Brian Edwards Media

State House Leopards Do Change Their Spots

  

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Today’s Herald makes interesting reading for anyone who thinks that, despite his Wall Street millions, John Key’s state house background makes him more sympathetic to those on lower incomes. GST is to rise by up to 2.5%. Such an increase disproportionately penalises those at the bottom of the economic heap – lower income earners and beneficiaries – since a much greater proportion of their income is spent on essential items such as food, power and rent. They are to be compensated by an unspecified decrease in personal taxation and an unspecified increase in benefits and Working for Families.

On last night’s Campbell Live, the Prime Minister gave Campbell a guarantee that lower income earners or beneficiaries would be no worse off after the changes in the budget. ‘No worse off’, but not necessarily ‘any better off’. Middle and higher income earners, on the other hand,  will of course be better off as a result of any decrease in income tax, since that is an economic truism. So, in a nutshell, the rich will get richer and the poor stay where they are, which in real terms means ‘go backwards’.

Meanwhile, the Herald’s page 3 headline read: ‘Tough new welfare laws loom this year’. That other traitor to her class, sometime beneficiary Paula Bennett, was announcing measures to force solo parents, receiving the domestic purposes benefit with children over the age of  6, into the workforce. Under the policy they would be required to ‘actively look for a job, to go to any job interview they are referred to, and to accept any offer of suitable employment, whether fulltime, part-time, temporary or seasonal… If they do not comply with these obligations, they will have their benefit reduced in the first instance, then suspended, then cancelled.’ Ms Bennett does not say how they will then feed their children.

Leaving aside the fact that forcing solo parents back into the workforce at a time of relatively high unemployment, when thousands of Kiwis are losing their jobs, makes little sense,  the policy, which is unlikely to boost the government’s coffers by much, is primarily designed to appeal to right-wing prejudice against solo parents and welfare beneficiaries in general. As for Ms Bennett, she has a very highly paid job herself now and will be even more highly paid when the government’s promised tax cuts come into force.

On page 4 of the Herald, Corrections Minister Judith Collins, responding to Corrections staff protests that salaries in private prisons would be much lower than in the public system and that the private prisons would provide inferior service at a greater cost, said that since the prison population would continue to grow, ‘if people are working in the private prison and they don’t like the wages, they can go and work in the public sector.’ Translation: ‘Every cloud has a silver lining. Thanks to our bankrupt justice policies, more and more people will be going to prison, so there will be more and more job opportunities for people in the prison service.’

It’s perhaps worth noting that around half of those new inmates will be Maori and almost all of them will come from the very bottom of the socio-economic heap – John Key’s ‘underclass’.

No doubt both state-house Key and beneficiary Bennett would reject any suggestion of prejudice against the underprivileged, given their own backgrounds. But the fact is that as people climb the money ladder or rise up the social scale, their sympathies change accordingly. I’ve experienced this myself. Like John Key, I was the son of a solo mother and I was raised either in lodgings or in council flats. We were extremely poor. For most of my early married life and career, my family and I lived on the bones of our bums. I had no time for people with money and my politics were to the far left.

As things got better and I moved from ‘comfortable’ to ‘well off’ – I have never been rich – I began to see things differently. Rather than unquestioningly accepting that the poor could not be blamed for their poverty, I began to adopt the view, ‘If I can make it by having ambition and working hard, why can’t they?’ I was not unsympathetic, but less sympathetic.

So I have no doubt that when people graduate from one socio-economic group to another, their sympathies move with them.

And this, after all, is a National Government. Key and Bennett may have impoverished backgrounds, but their sympathies now lie with the rich and not with the poor. Why else would they be members of the National Party?

And all the photo ops in the world, all the Prime Minister’s ‘niceness’  cannot conceal that fact. Ask Joan Nathan, she of the McGehan Close ‘underclass’. Joan now feels that she has been let down by the PM and says that, despite her limo ride with nice Mr Key,  her daughter Aroha wants nothing to do with him. She says she and her family are worse off since National won the election. She’s pretty ‘anti John Key at the moment’. Ouch!

What Joan has learnt is that state house leopards do change their spots. But they do it so slowly, you barely notice. That’s what camouflage is all about.

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14 Comments:

  1. I would have to align myself with you in that my childhood was impoverished and I am now well off. My sympathies lie with those who have to struggle but as soon as you start helping those who need help the freeloaders move in; eg, those on high income structuring their affairs so they get WFF, which was never the intent. You get those who turn welfare into a lifestyle choice who expect the taxpayer to pay for fencing their swimming pool. Their proportion may be small but those who genuinely need help suffer because of the freeloaders.

