Saturday, December 28, 2013

Poverty and relativity

Part of the 'poverty' proganda focuses on house size. In particular, how many children have to share a bedroom.

While New Zealand's narrative is similar to the United Kingdom's, the following piece from The Scotsman provides a more optimistic slant:

Modern Scots are living in relative luxury compared with conditions 150 years ago.
Two people were sharing every room in a home, the 1861 census shows, compared with a current average of two rooms for every person.

The term 'relative' should be employed in both a contemporary and historic sense.

In the developed world, we are all undoubtedly richer today then ever before.

I've been intending to link to this new site and now presents the perfect opportunity.


Forecast welfare spending

Governments come and go with ambitious reform ideas and plans.  Treasury just keeps on forecasting numbers and expenditures seemingly regardless of those policy changes. The depressing thing is, if you were going to put money on who has the most reliable crystal ball, it'd have to go on Treasury. That's what history shows anyway.

Table 6.2 - Welfare benefit expenses (continued)
Beneficiary numbers
New Zealand Superannuation 522 540 561 585 612 640 667 692 716 739
Jobseeker Support and Emergency Benefit1 ..  ..  ..  ..  ..  138 132 127 125 125
Supported living payment1 ..  ..  ..  ..  ..  96 96 95 94 94
Sole parent support1 ..  ..  ..  ..  ..  79 77 77 77 77
Domestic Purposes Benefit1 101 110 114 114 109 ..  ..  ..  ..  .. 
Invalid's Benefit1 86 88 88 87 87 ..  ..  ..  ..  .. 
Sickness Benefit1 50 58 60 60 60 ..  ..  ..  ..  .. 
Unemployment Benefit1 48 78 80 73 67 ..  ..  ..  ..  .. 
Accommodation Supplement 267 312 320 311 305 297 296 294 296 299

Friday, December 27, 2013

Do NZ women really get such a raw deal?

Here's a passage written earlier this year by a female academic:

New Zealand women are losing their human rights - the right to:

 •Life, liberty and security of person.

 •Not be discriminated against for any reason including gender.

 •Be equal before the law and, without any discrimination, to equal protection of the law

 •Free choice of employment, just and favourable conditions of work and protection against unemployment.

•Equal pay for equal work.

 •A standard of living adequate for the health and wellbeing of herself and her family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services.

 •Security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond her control.

I wonder if they would also like equal social spending?

Per capita social expenditures by age (males)

This Treasury working  paper only featured the graph for males but the tables that contain the data the graph(s) are made from are available from another paper.

I expected that for females the social expenditures per capita would be higher, but was surprised by how much.

Looking at three age groups here are the total social expenditures per capita:

20-24 male $6,654 female $8,674 (+30%)
40-44 male $9,044 female $11,559 (+28%)
60-64 male $9,526 female $11,743 (+23%)
80-84 male $24,459 female $25,787 (+5%)

Over their working age lifetimes females consistently cost the state considerably more. Even at 80-84 females cost more in Super and Disability Support Services.

Yet women's  participation in the workforce is also lower throughout their lifetimes.


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Absent fathers

The weather in Wellington has packed up so time for a bit of reading.

After Colin James drew my attention to it, I thought I'd have a closer look at what the Parliamentary Health Committee published. The title of the report is long-winded: "Inquiry into improving child health outcomes and preventing child abuse with a focus on pre-conception until three years of age", November 2013, Report of the Health Committee. It's 126 pages.

When I got to about page 70 it suddenly occurred to me that fathers were absent. So I did a search.

"Fathers" are effectively mentioned once. There is a two paragraph section titled, "Fathers and the maternity system" and an ensuing recommendation. Apart from the acknowledgement of a submission from Great Fathers Trust (that was a waste of time), that's it.

So I tried "male". Again one mention. This time relating to sterilisation.

As a society we nag on about deadbeat Dads and absentee fathers.

This report only demonstrates that fathers aren't particularly valued anyway. Any protective and positive role they play is virtually ignored.

I'd rather end on a happy note. My Dad was probably the most influential person in my childhood and youth. Even today, when I need solace or advice or help he is often the first person I turn to. So my thoughts about fathers are coloured by my own experience. I wish it was one more commonly shared. Merry Christmas, especially to those Dads who are unwillingly separated from their children and finding this time of year hard.

Colin James' christmas message

I didn't want to blog today. But this couldn't go without comment. It's an extract from Colin James' Christmas message:

In our small, enlightened society many tens of thousands of children go without some necessities or nourishing food or emotional security or guidance to learn.

