Child Poverty Action Group Welfare Forum - rethinking welfare for the 21st century
$500,000 to get a job: expert
New Zealand would have to invest about $500,000 in each unemployed person to give them the "human capital" required to get paid work, a welfare expert says.
Professor Peter Saunders, an Australian who is president of the Foundation for International Studies on Social Security, said the only way to cut welfare spending in the long term was to invest upfront in education, childcare and supporting people in work for the first few years.
"Policies will be costly and success will take time," he said.
"If we are going to do it properly, let's put the money in upfront and not expect a return overnight."
Professor Saunders, from the University of New South Wales, is "the other Peter Saunders" - not the Professor Peter Saunders of the right-wing Centre for Independent Studies, also in Sydney, who is one of three international advisers to the Government's welfare working group chaired by economist Paula Rebstock.
Social Development Minister Paula Bennett got the two mixed up in a parliamentary exchange in May.
Paula is such a clown, she got the two mixed up in Parliament, she appointed the Peter Saunders who believes class is connected to intelligence, believes corporations should run social welfare, wouldn't front up to the media to explain himself unless the media paid him and of course writes Islamaphobic fiction in his down time - THAT Peter Saunders is the 'researcher' Paula appointed to her Welfare Razor Gang that used voodoo math to justify forcing solo mothers, the sick, the crippled and the mentally unwell back to work in a 6.8% unemployment environment.
I was fortunate enough to be invited by Child Poverty Action Group to this conference last week at Auckland Uni where Professor Saunders spoke.
Chair of the Welfare Razor Gang, Paula Rebstock, spoke first and it was bloody interesting. The room was full of brilliant academics who have all worked on poverty and who all know that the math Rebstock tried to use to justify the cuts she has put forward are bullshit and most importantly Paula knew they knew it. She was nervous and found it very difficult listening to the counter perspectives on Welfare.
There was a brief history lesson on where Welfare has come in NZ, from the 19th Century pension and universal suffrage to the 1938 Social Security Act which expanded free education, public hospitals and state housing as a response to the 1929 stock market inspired depression, then to the post war welfare state aimed at full employment. Then the 1967 ACC legislation to look after the injured in an industrialized world and then the 1972 Royal Commission on Social Security which was followed by the 1988 Royal Commission on Social Policy which both concluded that access to sufficient levels of income and resources to allow all to participate in society was a means to create the genuine opportunity democracy promises.
These desires to allow all to participate and the importance of resourcing that autonomy all went to pieces with the 1991 welfare to work when welfare was suddenly a dirty word and only a 'safety net'. The 2000's work focused reforms carried on by Labour helped lift 160 000 children out of poverty for the working poor, but left almost 220 000 children to live beneath the poverty line.
Professor Saunders argued we need to rethink disadvantage to side step the reactionary voices that dominate the debate, stating that poverty denies people to resource their capabilities and aspirations and that we need to look at welfare as an investment.
Capitalism has a unique ability to co-opt other good ideas and reform itself when under the Keynesian managed style, it had to during the Depression when democracy faced a crises of capitalism in 1929, and as we face the same crises after 2008, we will need to change our selfish views on welfare to once again progress, Professor Saunders is a vital voice in that debate. We should be spending more on public services, not slashing them as this Government are.
There was one ugly moment during the conference that reminded everyone what was at stake. An angry advocate of the unemployed stormed out of the forum frustrated that the tone wasn't attacking Rebstock and her Welfare Razor Gang and was instead trying to 'work with her'. I agreed. We've seen the ugly face of these destructive right wing policies, the fact we are such a low wage economy goes right back to the right wing reforms adopted by National in the 90's that crushed the labour union movement, these welfare reforms need to be shown the same venom and contempt, not 'let's work together' bullshit. The advocates anger reminded all in the room that while we sat in a cosy university lecture room, many NZers on the street right now are suffering and facing the real world consequences of being hurt by these National Party Welfare slashes.