Saturday, September 02, 2006

He had his finger on the button

Following on from the last post, in 1888 another character toured the country having a look at the poor. He was Duncan McGregor, the Inspector of Hospitals and Charitable Aid. He opposed 'outdoor relief' (any form of charity that was provided outside an institution). He spoke against central government's role in providing assistance to the poor because it taught men and women to rely on government and 'disbelieve the scripture, "He that will not work, neither shall eat" '. He also claimed that, 'we mortals have the capacity to consume the solar system on such terms....Society attempts to cheat both God and the Devil by giving money out of...taxes, and soothes its conscience by thinking it is providing for the poor; whereas in sober fact it is merely drugging itself and poisoning them.'

(Source; A Civilised Community, Margaret McClure)

"Of poverty and priorities"

That's the title of an extraordinary article in today's DomPost. It makes for compelling reading. The writer, Martin van Beynen and photographer, Kirk Hargreaves, toured the country looking for the worst poverty and talking to people about their circumstances. His experience is very much what I've found volunteering. And the volunteers and social workers he spoke to are also fairly cynical but keep on going. You cannot not want to help some people but it's damn near impossible to get them to change their priorities. Here are some passages (with the odd comment from me in italics);

(But) in most areas, benefit dependence, criminality, drug and alcohol addiction are not the norm. In the areas we visited, they are.

We find the poor. The worthy poor, and plenty who are poor through their own fault.

A long-time South Island foodbank worker says, "If I was cynical, you would say they all carry a cellphone, they all have a dog, and the majority of them have Sky TV and they smoke. Where are their priorities?"

"They won't go to budget advice because budget advice will address those issues. And it's not just a plain phone - it's got to be an eleborate telephone."

We can vouch for the fact that the stereotypical beneficiary, shy of work and yet driving a good car, drinking, smoking and watching SKY TV, exists in good number. It is a hard heart, however, that doesn't sympathise when the circumstances are known. Even if the head shakes in disbelief. (I know that feeling well).

Ben, 20, of Gisborne, an agreeable Mongrel Mob member recently patched, has a one-year-old, a partner and is on the dole. His dog, a faint-hearted mongrel, tucks into a fish head as his partner hangs out the washing. He agrees work is plentiful in the area but he's not yet ready to "commit" to fulltime work, especially in the wet and cold. The work he is talking about is often temporary and his benefit is guaranteed every week, he says. As we leave a carload of his friends arrive. Big men, none working.

In Waitangirua, near Porirua, Meagan Darwin, 27 - mother of five aged 12 to 5 - still spends $35 a week on smokes. Her power is often turned off and she regularly runs low on food. Twenty dollars a week goes to repay a benefit she fraudulently claimed.

"Smoking is my only luxury. Take it away and what have I got?" she says.

Ms Darwin's children are challenging but happy and well-cared for. She has just about given up drinking because "I'm putting my kids first."

(In Dunedin) Mrs Mehau has three children and another on the way. Mr Mehau works as a security guard for 30 hours a week, earning $11-50 an hour. Mrs Mehau, who had her first baby at 16, has never been off the benefit. "It does feel good not having to answer to anyone, but I get worried how we will make ends meet, " she says."I can see why people do benefit fraud. It's so much easier." (She should know.)

They have a huge new TV, a dog and an old six-cylinder Ford Fairlane. The TV and the new washing machine and dryer are on hire purchase. Recently they had to use the foodbank. In some ways they are the classic beneficiary family, their own worst enemy. (I've said this directly to one girl but you aren't telling them anything they don't know.)

We see many beneficiaries eking out a meagre and strained living. Those living honestly will always struggle unless they budget tightly and live frugally.

Several beneficiaries admitted outright fraud to me. One had a boyfriend living with her, but not officially. He had his own state house (his own?)which he rented out to illegal immigrants.

Many times we are reminded how small NZ is...... no one is that far from a medical centre or a major town. Nowhere is so remote that services cannot be accessed. Ruatoria has a courthouse, a police station with four fulltime staff, its own Work and Income office anda health centre.

We expect to find worse. It seems as if some areas have had a clean up just for us.... We go to Clendon, which is the new Otara of South Auckland. The area is rent with gang violence, domestic assaults and dependence. Yet the house are only ten years old and still in good condition.

