The Prime Minister and baby balancing act

Jacinda Ardern ‘returned to work’ in her role of Prime Minister yesterday. Sort of. She took over prime ministerial responsibilities from acting PM Winston Peters, but remained in Auckland (she will return to parliament next week).

Ardern released selected photos of her, Clarke Gaygord and baby Neve, and gave some media interviews that focussed a lot on the baby and how that would affect her work.

It may have been laid on a bit thick, and it was slammed by some (the types who would slam anything done by Ardern, but I think generally this was a reasonable way to start. There was always going to be a lot of attention given to the mother-baby stuff, so best to give the media something.

As long as it mostly stays at that. That is up to the media to be reasonable, and also up to Jacinda not to exploit it with orchestrated distractions – she pulled a stunt like that on Sunday which appeared to be a deliberate attempt to distract from Simon bridges at the National Party conference.

Ardern is extremely lucky to be able to integrate parenting with her work. Most parents are either not able to do that, or choose to devote work time to work and make arrangements for baby care. I’ve done that (quite a while ago), being responsible for night time feeds with expressed milk while the mother was away working.

Teachers, nurses, police, fire, ambulance, retail, hospitality, court, construction – most parents who work know that it simply isn’t feasible (or professional) to care for a baby during their work hours.

So highly paid prime ministers and MPs are a very privileged minority when it comes to this.

Ardern wants to change attitudes to mothers and work. It may change how mothers can work as politicians, but it is unlikely to change the practicalities and realities for most parents.

It will now be up to Ardern and the media to get the right balance of work versus parent coverage.

I’m fine with Ardern giving occasional stage managed coverage of her family – so long as she doesn’t exploit this for publicity and political purposes.

She still has a very important job to do, a job she volunteered to do and negotiated her way into. As a mother of a baby she should be cut a bit of slack, but she has a challenging balancing act ahead of her.

There is no way she can escape the spotlight. She may well shine as a working mother, but she risks a voter backlash if she abuses her family situation politically.

Q+A – youth not in work, training or education

One of the most contentious issues about immigration is the approximately 90,000 youths not in work, training or education, but the apparent need to get immigrants to work because employers can’t find Kiwis to fill positions.

Some politicians say we shouldn’t bring in immigrants until unemployed Kiwis have been given a chance.

But many people know from experience that a hard core of young people in particular are either unemployable, or at least not keen on getting work and are very unreliable.

Q+A looks at all this (hopefully) this morning.

Nearly 90-thousand young New Zealanders aren’t in work, training or education. Yet many of our employers are desperate for skilled staff. American social entrepreneur Jeffery Wallace may have the answers. He joins us live.

Latta on what our politicians do

Nigel Latta has had a look at what our politicians (and media and lobbyists and activists) do.

Stuff: Nigel Latta: What Do Our Politicians Actually Do?

We decided to go and look at Parliament because whenever you’re looking at how to solve the nation’s problems, it always comes back to Parliament. 

Politicians are despised but when you spend some time with them, you quickly realise that almost all of them are there because they want to make a difference and do something positive. It’s just that ambition and ego sometimes get in the way. 

And the public mostly sees what our politicians do through the eyes of the media, who tend to focus disproportionately on conflict, disruption, controversy and mistakes.

Our Parliament is based on a clash of ideas and we’ve been led to believe that’s a good way to solve problems, but that’s the worst way to solve problems. It’s not the best idea that emerges, it’s the person with the loudest voice  who wins.

To an extent that’s true but it does require about 60 MPs supporting the loudest voices.

In a perfect world we’d be able to sit down as humans and talk through ideas. We’d just have a bunch of people who aren’t members of any party; they’re smart people, they’re going to talk about ideas.  They’d be genuinely open to any solution rather than driven by ideological views.

Theoretically perhaps, but what sort of people would we end up with as MPs if things worked like that?

The politician who is elected on the basis of a cause will behave very differently than the politician who is there for a career.

The problem now is we have this political class, career politicians whose primary focus is on getting reelected, and because of that they can stay in power for decades.

We seem to be getting a growing number of ‘career politicians’ under our party based system.

We spent some time with Paula Bennett, and regardless of what you think of her as a person or her politics, she works incredibly hard. She oversees a huge budget. And that’s the thing, they do an important job so we want smart people in there.

The public doesn’t see anything of the hard graft that goes on. Instead we are bombarded with images of opponents trying to destroy their credibility and careers, and of the media trying to concoct sensational stories hold them to account.

The bulk of Parliament’s work is in select committees. In the select committee that we sat on, it was the politicians who were being sensible, and it was the public servants who were trying to argue for a position that may have been legally correct, but was not in the actual interests of everyday New Zealanders.

It was the first time I’d seen MP’s as the sensible ones protecting all of us, and that was refreshing. 

