Saturday, October 26, 2013

DPB longevity - a typical case

After the sob stories here's a refreshing change. A Fairfax news story about a woman on the DPB for twenty years who decided to get a job when she heard her daughter saying how she intended to follow in her mother's footsteps. Good for her. Mum that is.

But there's some misinformation reported:

Until six months ago, Judy Wilson was one of about 80,000 sole parents in New Zealand receiving a benefit.
This is incorrect. 80,000 is the number on Sole Parent Support at September 2013. There are many more who have been shifted to the Jobseeker Support, Young Parent Payment, or Supported Living Payment. The data here would indicate around another 17-18,000. And there's maybe 2-3,000 on emergency benefits. A more accurate number might be close to 100,000

... In July, New Zealand's welfare system had a major shakeup and the Government introduced new expectations and obligations for beneficiaries. The changes were slated by advocacy groups as punitive, but they seem to have had the Government's desired effect - for better or worse - in reducing the number of people receiving assistance.
The numbers are coming down. But I think the reporter might be under the impression they are falling more rapidly than is the case. Nevertheless he's done a good job of putting a human face to the new data showing how long sole parents stay on welfare.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

CPAG research faulty

Media Release

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Recent research by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) has been found faulty.

CPAG's analysis of Child Youth and Family child abuse data claimed, "The data suggests there is no correlation between benefit receipt and child maltreatment". This despite earlier Auckland University research finding, "Of all children having a finding of maltreatment by age 5, 83 percent are seen on a benefit before age two".

Welfare commentator Lindsay Mitchell says she asked the Ministry of Social Development for the data supplied to CPAG.

"I was supplied with the number of substantiated cases of child abuse and the 0-17 population for each CYF site office. These show that CPAG's calculations are incorrect. For instance, their report states, '...the proportion of 0-17 year olds who were victims of abuse in Papakura was not 4.0% but 0.40 of 1%.' (p9)"

In fact the proportion was 4 percent (608 distinct cases in an estimated 0-17 population of 14,413). The flawed methodology was repeated for every CYF site office recorded.

In an attempt to ascertain correlation between child abuse and benefit dependence, the report went on to estimate the number of beneficiaries that lived in each CYF site area.

"At this point CPAG counted all working age beneficiaries whereas the relevant population to use would be those beneficiaries with children in their care - a minority of all beneficiaries," said Mitchell.

The rate of benefit dependency was also incorrectly calculated.  Data at Figure 5 (p11) is labelled "% income-tested beneficiaries estimated in total population". Data at Table 6 (p24) purports to be "rate of benefit receipt in working-age population". Yet the two sets are data are identical.

Using the example of Papakura again, CPAG's estimate for the rate of benefit dependency is 10%. In fact the number of working-age beneficiaries was 6,096; the 18-64 population was approximately 31,302. That results in a benefit dependency rate of 19.5 percent.

Mitchell says, "I have written to CPAG about these errors. They have conceded that their report needs amending and say, 'An amended version of the report will be available on our website as soon as practicable.' Over two weeks later the faulty version is still on-line.

CPAG research is publicly promoted to influence social policy. It's therefore hugely important that policy-makers can trust their work. If CPAG is publishing faulty research that trust would be misplaced."

Why so sad?

A spokesman for the Postal Workers Union (?) has just been on Breakfast TV talking about how "sad" it is that people aren't using snail mail any more. He used the adjective three times.

Why? Why is it sad that there is so much more convenience available to us through technology? Why is it sad that we don't need to write cheques, buy envelopes, buy stamps and go to the post office or post box to send off bill payments? Why is it sad that we can communicate with our friends and family locally and overseas instantly?

It's a reality that slow post has had its day - like the hand-driven loom and the horse and cart.

But like those devices, postal deliveries aren't going to disappear overnight. They will be reduced to half the number in urban areas.

Still Grey Power are terribly upset:

The reductions would severely disadvantage the elderly, especially those who could not afford computers.
Surely they exaggerate. If the highlight of your day is the postman coming, with our without mail, you need to get an interest.

And as people change their habits, in particular, purchasing increasingly from the net, including everyday items like groceries, more delivery opportunities will arise. Posties need to anticipate the changed opportunities more than anybody else and plan their employment around them.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Sick of the sob stories

Simon Collins tells this story:

A solo mother has had her benefit halved, just eight weeks after having a new baby, because she failed to attend an appointment with Work and Income.
Leanne Griffin, 39, went to Work and Income's Albany office one week after giving birth by Caesarean section to tell the agency about her new son, Blair. She was surprised to be told that she had to look for full-time work.
The subsequent child policy was imposed in October 2012. This baby was conceived after that date. Looks like the mother was already on the DPB caring for her 15 year-old daughter. She would have had full-time work obligations as her daughter was 14+. Having a new baby would only give her one year free from those obligations. She may have been told she had to look for full-time work when the baby was one. (That she gave birth via Caesarean section is irrelevant.)

"I was speechless. I didn't know what to say," she said. "I had a week-old baby who I'm feeding."
She had taken her hospital discharge papers to confirm she had had a baby, but said her case manager had refused to look at the papers, saying she needed a birth certificate. Ms Griffin did not receive the birth certificate until last week.
So this incident with WINZ happened 7 weeks ago.