Through the actions of mothers who eat badly and/or smoke, drink and take drugs before conception and during pregnancy and/or live with a violent man and/or then don't or can't get their children reading and counting and ready to be schooled, many of those children are in effect imprisoned, not in a hulk but in the lesser persons they become compared with what they might have been. Many are imprisoned in drugs, mental illness, delinquency and crime.

Well, that's just bad parents, isn't it? None of our business. Our job is to bring up our kids right, not interfere in others' private affairs, isn't it? Isn't that individual liberty? 
Individual liberty requires individual responsibility. When individuals cease to act responsibly, when they neglect or abuse their child, they are no longer living in a state of individual liberty.

They lost - or never achieved - that status because the collective has absolved them from taking it. That is the genesis of the conditions James' describes. Will more intervention and investment by the collective return these parents to a state of individual liberty? That seems to be the advice.

The parliamentary health committee disagrees. A report in November, chaired by National MP Paul Hutchison and signed by all 10 MPs on the committee -- five National, three Labour, one Green and one New Zealand First -- focused on the needs and opportunities of the child and proposed many interventions to get parents ready and fit and get children a good start.

That report, the most important parliamentary report in a long time, essentially said the country should frame policy and then make social investments on the presumption that a child of one of us is a child of all of us and that no child deserves a bad start.

That is a simple economic calculation: a child who can get educated and is emotionally stable will join the workforce, pay taxes, take a full part in society and bring up children who do the same in turn.

It is also a calculation of social cohesion: the more numerous the children who grow up feeling they are fully part of society, the stronger, and probably richer, that society will be.

But as the Health Committee report notes NZ's spending on children is already high compared to other OECD countries.

So the message sounds noble but it doesn't take me past the essential problem. You can't make people more responsible by taking responsibility off them. And in a large part, that's what the welfare state does.

Monday, December 23, 2013

You could spin it either way

Social Development Minister, Paula Bennett, released a good-feel statement to end the year.
Welfare reforms helping thousands get ahead

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett is delighted over 62,700 people went off benefit and into work in the first nine months of 2013 alone.
That does not however equate to overall benefit numbers dropping by the same number.

Here's the official graph for benefit numbers since National took office.

On the one hand, numbers did not soar in spite of a deep (and ongoing IMO) recession.

On the other, for all of the fanfare about welfare reforms, the picture doesn't offer a lot to get excited about.

Every ninth New Zealander is still dependent on the state.

Go into some neighbourhoods and it'll be every second or third.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Available but not accessible

Earlier this year I came across an MSD fact sheet "Children's contact with MSD services". The title of the paper  had been given to me in advance of its publication by someone outside of the Ministry. Periodically I had been searching the MSD website for it but nothing appeared. At some point I decided to search for it on google. To my surprise it appeared at the MSD website.

(I then wrote about the flawed analysis and skewed findings here. Rodney Hide wrote about it in the NBR).

What  intrigued me was that the fact sheet was un-indexed and unsearchable at the MSD website. It remains so as I write.

Ministry of Social Development.

 Your search - Children’s contact with MSD services - did not match any documents.
No pages were found containing "Children’s contact with MSD services".


  • Make sure all words are spelled correctly.
  • Try different keywords.
  • Try more general keywords.

So I asked MSD why. They responded by saying that the fact sheet was available and providing the url. Also,
The Ministry's website is updated regularly with brochures, forms, fact sheets, media releases, publications and reports. We endeavour to ensure all our information is accessible (my emphasis) and if there are any publications not available  on the website that should be, we appreciate any feedback about  this.

I responded:

"I realise it is available.  My question asked why it isn't indexed. There is an important distinction. Under 'Publications and Resources' the fact sheet neither appears under 'C' nor the year of publication. Furthermore, a search of the site does not produce it. Therefore it is effectively inaccessible. Why is that the case?"

Here's their latest statement:

With regard to your question about why the “Children’s contact with MSD services” fact sheet is not indexed on the Ministry’s website.  As you will be aware, the Ministry have a number of publications and brochures across its various services and therefore it is not reasonable to index all of these on the Ministry’s website.  Publications like this are available in the Publications and Resources section of the Ministry’s website and “Children’s contact with MSD services” is a searchable phrase through various website search engines.

So there you go. If you just happen to hit on the right 'phrase' you will find the paper. But not if you look for it at the MSD website. It is effectively buried.

MSD does not understand the difference between 'available' and 'accessible'. Or perhaps they do.

I also asked for the associated spreadsheets on September 24, 2013. 

Do you think I've received them almost three months later?