19.51%, party 23.39%
  • 2014: Turei 17.37%, party 22.94%

Te Tai Tonga is huge, covering all of the South Island, Stewart Island, the Chatham Islands, all the islands in the Southern Ocean, and a large part of the Wellington urban area which includes Wellington City as far as Johnsonville, and Petone, Lower Hutt and Eastbourne from the Hutt Valley.

The incumbent Te Tai Tonga MP is Rino Tirikatene, one of Labour’s lowest ranked and least visible MPs, but with the surge in support for Labour it would seem unlikely he will lose to Turei. The Maori Party is also strongly contesting the seat.

2014 results:

  • Rino Tirikatene 8,885 votes, Labour 36.70%
  • Ngaire Button 4,891 votes, Maori party 11.19%
  • Dora Roimata Langsbury 3,173 votes, Greens 16.41%
  • Georgina Beyer 1,996 votes, Internet Mana 4.93%
  • Emma-Jane Mihaere Kingi 1,005 votes, Legalise Cannabis 1.36%
  • National 14.92%
  • NZ First 12.82%

From Claire Trevett at NZH: The Maori battlegrounds

One of the more intriguing races as a result of the political upheavals in the last three weeks will be the Te Tai Tonga seat, held by Labour’s Rino Tirikatene.

After Turei took herself off the Green Party list and stepped down as co-leader it did not take long for her supporters on social media to start pointing out that if Te Tai Tonga voters believed she had been hard done-by for her admission of welfare fraud as a young solo mother, they should vote for her to get her back in.

Now, Turei says if she won the seat, she would take it and return. “It would be a great honour.”

Asked if she would be actively campaigning for the candidate, Turei says the party vote is the most important. “And it would be a real privilege if voters gave me their electorate vote as well.”

Bargh says an added bonus in campaigning for the seat would be securing the electorate as insurance for the Green Party in case of a low party vote.

But she doubts Turei can get enough to tilt Tirikatene out. Though there is some dissatisfaction with him, he could be saved by the surge in popularity for Labour, she says.

Ngahuia Wade believes the most likely impact of Turei will be to split the Labour-Green vote and get the Maori Party’s Mei Reedy-Taare into Parliament.

This will be an intriguing contest, both to see how well Turei does and to see if Tirikatene hangs on.

ODT: Applause for Turei at candidate forum

Metiria Turei appeared to be as popular as ever at her first public outing since resigning from the Green Party leadership.

She represented the party at a low-key political forum at Knox Church Hall yesterday.

Seems odd that the Green candidate in Dunedin North didn’t represent their party.

The questions canvassed the candidates’ thoughts on housing affordability and availability for low-income earners; how they would create healthy childhoods; and whether they thought benefits and working for families tax credits should be indexed to median wages, as superannuation is.

Ms Turei’s response to the latter drew the loudest cheers and applause of the forum, from many in the audience.

She does well in Dunedin candidate meetings, and the Knox forum tends to be very left leaning.

”I have staked my entire political career on improving the incomes for the most poor in this country.”

A stark staking this election.

On Facebook recently:

Back on the horse! You have all been an amazing support over the last weeks. Thank you.
Now I need your help to run a great campaign in Te Tai Tonga. We have just 5 weeks, whānau. So if you want to help me, I need volunteers and money – either is awesome.

To volunteer, just go to http://nzgreens.nationbuilder.com/volunteer-ttt We need people to make phonecalls, knock on doors and come out to hui. There are events all over the rohe and I’d love to see your faces there!

If you don’t have much time, then consider sending a koha https://www.greens.org.nz/candidate-donation-metiria-turei – every bit helps.
We will end poverty in Aotearoa, build a compassionate welfare system and restore our awa. That’s our mission!

So give your party vote to Greens to get my incredible team back into Parliament and give your electorate vote to the person who best represents you. If that’s me, I would be honoured.

Turei is getting support from outside her electorate campaign:

 

Will this be her last political fling, or will she win a historic Maori electorate for the Greens?

Maori electorates have tended to vote tactical more than others, but nothing out of the ordinary has happened in Te Tai Tonga. Until now?

It would be a loss to Parliament if Turei misses out.