South Auckland social worker Emelio Estaban, who has worked in the slums of Chile says, "The outside look all nice and new. The hidden part of the picture is indoors. The problem lies not so much with the buildings but the families inside them."

In Kaiti, Gisborne, a (shop) attendant explains Mates beer - $5-90 for two litres - is bought only by the "alkies". The tipple of choice for the area, one of the poorest in New Zealand with a huge domestic violence problem, is Steinlager and Purple Goannas, she says.

In some areas, people,often young mothers with big families, appear to lead lives of utter grimness. In a state house ghetto in Gisborne, I approach a Maori holding a child on her hip. When she speaks I see her teeth are mostly black stumps (probably thumped out of her). She is 25 with six children. She says she can't talk to us about her life. So bad you can't talk to us? "Yes" she says.

Most tragically we find the mentally ill and the lonely living rough without the support of friends or family.

In Kaikohe on a bitter Sunday we go to Purdy St and find Katrina Witehira, 41 and Philip Robinson, 44, paying $130 a week for a ramshackle house with warped plywood covering many windows.

Both on invalids benefit because of mental health problems, they have run out of money. The power is off and there is no food. The floor lets in a cold draught through a hole in a cupboard and you can see the sky through the roof. The toilet is blocked and they sleep on a thin mattress on the floor. (Hey, but at least they are out in the community aye).

In the end, the poor defy description or generalisation. In the end, there is much to be hopeful about. (I wish I was so optimistic. The recurring theme through the piece is the presence of so many children living in awful situations. The next generation of poor, dependent and often dysfunctional people is growing up now.)

Friday, September 01, 2006

Bridget Saunder's HighLife

I didn't know my husband read gossip columns. He telling me something passably interesting about Rodney Hide being spotted craning his neck at the Boobs-on-Bikes parade. But this was better;

Update; According to Rodney Hide's blog he has an alibi. Umm. Now I remember why I don't read gossip columns.


One of these is Goldie Hawn. Who are the other two?

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Oswald's been fantasizing about Father's Day. But by the sound of things it's about as far-fetched as this one.

Who was he kidding

When writer Charles Murray last visited NZ talking about the incentives inherent in any state welfare system and the problems with benefits for single mothers, then Social Development Minister, Steve Maharey said this;

I do not support the view that the dpb is a lifestyle choice for many young women. Nor is there any research that supports it.

Reasearch? The fact that thousands of women continue to grow their families courtesy of the taxpayer is all the evidence I need. Here are the latest figures;

27,219 DPB 'clients' had added one or more children to their benefit at June 2006.

At October 1, 2004 the number was 23,160. The habit is catching.

Don't tell me that's not about lifestyle choice.

Don't believe the telly

Leo Leitch will be familiar to people who read letters-to-the-editor. His opposition to abortion is a recurring theme. He reluctantly supported my DPB petition letting me know by fax - sent at about 2 in the morning. That must be part and parcel of his "sense of humour". Now it has got him into trouble with the law and cost him $750. TV ads had mistakenly led him to believe police officers also have a sense of humour.

We don't know how lucky we are

One could be forgiven for feeling like we live in an increasingly violent, crime-ridden country based on the events of the past few weeks. The newspapers are full of disturbing stories and murders don't even make the front page anymore. But take heart. These statistics will reassure you that we are in fact living in a relatively safe country.

South African crime statistics for last year showed:

# 18,793 murders, an average of 51 a day in a nation of 47 million

# 55,114 reported rapes

# 249,369 assaults with grievous injury

# A South African is 50 times more likely to be murdered than the average person living in Western Europe

The Minister of Safety and Security (there's a misnomer if ever I saw one) has instructed under-resourced officers to get to a crime scene by donkey or bike if they have to. Let's hope NZ never descends to this terrible state of affairs.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Hypocrisy of the right and the left

On the tenth anniversary of the US welfare reforms Cathy Young writes in Reason;

Paradoxically, antiwelfare-reform feminists, most of whom had assailed the idea of full-time motherhood as a noble female vocation, found themselves defending a system that paid women to stay home with children. They mocked — rightly, in some cases — the hypocrisy of right-wingers who attacked poor single mothers for not holding jobs, yet lamented the rise in middle-class married mothers working outside the home. But surely it was at least as inconsistent for those on the left to hail the movement of married women into the workforce, and then treat full-time motherhood as an entitlement for poor single women. No, single women did not have babies to collect welfare checks; but for those who were trapped in lifelong dependency, the welfare system functioned as an enabler.

