Rebstock report a little ripper

From eugenics to workfare, the Welfare Working Group report released on Tuesday has the potential to destroy lives, hopes - and our welfare system itself

Right now, I feel a certain reluctance to write about anything except the unfolding tragedy in Christchurch.

As people on facebook and elsewhere keep reminding me, now is not a time for party politics, or for petty factional squabbles which fade into insignificance in the face of Tuesday’s earthquake.

My heart goes out to everyone affected, including the families of the many foreign visitors it now appears may have perished in the disaster. My oldest son lives in Japan, and he says the reaction there is huge, as so many of their citizens are feared lost.

However, I am going to take a risk, and offer some comment on the Rebstock report, as I believe its implications are so dangerous that we collectively ignore them at our peril.

There is no space here to attempt a full analysis – the report is 180 pages long, and contains 43 detailed recommendations - but Gordon Campbell made a good start this morning.

Many organisations provided initial comment and feedback, perhaps the most striking coming from the NZ Council of Christian Social Services, but almost all of this has been lost from public sight, for obvious reasons.

Lost from sight also was virtually any coverage of the only direct action taken against the report, an occupation and picket of Paula Bennett’s office in Henderson, carried out in the early afternoon of 22 February by a local group of which I’m a member, Auckland Action Against Poverty.

The media focused its first reaction very much on the recommendation to impose worktesting on all beneficiaries who dared to have a child while on the benefit, starting from when their baby was 14 weeks old.

I have a strong suspicion that John Key’s ‘queasiness’  about the 14 week proposal may in the end see this stricture changed to one year, the minority position taken by the Working Group.

This would then allow John Key and Paula Bennett to portray themselves as kind and caring, in a bid to deflect criticism – a tried and true National tactic.

But it would be a grave mistake to think this is the worst of it. Just a few of the group’s other recommendations:

  • All parents on welfare should have ‘ready access to free long-acting reversible contraception’ – the beginnings of an eugenics policy worthy of Nazi Germany. I can well believe the next step will be your privately contracted health advisor suggesting termination should your state directed contraception fail.
  • Forced work for the dole for some people unemployed for six months or longer, and used as a sanctioning technique if you’re causing any bother, including failing drug tests. This workfare to be carried out in the private and community sectors - free labour for private companies, anyone?
  • The introduction of ‘income management’ for some beneficiaries, meaning the state takes almost total control of your life – as trialled in Australia’s Northern Territory.
  • As expected, all working age beneficiaries, including sole parents with young children and babies, and the sick, injured and disabled, will be eligible for one benefit only – Jobseeker Support. Health advisers and doctors will increasingly be used as a mechanism of harassment and control. Most invalid beneficiaries will face an effective benefit cut.

A UK expert, Professor Paul Gregg, says the new disability medical testing regime there is a ‘complete mess.’ It would be insane for New Zealand to emulate the UK example, as Paula Rebstock and friends would like us to do.

  • Work & Income would go, replaced by a Crown entity ‘Employment and Support New Zealand’, charged with managing the delivery of welfare focused on work, and with contracting out many functions on a competitive model.
  • Equally serious is the proposal to calculate welfare costs on an actuarial basis, as is now done with ACC, allowing successive Governments to frighten the pants off taxpayers with the prospect of ballooning welfare costs, based on totally unrealistic figures.

If Rebstock and her friends get their way, welfare in this country will never be the same again.

There are no jobs for the 100,000 sole parents, disabled, sick and injured people they want to get off the benefit. Unemployment is rising, not going down, and I don’t think that’s going to change any time soon.

Yes, let’s get more people off welfare – but let’s start with some serious job creation for the unemployed, at decent wages and conditions.

A lot of us out here in the community do have plenty of ideas about solutions to the welfare crisis – for a summary of some of these, take a look at the Welfare Justice report released just before Christmas.

But of course, no one in Government seems a jot interested in a perspective other than that provided by its hired lackeys.

And some of the Working Group members are also contractors providing services to MSD, so I guess it’s no surprise they’re keen on the further corporatisation of welfare and job services.

Paula Bennett, Paula Rebstock, Ann Dupuis, Des Gorman, Catherine Isaac, Kathryn McPherson, Enid Ratahi-Pryor, Adrian Roberts and Sharon Wilson-Davis are responsible for this report. They must be held accountable, and I hope they will be in the months ahead.

I dread an election campaign in which National uses welfare as a vote-catcher for the beneficiary bashing brigade, but I suspect that this is exactly where this report will take us.