 

Green response to PREFU

A media release from Green leader James Shaw after the release of the PREFU:


Bigger surplus means we can end poverty, clean up our rivers, and tackle climate change

A bigger surplus will allow a new government to manage the economy responsibly while making the changes people know are needed, like lifting kids out of poverty, cleaning up our rivers, solving the housing crisis, and tackling climate change, the Green Party said today.

The Pre-Election Fiscal Update (PREFU) released today shows stronger growth in the short term, resulting in a higher than forecast surplus for the government this year by $2.1 billion. However, forecast productivity growth remains weak and will undermine our longer term economic prospects, resulting in lower long-term growth.

“It’s clear now after the opening of the books that there is more money available in the short term, and we’ll be taking a good look at the best way to invest that in our priorities of ending poverty, cleaning up our rivers, and tackling climate change,” said Green Party Co-leader James Shaw.

“We can manage the economy responsibly and use the bigger surplus to improve the lives of New Zealanders by building more homes, lifting incomes, and providing free public transport for young people.

“Further tax cuts from National, before they’ve even restarted payments to the New Zealand Superannuation Fund, would smack of desperation and highlight how they’re more interested in staying in power rather than managing the economy for the long term.

“We will deliver modest tax cuts for everyone earning less than $150,000, as part of our family incomes package, lifting hundreds of thousands of kids out of poverty, and making everyone who earns less than $150,000 better off than they are now.

“Free buses and trains, including school buses for kids and teenagers, will make a much bigger difference to family budgets than another tax cut.

“Free public transport would save some families hundreds of dollars a week while addressing high levels of congestion on our roads.

“After nine years, National have gone stale and are unwilling to make the changes people know are needed, like lifting kids out of poverty, cleaning up our rivers, building more homes, and tackling climate change.

“No child should go to school hungry, especially when times are good. We’re going to fix that,” said Mr Shaw.

For a tough decision free New Zealand

On Green anti-poverty campaigner Marama Davidson on RNZ’s Morning Report:

She like her co-leader James Shaw won’t say whether she thinks it’s ok for beneficiaries to break the law.

“I too am not going to judge people. What I would like see, laws that will allow everybody to have enough so they don’t have to make tough decisions.”

From the audio from Green Party re-launches election campaign with ‘Love NZ’

The first elimination of tough decisions is to vote for this care free utopia.

There will be no need for anyone to make tough decisions at all, like how to get things done, and how to finance it.

The rise of Marama Davidson

Marama Davidson has had a rapid rise in politics. She is now the second ranked Green MP, and has just been given the responsibility of heading the Green campaign against poverty.

She is known as a social justice activist.

Davidson has been in Parliament for less than two years. She missed making it in 2014 by one list position (she was 15 on the list). When Russel Normal resigned in November 2015 she became an MP.

Earlier this year Davidson was showing as 13th ranked Green, after another new MP had joined after Kevin Hague resigned last year.

When the Greens’ preliminary list came out in April Davidson came in at 4. She was elevated to number 3 for the ‘final’ list, but that has changed now Metiria Turei has withdrawn from the list.

Yesterday in a relaunch of the Green election campaign sole leader James Shaw number the Green number 2 as one of a new caucus leadership team. Davidson has been put in charge of the Green poverty policy, effectively taking over this responsibility from Turei.

From Davidson’s bio (from the Green website):

Marama’s parents met as young, urban Māori activists; she was literally born into the movement.  However, it was Marama’s ten year career at the Human Rights Commission that brought life to her activist and social justice foundations.

Marama worked part-time as the Chief Panelist for the Glenn Inquiry into Domestic Violence and Child Abuse.  Her involvement in the inquiry has placed violence at the forefront of her political radar.  Marama supports the compassionate and necessary work that MP Jan Logie leads around violence, and longs for a day when we can call Aotearoa violence free.

As well as supporting movements on the ground, Marama is also an online activist.  She has a powerful presence on social media, which she sees as a great way to vocalise important issues and to engage with the community.  She is a blogger, and writes about social justice, Māori politics, women’s rights and more.

Marama is passionate about all areas of injustice, and is committed to using her voice wherever she can to elevate issues.  She is inspired by community leaders who do the hard work and stay connected to the issues and the people in their neighbourhoods.

“I am enthusiastic and excited about making change that honours our connection to each other, and our planet”

She is the Green spokesperson for Māori Development, Social Housing, Human Rights and Pacific Peoples.