MPs working for us against the bureaucrats? Who’d have thought.

One of the interesting things we did was to follow the procedure of how questions are asked in the House.

The whole process builds in intensity over the day and I can understand how they all get caught up in the drama of it all.

The problem is that while they all think it’s a really big deal getting to ask a question in the House, but none of the rest of us care. In fact most of us are appalled by their behaviour in the Chamber.

It was fascinating watching the reaction of school kids who’d come to see democracy in action. Their faces alternated between amusement and disbelief that our nation’s leaders could be acting like this. 

Ultimately though, our knowledge if what happens in Parliament comes from the media. And a lot of what we see is the antics in the debating chamber or gotcha journalism.

We see a small snapshot via a media seeking sensation and readers/viewers.

The real work in Parliament happens in select committees, and a huge amount of that work happens with politicians working together to get stuff done.

It’s not as entertaining as the silliness in the house so it doesn’t get covered.

Sensible and hard work doesn’t make good headlines.

And the end result of that is that we think they’re all acting like kids all the time, when actually they only behave like kids a very small percentage of the time. The rest of their day, they’re actually doing important work.

And quite a bit of that work involves working together.

At the end of my time in parliament the thing I was most concerned about was the influence of lobbyists.

I think any time a lobbyist goes to see a politician, given this is a person who’s being paid to influence politicians and policy, we should know who’s there, who they’re representing, and what was discussed. That goes for all lobbyists, whether it be a lobbyist for big alcohol or for environmental groups. 

We should all be concerned about the influence of lobbyists.

Yes, lobbyists (and often the money and vested interests behind lobbyists) have more influence on what happens than many realise.

After watching this people might say ‘you were too soft on them’. I’ll undoubtedly get emails about why I didn’t slam them on issues like inequality, or housing or any of the other weighty problems we face as a nation.

But that wasn’t the point of going. I wanted to know more about how Parliament works, not circle round the usual policy debates. So now I know that if you want to have some influence find your local MP and feed them a question they might get to ask in the House. Because if it gets asked in the House, you might just get some media attention on your issue. 

So the influential voice is not always the loudest voice in Cabinet, it is influenced by getting a loud voice for your views in the media.

This is something that’s also attempted via social media and blogs, and it sometimes succeeds, like the Red Peak flag. But it’s very competitive, there’s a lot of political and social activists competing to be the Nek Minute in the spotlight.

There are some principled, genuinely compassionate in there who really want to make a difference.

I think most are to an extent at least.

And then I think there are people that are the complete opposite.

Some seem to be hanging in there to collect healthy pay packets. Some seem to think that destruction (of their opponents) is a requisite for getting power to change things.

For us though, as voters, I’m hoping we can learn to demand more than coverage of the trivial, or the endless inane controversies, and instead expect a higher quality of debate. We should also, just by the by, lift our own game.

To an extent at least we get (from the media) what we demand or deserve. And those active in politics outside Parliament demand sensation, as long as it is applied to those they oppose.

Ordinary people (voters) are either bored by politics or turned off by the worst that the media shows them, so they are turned off rather than inspired to demand better.

So I doubt that we will see much improvement. The noisiest politicians, the noisiest journalists and the noisiest activists and lobbyists rule, and while the rest of us allow it to continue like that it will continue being like that.

More generalist and careerist MPS

A new study has put numbers to what has often been suggested – that today’s MPs have less traditional backgrounds (like farming and unions).

A third of MPs are political careerists with limited experience outside public service and politics. “Over 30% of them have entered Parliament after careers exclusively spanning government, public sector or politics.”

“If you have no real career other than politics, you are unlikely to want to rock the boat. Challenging the establishment will seldom be in a career politician’s best interests.”

New Zealand MPs are now less likely to be from traditional careers in business and unions, and more likely to be generalists who turn to politics as a career, according to a study released today.

The study, by political researcher Geoffrey Miller and public relations expert Mark Blackham, researched and compared the career histories of all 121 Members of the current Parliament.

They found that business owners, agriculturalists and unionists have a falling share of voice in their traditional parties, and have been replaced by people with no specific career interests, or careers limited to government and politics.

Miller said 23% of National MPs had experience working in a business, and only 10% of Labour MPs had worked in a union.

Miller said that while Parliament had become more ethnically and gender diverse under MMP, the range of prior occupations was becoming increasingly narrow.

Miller added that younger MPs were especially likely to be beholden to the parties they represented because of their decision to pursue politics as a profession.

Blackham said the rise of generalists reflected both a change in employment patterns in the wider community, and a perception that politics was an employment option as well as a calling. Almost a fifth of MPs had no definable career before politics.

“Parliament is reflecting something ordinary people are experiencing; the tendency to go through a range of jobs rather than a single career. Wide experience of life may well help MPs to understand the public they represent.