Facts about Fathers

Statistics New Zealand usually put out a "Facts about Fathers" release for Father's Day. This year, 2006, they are saying, This Sunday 135 New Zealand men will get the ultimate Father's Day present: a baby.

Two years ago they said, A baby will be a Father's Day present for an estimated 170 men this year, according to latest figures from Statistics New Zealand.

In 2004 I asked why they hadn't adjusted the figure for all the babies who were born into single parent homes, some who would never know who their father is or even have his name on their birth certificate? Thousands of babies would be presents for the taxpayer, not fathers.

Now, I do not know exactly how they make this calculation. Given that babies rarely arrive on the due date, Father's Day is always on the same day in the week and time in the season, I can't think of any better way than to simply divide the September quarterly births by 91 days. Given the quarterly birth rates have consistently numbered around between 13,500 and 14,500 since at least 1992 I can see no reason for the variation from 2004 to 2006. Thirty five fewer fathers on Father's Day this year?

Perhaps Statistics New Zealand have decided to factor in what they missed in 2004.

Or perhaps there is simply some special calculation they use of which I am unaware. More babies are now being scheduled for caesarians and Father's Day is not a 'working' day but I doubt the calculation is been based on asking every maternity ward how many deliveries they are expecting this Sunday.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Kids comments

A number of Primary Schools were doing a project on "The Sea". Kids were asked to draw pictures, or write about their experiences. Teachers got together to compare the results, and put together some of the comments that were funny, and some that were sad. Here are some of them. The kids were all aged between 5 and 8 years.

This is a picture of an octopus. It has eight testicles. (Kelly age 6)

Whales are animals, not fish. If they don't get air they can drown, like my brother did last summer. (David age 7)

Oysters balls are called pearls. (James age 6)

I don't like the sea. It makes me sick on the ferry. (Peter age 6)

My goldfish died. Why? (Katie age 5)

If you are surrounded by sea you are an Island. If you don't have sea all round you, you are in continent. (Wayne age 7)

I think sharks are ugly and mean, and have big teeth, just like Emily Richardson. She's not my friend no more. (Kylie age 6)

A dolphin breaths through an arsehole on the top of it's head.(Billy age 8)

My uncle Billy goes out in his boat with pots, and comes back with crabs.(Millie age 6)

When ships had sails, they used to use the trade winds to cross the ocean. Sometimes, when the wind didn't blow, the sailors would whistle to make the wind come. My brother said they would be better off eating beans. (William age 7)

I like mermaids. They are beautiful, and I like their shiny tails. How do mermaids get pregnant? (Helen age 6)

I'm not going to write about the sea. My baby brother is always screaming and being sick, my Dad keeps shouting at my Mum, and my big sister has just got pregnant, so I can't think what to write. (Amy age 6)

Some fish are dangerous. Jelly fish can sting. Electric eels can give you a shock. They have to live in caves under the sea where I think they have to plug themselves into chargers. (Christopher age 7)

My mum has fish nets, but doesn't catch any fish. (Laura age 5)

When you go swimming in the sea, it is very cold, and it makes my willy small. ( Bob age 6)

When me and Sarah went to the sea side in the summer holidays, we hid in the sand dunes and watched my big sister doing it with her boyfriend. It was fun. (Lauren age 7)

A submarine goes under the water like a fish, but it has lots of seamen inside. (Emma age 5)

When I grow up,I want to be captain of a big ship, and have lots of sailors (Valerie age 6)

Divers have to be safe when they go under the water. Two divers can't go down alone, so they have to go down on each other. (Becky age 8)

On holiday my Mum went water ski-ing. She fell off when she was going very fast. She says she won't do it again because water shot up her fanny.(Julie age 7)

Massey research on stay-at-home-mums

Apparently new research shows most New Zealanders approve of stay-at-home mums.

That's all well and good but what do they think about unpartnered mothers, who make up almost a third of all mums? Would their attitude change if the mother had to be on a benefit in order to stay home? Unfortunately the survey doesn't ask, which I think is something of a weakness.

It is worth bearing in mind if more mothers had financially supportive partners and we didn't have to pay so much tax to support them, fewer partnered mothers would need to work.

We cannot have our cake and eat it too. Somebody has to pay for the welfare state.

