A woman who has worked for Plunket for 30 years recently contacted me about the need for social welfare reform. She said
that if welfare was working, families who had been on welfare the longest would have the best gardens, their homes would
smell of cleanliness and home cooking, and the children would be well nurtured and cared for. Instead, she said, their
gardens were often the worst in the street, their homes smelt of booze and cigarettes and filth, and the children were
often neglected and unhealthy.
If the symptoms of intergenerational welfare are so clear, and the effects so damaging, I wonder why professionals who
work in the field have not collectively called for widespread structural reform... or maybe they have, but no-one has
listened. While countries all over the world are making significant changes to welfare in order to prevent damage to
children, parents and indeed, whole families, New Zealand has done little.
What is worse the political parties on the left want to reverse the only real initiative to have emerged in the last
decade - the community wage. The major impact of the community wage has been to take away the notion that a benefit is a
right and a lifelong entitlement and replace it with the notion of a reciprocal obligation. By encouraging long term
unemployed job seekers to become work ready by participating in community work, many have progressed into full time
It is time that the opportunities that the community wage scheme provides are offered to all other job seekers. After
all, finding work these days is a full-time challenge. A programme is already in place, which helps to build the
discipline, and the skills as well as developing the right attitude, and all job seekers would gain from participation.
The Rangitira Trust in Otara has helped 70% of its community wage workers find a job. Their "graffiti busting" team has
cleaned up Otara, bringing pride back into the community, helping to make it a safe place to raise a family. The Trust
exemplifies not only the value of the scheme but also the importance of community delivery of welfare services. People
who live in the community and who care are better positioned to help others find a job than government bureaucrats do
with their focus on Wellington.
This election is producing clear choices for the future of welfare - The Alliance wants to abolish the community wage
scheme and make benefits more generous, Labour wants to simply abolish the scheme, and National wants to retain the
status quo. Only ACT wants to extend assistance programmes so that welfare provides a hand up to work. Only ACT
acknowledges that the welfare trap damages children and that is the way out of poverty is work.