Labour: youth earning or learning
Labour released its youth policy yesterday, which aims to move all youth into earning or learning. This is a clear countermove to National's focus on youth and welfare as voter push-pull issues, and aims to address some of the criticisms which have been directed at National's policy in this area.
National has walked a fine line between appeasing the more hard line factions of its party and appealing to the centre ground, which has left its policy in a mess regarding youth. National's proposals are based on the Welfare Working Group's recommendations, who were gathered with the seemingly impossible target of getting 100,000 people off welfare in a turbulent economic environment through a bunch of proposals, which seem to be oblivious to the rise of solo mothers since the 1970s in New Zealand being a result of a stronger social position for women and the sexual enfranchisement that followed the invention of the contraceptive pill.
Labour's policies seem to be a positive move when lined up against National's youth policies. While National aims to provide 5,500 places next year at a spend of $55.5 million, Labour aims to cater for 24,000 youth at an increased cost of $251 million over four years, which divided annually is not much more than National's spend. It aims to do this through an emphasis on increasing learning pathways and encouraging youth into apprenticeship schemes, which are focused on trades and also public service cadetships and an emulation of the Maori Trades Scheme for Maori and Pacific Islanders. They will achieve this through converting dole payments into payments to employers. They will also divert from National's absolute failure of a scheme to send kids to boot camps. While this scheme serves to abate the more vicious public rhetoric on moral panics over youth, the proof is in whether it works and it is simply not doing anything. Some people gain from that kind of environment but many do not, as evidenced in the outcomes.
While Farrar and others have heralded this release as a repeat of Labour's repetitive announcements on youth since 1980, such a view is simplistic. There have been many changes to the views on apprenticeships from both parties over the last three decades, particularly in the mid-1990s where the emphasis on establishing a National Qualifications Framework reduced the emphasis on traditional apprenticeships and leaned towards the idea of tertiary training. It is true that parts of this policy hark back to prior policy, including Goff's emphasis on the Conservation Corps which was introduced in the Labour government of 1989.
There are some questions that remain, however, around the policies of both sides. National's hard stance on the Independent Youth Benefit, which basically involves tethered pay appeals to the philosophy of those who believe youth should just 'harden up', as everyone has equal opportunity under the law. This is not true, to argue this would be to disavow history as we would have an equitable society now. We know that, for example, the ability of youth to manage their lives and careers is dependent on more than their parent's income; it is on the kind of attitudes that they were socialized with, often leaving people with a lack of cultural capital that is difficult to acquire later on. The way that these notions tapped into push-pull issues is clear: one example being the way that David Farrar felt comfortable attacking one of my colleagues personally for being on the Independent Youth Benefit when she was 16, and left her cellphone number on the site which was posted by a commenter so that people could text her abuse. Banning alcohol and cigarettes does not do much for a group for which it is already illegal, and attacking a group of very vulnerable people that cannot vote is pretty abysmal. The dole only kicks in at age 18, these kids are only on benefits if they have a complete family breakdown or if they have dependent children. The idea that they need more emotional support is fine, the idea of positioning them as a key election problem is not.
In Labour's policy the return to the Maori Trades scheme also begs further questions, particularly in their vocal disregard for the Maori Party led Whanau Ora policy, which developed by Mason Durie after years of research into his own people offers a fresh approach to issues that have clearly not been resolved by previous policy. If not led carefully, the result of this policy could be a bifurcating movement where Maori and Pasifika students are pushed into trades, reflecting the economic stratification that already exists and further entrenching it. Labour's policy is certainly the better of the two, although the ability to work with Maori and Pasifika communities to overcome social issues should not be thrown away in favor of politicking over the Maori Party's supply and demand agreement.