This claim is rubbish

The Dominion Post reports Social Development Minister David Benson-Pope saying, The Government was paying out $1.2 million a year less in benefits than in 1999. I was wondering why he would be crowing about such a paltry amount until I checked his press release which actually gives a figure of $1.2 billion. Slight typo on the DomPost's part.

Nevertheless I am very surprised at this claim.

The Crown Accounts Analysis for June 2006 isn't due for release until November but last year's showed the following;

1999 $12,429 (million)
2000 $12,483
2001 $12,681
2002 $12,838
2003 $13,110
2004 $13,352
2005 $13,448

If Benson-Pope is right the next figure should be $11,229.

There is no way that could happen. Even if all unemployment benefits were removed the total would only drop to $12,596.

I suspect the DomPost reporter's typo is closer to the mark.

Women's "workplace revolution"

A new plan drawn up by UK Minister for Constitutional Affairs, Harriet Harman is grossly intrusive. There and here Labour is slipping back into control mode;

Under reforms introduced by Labour, employees have the right to ask their boss if they can work part-time but there is no obligation on them to agree. In the next stage of reforms being proposed, employers would have to prove the job cannot be done part-time to refuse the request.

What employer in their right mind would be trying to make a full-time job out of a part-time one? (Apart from one in the civil service)

Monday, August 28, 2006

Overdue letter

It's always a risky business for charities to get involved in politics. Of course they are free to, just as I am free to withdraw my support.

Feminism to blame

A few weeks back I posted about the increase in female violence in Timaru. Now it seems their female drink-driving rate is rising pushing the overall rate up again after years of decline. This editorial puts some of the blame on feminism;

From women never being able to wrest the driving wheel from their partners to only getting the privilege when driving him home from the pub, now Timaru police find half their drink drive offenders are women. And they come from all walks of life. What's going on? The feminist movement has something to do with it.

........The message has to be the same to everyone. Drunk drivers maim and kill. It doesn't matter what gender they are.

That's an interesting observation. Whereas a drunk female assaulting someone has less chance of causing serious damage than a male, behind a wheel she has exactly the same potential.

Who's to blame?

This awful case of the 17 year-old killed in the security van throws up a number of culprits;

The killer and any accomplices obviously, the seventeen year-old whose own actions landed him in the situation, the security guards for his placement, and last but not least, the youth justice system.

Parents Ian and Lorraine said they had no confidence in New Zealand's youth offender system and wanted him to experience prison after a series of "minor misdemeanours".

"In an attempt to stem any escalation of a more serious nature, they officially charged Liam with the theft of their vehicle," the family said.

These are not the first parents to find they have no effective back up from the police or court system. The approach to youth offending is to keep them out of court until it cannot be avoided - hence only 17 percent of offenders end up there.

Now one could argue if this kid had been kept out of court he wouldn't be dead. Fair enough. But his offending would have escalated. At least that's what his parents believed and they knew him better than I do.

Unfortunately his age also killed him. At seventeen he was too old for the youth court, although I seem to remember reading somewhere a district court case could be referred to the youth court for a seventeen year-old.

The problem is kids know the law is soft. Parents struggling to control them get no assistance.

Just check out a NZ Yearbook. Youth offending is categorised under social services. Adult offending under crime and the justice system.

My heart goes out to his parents who were doing what they believed was the best by their son. What a tragedy. What a travesty.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Teen pregnancy rate

Oswald asks how our high school preganacy rate compares to the one at Canton High, Ohio. Unless individual high schools or colleges keep data I don't think we know.

What is known - of the 15-19 year-old female population (est 151,050) there were 3,718 abortions and 4,138 births in 2005. This means the pregnancy rate per 1000 is 52. Factoring in miscarriage, which affects 15 - 20% of all pregnancies, the rate climbs to 59-62 per 1,000.

So at the upper range 6.2 percent of 15-19 year-olds will become pregnant each year.

The US high school pregnancy rate is 8.4 percent - the Canton School was double the national average. There is every chance that in our lowest decile schools the average rate is also double. So it isn't beyond the realms of reasonability to suggest that one in eight high school pupils might get pregnant in a given year at a given school.

(There were 115 births and abortions in the 11-14 year age band but they are not statistically significant. Also it is possible that some of the births and abortions in the 15-19 year age band were to the same individual but again I don't think these will make a significant statistical difference.)