In October 2016, Davidson took part in the Women’s Peace Flotilla, which intended to highlight the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Davidson is active in social media. her reaction to Turei’s stepping down:

And active in campaigning:

Also on Facebook:

Today I spoke to people waiting in the long lines outside of both the Manurewa and the Clendon offices of Work and Income.

The photo below was supposed to be a selfie with just me and the office door. I don’t like to expose people who might be treated cruelly in public.

But Kataraina went out of her way to run over to me after I’d spoken with people in the line about our Green Party plans to end poverty. And after I’d spoken to people about what happened to Metiria.

She insisted on being in the photo with me. She insisted on being named. I told her that I wanted to post my photo publicly and that I didn’t want her to be in it.

She looked me in the eyes and had to spell it out: she wanted to be in the photo.

So who am I to take her voice away. She wanted her voice to count.

I enrolled lots of people to vote this morning. I gave out flyers about how we will end poverty, starting with increasing benefits and removing benefit sanctions. I asked people to vote, and to vote for the Green Party so we can make peoples voices count.

End poverty. Take our country back from cruelty.

We’ve had a rough week. We’re determined now more than ever.

Her last speech in Parliament:

Davidson will ensure that the Green campaign against poverty continues with some emphasis.

Having representatives like Davidson in Parliament is good. Time will tell, possibly, how she would do as a Minister.

 

Solidarity and resistance?

This is an odd call for support for the Greens resetting and restarting their campaign after a disastrous couple of weeks.

Odd solidarity with no James Shaw in that photo – I wonder if that is deliberate. He is supposed to now be the sole leader, heading efforts to rebuild a tattered party.

The post is by ‘weka’: The Greens: solidarity and resistance

Solidarity and resistance sounds like it comes from a century ago, when poverty was far more widespread and worse, and social welfare barely existed.

The Greens are an enigma for some, and this is understandable because they don’t fit into the neat political boxes that the establishment deem real. They also are an inherent challenge to the establishment just because of who they are, so we can’t expect those part of the MSM invested in retaining the status quo to tell the story straight.

In my opinion it’s always better initially to listen to what the Greens have to say themselves. Here are the words of Green Party people speaking in the past few days,

Green MP Marama Davidson,

We will not forget the thousands of you who came to us with your stories of hardship.

This is just the start. All of your voices, the voices who came to us in trust and faith – are our priority. Ending poverty is a priority. We have the plan, and the political will, and most of all we have every single one of your stories driving us on.

We are 100% behind our sole co-leader James Shaw who will take us through the rest of this election. We are 100% behind Metiria who will continue what she started in her ongoing campaign for the party vote. We are 100% behind our strive to ensure that everyone can live dignified lives.

Green MP Jan Logie speaking on Back Benches,

I tell you something. We are going to NOT let (Metiria’s) sacrifice go for nothing. We are going to double down and do everything we can to make that worthwhile. To end poverty.

Double down on a disastrous own goal that has severely weakened the Greens?

James Shaw, co-leader of the Green Party (video at 4 mins)

I am committed to ending poverty in this country.

We are the party that aims to end poverty. Frankly everybody else is interested in tinkering around the edges. We’re the only party that’s drawn a line in the sand and said we know what it takes to lift 212,000 children above the poverty line.

That was to be really clear that the Greens are still strong on the kaupapa of ending poverty.

For the people on the look out for the environmental side, there’s a plethora of solid Green Policy already in place and based around NZ becoming world leaders on climate action, cleaning up our rivers, and ending poverty.

Metiria Turei started the Green Party campaign last month with a speech that started the temporary rise and then dramatic fall of the Greens (and precipitated a dramatic turnaround for the better for Labour).

Green MPs and Green supporters were blind to the risks and to the damage being done to their party. They attacked anyone who pointed out their problems or who criticised Turei or the party. They happily criticised and rejected two of their own MPs who were troubled by integrity issues.

If they want to ignore all of the problems the brought upon themselves, or just blame others – in particular the media which is seen as just a part of the establishment to be resisted – then I don’t like their chances of repairing the substantial damage they have caused themselves.

No matter how Shaw tries to repackage the Green campaign today, if the Green supporters who remain active continue the Metiria mission it may take an election disaster to get the message through.

If Greens generally follow the gist of what weka has posted through the campaign then I think there’s a real chance of them dropping through the threshold and crashing out of Parliament altogether.

That would be a real shame, but the Greens seem intent on doubling down – and down, and down.

