Thursday, 17 February 2011

Why yes, Mr Key, beneficiaries do make lifestyle choices

Something interesting is happening out there in medialand. After scores of examples of people rushing into the comments pages to trash beneficiaries in general and sole mothers in particular, John Key's comments on Wednesday about beneficiaries finally seem to have stirred up lots of angry accusations that as a well-paid millionaire, he is completely out of touch with the realities of life even on low wages, let alone a benefit.

Asked about the large increases in demand for food parcels and the Salvation Army's report showing that "food poverty" was at nearly double the level of four years ago, Key said that "anyone on a benefit actually has a lifestyle choice. If one budgets properly, one can pay one's bills....the bulk of New Zealanders on a benefit do actually pay for food, their rent and other things. Now some make poor choices and they don't have money left."

As many comments have shown, beneficiaries certainly do make choices. Faced with the need to choose between buying healthy food and going to the doctor, or buying children's shoes versus paying the phone bill, I wonder what Mr Key would consider to be the "poor" choice.

Meanwhile over at Scoop, Gordon Campbell injects a much needed dose of accurate facts, as well as excellent amalysis, into the looming "welfare reform" debate (I hate that Americanism, "welfare" - its proper name is social security.)


Anonymous said...

This is typical of Mr. Key's "Let them eat cake" attitude. It will come back and bite him on the arse some day. There are allot more of the delliberately created underclass than there are of him and the elites he works for.

Hugh said...

Is that really an Americanism Anne? Because my understanding was that in the USA they have a Social Security system (starting with the Social Security Act of 1935, administered by the Social Security Administration, granting Social Security numbers) whereas in New Zealand for a long time we had a department of Social Welfare and did up until 2001 when it was renamed Social Development. From what I can tell the term "Welfare State" originated in the UK, not the US.

Carol said...

Yes, my perception of the US "social security" is that it refers to a minimal safety net approach. in contrast, the UK term "welfare state", refers to a state that takes a stronger and broader approach to looking out for the welfare of its cittizens.

I think "welfare state" as a term has been underminined in recent decades by neoliberals and other right wingers.

Melimalle said...

John Key's position on beneficiaries has really bothered me as well because it reeks of ignorance and privilege.

I have been on an invalid's benefit before and it was for a number of years. I suffered from major depression, social anxiety and borderline personality disorder, and while I tried to get (and keep) jobs during this time I was unsuccessful because of my mental condition. I was actively seeking help and on medication in an effort to get myself off the benefit. It is very difficult to live on such a minimal amount of money, even when you budget strictly. I agree with the statement about having to chose the doctors over food. It's very true.

This is not to say there aren't those out there who are abusing the system. I have seen many people receiving a benefit while earning a tidy amount on the side, claiming false needs to get additional payouts, that sort of thing. But it is not indicative of all beneficiaries and it is disappointing to see Key offer this view as fact. I hope that this backlash (and accompanying media attention) helps change those perceptions so that those whose circumstances find them on a benefit are not treated the way I have been, and the way I know many others have been. /end rant!