Instead, the case manager asked why she had not attended two previous appointments she'd made with Work and Income when she was looking for a house to rent and needed an advance for the bond.
She cancelled both appointments when she failed to secure the houses and is staying with her baby's paternal grandparents in Torbay until she can find a home. The baby's father has admitted himself to rehabilitation after a long history of drug use.
It appears that failing to keep these appointments (and/or a later one) is the reason for having her benefit cut. The cut isn't due to failure to meet a work-test. Just as a side note, notice the taxpayer is expected to fund her new home but she can and is living with her in-laws currently. What of their responsibility for their absent son and grandchild?
Ms Griffin, who also cares for her 15-year-old daughter and has an 8-year-old son not in her care, said she told the case manager she wanted to finish a degree in social work which she has started at Massey University. But the case manager "didn't really want to know". "She was more interested in getting me into full-time work. She made it clear it was full-time."
WINZ aren't going to fund mature students indefinitely any more.Some of the resource has been channelled into getting younger people educated and capable. That's sensible.

At one stage, she paused, looked at her computer a while, then said: "Pause 30 seconds and resume interview." Ms Griffin said: "I looked around to see who she was talking to. She was just so cold and horrible throughout the meeting."
Sounds like Ms Griffin might also have been quite a 'difficult' client to provoke this response. If not in her behaviour, certainly in the circumstances she presented.

Ms Griffin had to cancel a later appointment made as she'd been disqualified from driving and couldn't get a lift. She didn't hear from the agency again until a letter arrived saying her benefit was being halved for not meeting obligations.
A spokesman said Work and Income staff went "out to their way" to help her but their hands were tied.

I'm getting a bit sick of these hard luck stories. Here's a 39 year-old woman still living in a state of chaos; getting pregnant to a drug addict, with an estranged son, a recent driving disqualifiction (incurred while pregnant?), and who'd have guessed it - wants to be a social worker. I'm no angel, a delayed maturer in the responsibility stakes. But for goodness sake, this woman needs to get her act together.

As a supporter of the welfare reforms, I'm not going to be made to feel somehow guilty for whatever difficulty she now finds herself in.

(NB There isn't enough information in this report to properly ascertain why her benefit was cut.)

CPAG: Paid work "a time-consuming farce"

 The Child Poverty Action Group has just released new data into the benefit sanctions regime which has operated since Labour introduced it and continues under National. Since 2010 however beneficiaries with dependent children can only lose 50% of their benefit which the Minister says has resulted in the number of people having their benefit cut entirely "reducing dramatically". That's not mentioned in the paper.

The use of sanctions to enforce what policymakers assume to be universally shared “social norms”(New Zealand Government, 2012, p. 4) is a new development... CPAG has argued elsewhere (Child Poverty Action Group, 2010) that trying to leverage outcomes in areas such as health and education is an improper use of the welfare system, which should be concerned with income support.

I would suggest that other agencies have found it difficult or impossible to "leverage outcomes" so using the benefit system is the next logical step.

In 2012 CPAG made an Official Information Act request asking what advice the Minister of Social Development had received in respect of the decision to impose obligations on sole parent beneficiaries. 17 According to an aide memoir dated 24 th May 2012, social obligations “reinforce and achieve important social objectives including better outcomes for vulnerable children and maintenance of law and order .” There was no supporting evidence that these “important social objectives” would be achieved, nor any explanation of why “maintenance of law and order” is an appropriate purpose for the welfare system.

Again existing "maintenance of law and order" is, at best, a partially unsuccessful affair. Many law breakers receive taxpayer-funded income support however. So to make that support conditional on behaving lawfully seems sensible and legitimate. "Appropriate" even.

Emphasising the reforms’ focus on achieving social goals rather than income support, the aide memoire notes: “By its nature, the benefit system provides an opportunity to improve social outcomes because it supports, primarily, lower socio-economic groups.” This highly loaded sentence suggests it is appropriate to use the benefit system to pursue better outcomes for “lower socio-economic groups” even though it is not clear who, exactly, is a member of this group or groups.

Anybody on a benefit is by definition a member of  a "lower socio-economic group". If they are'nt they are defrauding the benefit system.

The aide memoire cites a US study showing most welfare sanctions were for work test failures (61%) while only 15% were for obligation failures (such as children not attending school). This suggests that the behaviour of beneficiaries as a whole is not that different from the general population. Indeed, recent reports have highlighted “rich and poor families pulling their youngsters from school for travel” while the principal of a South Auckland school observes “older children sometimes missed school to help babysit or step in for parents who were working long hours” (Jones, 2013a). It is therefore difficult to see why beneficiary parents have been singled out for special treatment.

15% of all sanctions tells us nothing about the actual number or how it relates to the comparative population. Why not look at the data regarding the increased incidence of child abuse and neglect and then try the line, "It is therefore difficult to see why beneficiary parents have been singled out for special treatment." But I forget. CPAG don't accept that difference either.

Of all the benefit sanctions in 2012 (56427) only 15 percent (8286) applied to beneficiaries with children. Only 918 had their benefit suspended or cancelled. CPAG admits,
The majority of clients (520) who are sanctioned have sanctions imposed for up to four weeks, while a much smaller number (78) are sanctioned from 4-8 weeks, and a very few (25) are sanctioned for over 8 weeks.While the numbers are relatively small, the question remains as to how families cope with severely restricted incomes, especially over long periods.

CPAG nevertheless want to use this data to advocate that children of sanctioned beneficiary parents are in dire straits. That expectations and obligations upon their parents are highly unreasonable. That work is not the best way out of poverty. In fact, in some circumstances...

...paid work just becomes a time-consuming farce which is cost ineffective and harmful to the long term wellbeing of the children.