Calling for solidarity and resistance may turn the Greens around, but it could also make a disaster permanent for the socialist sisterhood.

Turei game changer

Metiria Turei has changed the election campaign game, possibly substantially. But it’s not possible to tell what the end result will be as coverage and opinions evolve.

In his NBR column yesterday Matthew Hooton claimed:

“Private pollsters reported the initial response …was a loss to both the Greens and Labour and a gain to NZ First.”

“But her story has since changed from being about feeding her children to having fun, earning the condemnation of her political rivals. That criticism has led to a recovery for the Greens at the expense of Labour.”

If accurate that means a gain for NZ First, a loss then recovery for Greens, and a double whammy for Labour. The way many are writing off Labour now they are a hopeless case.

But I expect reaction to Turei’s game changer to keep changing, possibly right up to the election. Greens seem to be committed to pushing it as hard as they can, but opponents will no doubt push the negatives hard through the campaign.

ODT sums up the current situation (and doubts) in Game-changer or game over?

This was not a personal indiscretion, or a one-off mistake that could be put down to the innocence of youth, however. It involved active lying over a period of years in order to get taxpayer money to which she was not entitled. Ms Turei was studying law at the time. She should have known better. There was also an amnesty for beneficiaries at the time (although she said she was unaware of that). The fraud may have helped her and her child live more comfortably, but did others miss out because of her actions?

Ms Turei is now advocating for others who are breaking the law when it comes to their benefit entitlements. MPs are not above the law, even if they do make the laws, and they should not condone or promote illegal activity.

As well as advocating for law breaking – something both Andrew Little and Jacinda Ardern have been critical of – Green policy is to boost benefits and ask no questions about circumstances like flatmates and work and living with partners that can currently affect benefits.

Tracey Watkins in  Extreme politics, minor party style:

The Greens want to lift benefits by 20 per cent while scrapping all sanctions, including penalties for women who fail to reveal the name of their child’s father, or sole parents who want to begin a long-term relationship. For a period of up to three years sole parents could even continue to claim the DPB while living with a working – or even wealthy – partner.

In other words, they will prevent further rorting/law breaking by effectively allowing just about anything. This is troubling.

But on the other side of the argument from the ODT:

However, Ms Turei is making a valid point —  that current benefits are not enough to adequately live on. By sharing her own story she has brought the issue into the spotlight.

The issue of poverty in New Zealand deserves more serious scrutiny. New Zealanders should feel uncomfortable about it and the desperate measures people are being driven to. It seems we have become immune to the reports.

Yet we should be appalled at the fact hundreds of thousands of children are living in poverty, that families are  sleeping in cars, tents, garages and other sub-standard accommodation because they cannot find or afford housing in our supposedly “rock star economy”.

We should be appalled there are many who turn to dangerous substances and reckless behaviour because that is the only “high” point in their lives. We should be querying what part poverty and desperation play in crime — and in punishment.

Are we too hard on our most vulnerable and too easy on those already at the top? Have we got the balance right in our supposedly egalitarian society?

Ms Turei’s disclosure has changed the conversation around these issues — as it should.

This is something we as a society should have a good think and debate about, and then decide whether we can find a better balance.

I think we can and should do better. I think that there’s quite a bit of similar sentiment amongst the public – but it only goes so far.

I think there could be a lot of support for providing more help for those who are struggling in New Zealand.

But I suspect that many will have a problem with giving people substantially more money with no responsibility required to try and help themselves.

However debate on this isn’t going to happen effectively during a highly charged election campaign.

However, she has made an error of judgement. Now on a handsome salary of $175,000 as a party leader, she should have offered to pay back her illegitimate takings from the State at the same time she made her declaration. Not doing so has called into question her integrity, even as she tried to be transparent about her previous transgressions and raise awareness of poverty in New Zealand.

That hypocrisy may come back to haunt her if the Work and Income investigation draws out. However, her actions could yet energise a marginalised  sector of the community to vote for change. Move over Winston Peters, this could yet prove to be New Zealand’s Trump/Brexit gamechanger.

Or not. We simply can’t know at this stage what the voters as a whole will decide in a bit over a month. Polls may give us a hint but there could easily be shifts in how people see this issue right up until September 23.

Turei has changed the campaign game, but it’s too soon to tell where the goalposts are, who is heading for them, and who might score an own goal.