“But there is a less creditable trend toward seeing politics as an employment option. For these MPs, the job follows a working life solely in government or politics. This is a new phenomenon.”

Three major conclusions from the report:

  1. The traditional difference in economic sectors represented in the major political parties is extinct;
    National now has proportionately few farmers or business people.
    Labour has few unionists or blue collar workers, but is strongest in MPs with varied non-specific employment experience.
    The Party with proportionately the most business experience is New Zealand First.
    The party with proportionately the most activists is the Green Party.
  2. One third of our politicians have only ever worked in political jobs. Over 30% of them have entered Parliament after careers exclusively spanning government, public sector or politics.
  3. MPs are now reflecting the wider employment trend of having multiple careers or having worked in a wide range of jobs. Nearly 20% of all MPs have had ‘multiple’ careers.

MPWorkExperience

Noteworthy findings

  1. 34% of MPs have a career history entirely working for the government in some form.
  2. The biggest category was “multiple” careers – where MPs have worked in various employment, and not followed a particular career or field of expertise. Labour had proportionately the greatest number in this category (one quarter of its MPs)
  3. The single most common career has been employment in the business world (19 MPs, and generally management work, not entrepreneurial or operational), followed by a career in government (15 MPs).
  4. There are 10 career politicians (vs. 12 MPs in previous Parliament).
  5. Labour Party now has a notable presence of MPs with careers in the Maori sector (5/32 MPs in 2015 compared to 3/34 MPs in 2014).
  6. New Zealand First remains dominated by MPs with business experience, particularly within SMEs.
  7. The Green Party remains dominated by those with a Unionist or Activist background (5/13 MPs).
  8. The two Maori Party MPs both have a background in education.
  9. Between the 50th and 51st Parliaments, Labour has seen a decrease in MPs with unionist backgrounds (3 vs 5 MPs).
  10. National has fewer agricultural MPs than the previous parliament (6 vs 9 MPs)

National MPs have a wider variety of backgrounds than Labour MPs but part of the reason for this is there are nearly twice as many.

MPNationalWorkBackgrounds

MPLabourWorkBackground

I think that two significant factors behind choices to stand for Parliament now are:

It can be much more high profile with the chance of high media and opponent examination.

The time and cost commitment to standing as a candidate with a chance of being elected is high, especially standing for electorates. You pretty much have to dedicate several months at least to full time campaigning.

This is easier for people already employed by parties.

This isn’t as necessary for small parties (Greens and NZ First) where political unknowns can get in via their party list placement.

But even NZ First’s most recent MP, Ria Bond, a hairdresser from Invercargill, had spent time working for NZ First MPs in Wellington.

Future of Education

Labour has released it’s free tertiary education policy under it’s Future of Work framework, correctly seeing a growing need for many workers to re-train several times through their working life.

But how much are they considering Future of Education?

Education may transform as radically as work in the next decade or two.

Will our current university model survive? There will always be a need for academic qualifications, and there will always be a need for doctors and lawyers and nurses and teachers who need a few years to learn.

But it’s quite possible a lot of other education will become fragmented – and available from much wider sources. Online courses are already available from around the world.

Will Labour have a good look at Future of Education? The Labour friendly teacher unions have resisted far less radical change than may be necessary to compete in the future.

New Zealand gets substantial benefits from fee paying foreign students. But the globalisation of education may change things substantially, and we will have to lead, keep up, or lose out.

If Labour are really forward looking enough to see past the next election they should be next election they should be having a serious look at Future of Education.

Rethinking education

Instead of throwing an election bribe at the educated elite shouldn’t we rethink how we do tertiary education and work retraining.

Over the last fifty years there has been a shift towards more academic diplomas and degrees, but has this been at the expense of relevant work training?

If people are expected to have to retrain several times through their working life in the future it’s not practical to spend years getting academic qualifications each time.

What about having shorter one or two year general tertiary courses supplemented by more targeted short courses?

Blenheim mother of three

Stuff posted an article this morning on Blenheim mother-of-three struggling to survive since coming off the benefit.

There’s been a lot of comment and some corrections.

A low wage worker says there is no incentive to get off the benefit.

A number of people pointed out that wanting to earn a living and be self-sufficient is a good incentive to get off the benefit.

A struggling solo mum in Blenheim is only $34 better off a week since she came off the benefit and got a job.

The 48-year-old said Marlborough’s low wage economy meant it was harder for people to enter the workforce.

But this isn’t about being harder to enter the workforce, she asks…

“When you weigh it up, is it worth going to work?

If you weight it up on purely financial criteria then some more money with the prospects of quite a bit more is still worth it for many people.

The early childhood teacher, who worked 29 hours a week, earned $21.90 an hour, just more than the living wage set at $19.25.

There is no set living wage. The minimum wage is $14.75.

She received $580 a week when she was on benefits looking after her three dependent children aged 10, 15 and 17.

