At the end of Day One they tell us it is feels like a closed conversation promoting the Government’s agenda. They tell us that it was opened by Social Development Minister Paula Bennett who said she was there to listen and then promptly left. The keynote speakers have been advocates for a range of depressingly draconian welfare ideas from time-limited benefits to turning welfare into ACC.
My contacts tell me this discussion is ridiculously 1990s and is an attack on the fundamental principles of welfare which include supporting the vulnerable and the poor.
An international expert has upset the Government's welfare reform agenda by proposing a universal child allowance to tackle child poverty.
The head of social policy for the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Dr Monika Queisser, told a forum organised by the Government's Welfare Working Group yesterday how New Zealand was "out of step with other countries".
She backed up the working group's agenda of addressing New Zealand's relatively high rate of sole parents on benefits and rapidly growing numbers on invalid benefits. But she surprised officials by listing "high child poverty" as a third big issue for New Zealand social policy.
She said New Zealand could be proud of having one of the OECD's lowest poverty rates for the elderly, with only 2 per cent of over-65s living on less than half the median after-tax income here compared with an OECD average of almost 14 per cent...
Child poverty campaigners at the forum welcomed her surprise suggestion. Massey University professor Mike O'Brien said: "They have put some stuff on the table that I don't think the minister wanted to hear."
Unfortunately time does not allow me to comment extensively. A universal child benefit is the last thing we need. With benefits and WFF, the targeted assistance is already well up the scale of income. It is frustrating to listen to experts on the international scene who are not familiar with the NZ situation. Some presenters didn't quite address the question put to them, and others used fairly old statistics. A degree of misinformation and misapprehension has been in evidence amongst delegates (and at least one presenter). But there have been some very interesting perspectives. A demographer from Waikato University is worth heeding. And 81 year-old head of the Kohanga Reo Trust, Dame Iritana Tawhiwhirangi, gave a blinder about more money not being the answer to Maori problems. Paula Rebstock impressed me with her grasp of the breadth of dependence as a grave problem and has caused me to be more hopeful for where the group might go with their recommendations. The many presentations will all be available on the net.
Today, in one of the plenary sessions, I address the question they put to me; Should NZ adopt the sole parent benefit policies of other countries?