A lot of people who know I sometimes hang out with the Greens have expressed concern at Metiria’s story of historical welfare fraud. Among my predominantly middle class, home owning, vocationally engaged and progressively voting friends, there is a palpable fear that she’s done the wrong thing. Personally, I disagree. I think she’s done something courageous, good and very, very helpful.
Most of the concern seems to be that she – and the Greens – will lose votes. My question is: which ones? The answer? All those welfare bagging scoundrels out there who’ll gleefully grab the stick she’s handed them and beat her with it. She’s given her enemies something to complain about. But obviously, her enemies don’t vote for her.
The most imperilled Green votes are probably from those who are a bit older and more socially conservative than the party itself: middle class people, maybe well over fifty, who had to think long and hard about defecting from Labour to support the Greens in the first place. I’m characterising good people who care a lot about honesty. They’ll be understandably spooked.
To anyone who’s thinking twice about their Green vote as a result of Metiria’s confession, I ask, what’s really changed? Metiria has clearly, emphatically and specifically pointed out some serious problems with the way New Zealand handles welfare. This is a vital discussion for anyone in New Zealand, and especially for anyone who wishes to change the government. The discussion starts with welfare and expands like oil on water to impact all the key portfolios such as tax, housing, education and health: all the stuff – good and bad – that rich folks have and poor folks don’t.
To remind us: benefits are too low. They need to enable life, not suffocate it. Abatement rates (which deduct benefits in ratio against other income) are miserably disincentivising. The way that WINZ handles (or doesn’t handle) their clients is typically bossy, often bullying, and nearly always unhelpful for either day to day practicalities or big picture stuff like housing, education, employment, and so on.
Within the DPB, the sole guardian benefit is deducted on the scantiest evidence of a relationship, including the fact that a parent has sex with someone else. I believe case workers have been known to inspect houses for signs of other gendered undies to ‘prove’ such cases. I don’t want that happening in my country, and not in the name of my government.
Above all else, Metiria has been honest with us, on two levels. One, she’s fessed up to something she’s done. That’s not only rare. It’s commendable. It’s one of the best things any person can ever do. Some forgiveness (said to be a divine act) is warranted, right there.
Two, she’s done so in a way that forces us to ask what our country should be: one that leaves its weakest lying in the gutter? Or one that respects and bestows mana on all its inhabitants: citizens, migrants, tourists, criminals, everyone.
Metiria has made much of the fact that what she did, she did out of need. While MSD or even the courts might overlook that factor, no morally intact person can.
Some have asked Metiria’s to compare her transgression to a business owner facing liquidation proceedings lying to get IRD off their back. Well, sure, that’d be bad, and so is the unreasonable hounding that IRD have been known to engage in from time to time. So if someone in Parliament has a personal story about that, don’t be a stranger.
I’ve been on the opposite side of the fence. I used to pay cash to a friend of mine to do a bit of cleaning. She’s a good sort: she works hard with her kids, and in her part time jobs, and – far more than she wants or should – in dealing with obdurate WINZ staff and draconian policies. Katie and I were both lucky to be in full time work so were happy to help out. I’m ashamed that we paid her what we could, not what she’s worth, and it’s not pleasant work. So the thought of her giving it back to the government seemed ludicrous then, and still does now.
And the abatement rates really can be punishing. It’s not uncommon in some situations for people who declare their part time work to end up with less than they had before they worked. It’s not possible for the WINZ bureaucrats to not know that’s happening. And it’s neither credible nor acceptable that they think it’s ok.
Although I don’t have time to link to it, there was a report published recently which held that if you measure poverty without taking the cost of housing into consideration, it has not grown significantly in recent years. But – surprise! – it has, if you do.
In particular, the very bottom rung of the socio-economic ladder has grown. That not only includes beneficiaries, it also includes homeless people who are cruelly disqualified by virtue of being too poor; and – increasingly – working people who (it is so terrible to say) simply can’t afford to live properly.
At least three working families in our decile 8 school have fled west Auckland in the last year, chasing cheaper housing in distant regions. Poverty is literally removing people from our community. I’m sad to see them go. So are our kids. Although for the families who leave, there’s palpable excitement at the thought of an extra few bucks awaiting them after the upheaval of shifting.
As for the impact of all this on your party vote: here is the bottom line. If you want to change the government, give your party vote to the Green Party. Why? Because if you want to change the government, you want the government to be Labour and Green. The Green Party will thrive or die – as it always has – on its party vote. Labour will get a big chunk of party vote, and a big chunk of electorate votes. At best, the Greens will get a single electorate MP. All the rest will be list MPs, sent to Parliament on the party vote.
So, it’s not only the Greens who need you party vote. It’s Labour, too. Unless, of course, you are drawn to the idea of a Labour government run by New Zealand First.
The other comment to make to those who fear she’s somehow done the wrong thing is this: while Metiria has caused doubt among some, she’s inspiring others. Like this.
There’s a lot more to come on this. Not the least of which will be the details of the investigation. In particular, there’ll be a lot about whatever figure WINZ decide she owes them.