Her new job, which she also juggled with studying for a bachelor in early childhood education, paid $614 a week after her student fees were taken out.

And less if PAYE tax and ACC Earner Premium are taken out:

Gross pay: 635.10
PAYE: 92.30
ACC: 9.21
Student Loan: 32.17
Take home pay: 501.42

She missed qualifying for a working for family support benefit by one working hour.

But it’s been pointed out that that is incorrect. A comment at Stuff:

Based on the information supplied she qualifies for both the working for families tax credit weekly as well as the “In work tax credit”

– Copied and pasted from the IRD website = “In-work tax credit Paid to families with dependent children18 or younger who work the required hours each week”” “To get this payment, couples must work at least 30 hours a week between them, and single parents must work at least 20 hours a week.” – by working 29 hours she qualifies.

David Farrar works out how much that is at Kiwiblog:

According to the IRD calculator if she is working more than 20 hours a week she should receive $239 a week in family tax credits and $60 a week for in-work tax credits which is $299 a week on top of the $614 from her job.

No, I think it will be on top of her take home pay of 501.42, which comes to $800 per week.

“There is that stigma attached to being on the benefit and many believe that you are just a bludger,” she said.

If weighing up whether earning money is worth it then yes, that’s a risk.

“Children are my passion. I wanted to better myself and get a job in early childhood education.

“I was shocked I was only $34 better off a week. I thought I would be $100 better off. That’s huge when you are only earning $600 a week.

“We make do with what we have got. My children don’t go without. We don’t eat the flashest of foods but they get fresh fruit and vegetables.

“I am too proud to ask for help. It’s really hard to say I don’t have any money.”

Except that she has apparently volunteered her story to a journalist.

“We don’t have many treats. We are lucky if we have a takeaway every three months. It’s not part of our budget.

“It’s quite depressing, you just have to deal with it.

“The kids pick up on it. They are sick of being poor and having no money.”

Striving to work and earn money for yourself is something kids can pick up on too. If the seventeen year old is sick of being poor they could at least try to find holiday work. Many seventeen year olds earn money for themselves.

She would not give up her job to go back on the benefit.

“I love my job. It makes me feel rewarded.”

So why does she ask if it is worth it?

It’s hard to work out what the motive for this story is.

I hope she considers checking out her eligibility for family tax credits and in work tax credits.

And I hope the journalist who wrote this checks things out a bit better.

The world of work has changed

A comment yesterday related to The future of work – what’s the alternative?  is worth picking up on, from kiwi guy:

Here are some sobering charts on the dramatic change in the nature of employment in the US from Maxkeiser.com – The World of Work Has Changed, and It’s Never Going Back to the “Good Old Days”

“The world of work has changed, and the rate of change is increasing. Despite the hopes of those who want to turn back the clock to the golden era of high-paying, low-skilled manufacturing jobs and an abundance of secure service-sector white collar jobs, history doesn’t have a reverse gear ™.

The world of work is never going back to the “good old days” of 1955, 1965, 1985, or 1995.”

Read more: The World of Work Has Changed, and It’s Never Going Back to the “Good Old Days”

And further to the Future of Work Post which referenced a comment at The Standard, they have also done a post on it there which has an iknteresting comment thread:

Guest Post: Employment and Unemployment

Don’t forget the “benefit scroungers”

A post from a different country and a different year, but I think it still makes some pertinent points.

I, for one, do not like benefit scroungers – but I really believe that the problem cannot be solved by quick and easy methods. It’s all right to say “make them work” but many of the people who live on benefits have NEVER worked. Sometimes for two or three generations.

Can you tell me who is going to employ them? If I were running a business I wouldn’t employ anyone who has never worked – people with no skills and nothing to offer. It would be a bad investment. So then people say “the government should make them work”. How? By forcing the workshy on to employers? That won’t work either.

As an employer I would bitterly resent being forced to employ someone who has never understood or participated in the work ethic. So should the government create jobs for benefit claimants? Maybe – but that would involve spending huge amounts of taxpayer’s money – at a time of cutbacks and austerity measures.

No… I’m afraid benefit scroungers are with us for some time yet. They are a lost generation.

We need to focus on youngsters who are still at school – to make sure they have the skills to be employable and to become full and valued members of society.

To an extent I agree with that.

Those who least want to work will often be those who employers least want to employ.

And we should be doing as much as we can to ensure people leave scholl with employable skills and productive aspirations.

But we shouldn’t ignore and turn our backs on those caught in benefit traps. Some may well be unlikley to ever get or jobs, we have to accept a level of unemployability, and society has a responsibility to provide support forn them.

There are people stuck on benefits, through less than helpful upbringings, bad choices or bad luck, that genuinely want to better lives for themselves.

We should be willing to help them take steps to greater self sufficiency and ambition.