    I have no idea of the solution. I just know that we lurch from one extreme to the other. We had a Labour government for nine years dishing out largesse to its constituency, and I have to say appearing to make zero impact on the real social problems.

    We now have a National government dishing out largesse to its mates and hauling it back from the ‘bludgers’.

    I believe our social problems now are directly related to the actions of Douglas and co in the 1980s. A generation of the underclass has grown up and we are now paying the price. If the National Government hangs around we will pay the price again, as you say in the numbers of prisons.

    On balance I may just as well take the tax cut though and be grateful. That at least does give me the option of choosing who I want to help rather than relying on the government to do it on my behalf. So if you, I and other like us donated our tax cuts to places like the Auckland or Wellington City Missions or any other charity for that matter perhaps something can be achieved.

  2. When you talk of “changing spots” you are really talking – particularly, I suspect, in Bennett’s case – of people for whom the resentment at and memory of the sting and humiliation of being on the receiving end of middle class snobbery and moralising has become the organising principle of their lives. They are happy to betray their class, because they desperately want the middle class they want to be part of to accept them.

    The desire as an outsider to be accepted a powerful motivating emotion, but it seldom creates the sort of person you would want in charge of, say, the welfare portfolio.

    • When you talk of “changing spots” you are really talking – particularly, I suspect, in Bennett’s case – of people for whom the resentment at and memory of the sting and humiliation of being on the receiving end of middle class snobbery and moralising has become the organising principle of their lives.

      I think I’m really saying that when your personal situation improves and you start to realise that those higher taxes you’re paying are in part going to subsidise the incomes of the less fortunate, you may start to lose sympathy for their plight. There may also be an element of snobbery, as you suggest, of wanting to fit in with the social or moneyed class you’ve just joined. It’ s not that you’ve become a bad person, it’s just that you now have a different perspective on things.

  3. achieve what Ben?
    Will that stop people ending up on the streets in the first place?
    Charity is last resort, comes after the safety net – once the fall is well and truly taken.

  4. I entirely concur with your proposition that as people move class their views change. I was also raised in if not poverty then its first cousin; we caught rabbits in order to eat meat, for example. As I earned more and got myself more comfortable, my political views changed, but one thing remained constant and I think it’s something the Labour party, for example, has forgotten. The “working classes” are not content to simply remain “working class”; to be the noble worker of Marx and Engels. The “working class” on the whole, from my experience, wants to stop being “working class” as soon as possible.

    • The “working classes” are not content to simply remain “working class”; to be the noble worker of Marx and Engels. The “working class” on the whole, from my experience, wants to stop being “working class” as soon as possible.

      Interesting point. At the same time, many ‘working class’ people have a pride in being ‘working class’ even after they have climbed either the social or the money ladders. I still describe myself as ‘working class’, though quite clearly the work that I do is not manual work and I am reasonably well off. I’m occasionally accused of being ‘pretentious’ because of this or of engaging in a form of reverse snobbery. But I’m genuinely proud of my background. ‘Working class’ is really a matter of identity and has very little to do with one’s job or position in society.

  5. Agreed. I still consider myself “working class” in that those were the values I grew up with. However, it’s one thing having a mindset and quite another to want to drag yourself out of the economic nuisance pits as soon as possible. The mindset I retain encourages me to be generous and never begrudge hospitality to others. Interestingly, I don’t always find that reciprocated among people who grew up comfortably. That said (as I’m veering off topic somewhat) I am eternally grateful that I am no longer economically “working class” even if I still am psychologically. I have a mortal fear of returning to destitution that makes sure I husband my savings and maximise my income where possible. But having money doesn’t necessarily equate with being a tight-arse, which may be the point I am trying to make (eventually). I think there’s a case to be made that people who came from nothing tend to share more freely.

  6. You raise some interesting points, Brian. I found myself justifying my “pull yourself together” attitude because I’d come from a single parent home and had been a single parent myself. – O and I was raised as a Scots Presbyterian. – Protestant work ethic and all that. My conscious thought was – “If I can do it, so can anyone else.” But in my current role I come across a lot of people who don’t have the skills to deal with the bureaucracy that rules their lives, and I’ve had to realise that there is more to self-improvement than merely having the will to do it.
    Social welfare is a necessary part of any mature society and we will always need it to be part of the scheme of things. People do fall on hard times, not always through their own doing, and not everyone is articulate, confident or assertive enough to “better” themselves without some help. If we as a society cannot find it within ourselves to help and support those who do require help, what sort of society is this?
    I’m not talking about those who exploit ACC and welfare. Nor should the policy makers and the media assume that because of a few well publicised cases, that everyone on welfare shouldn’t be.
    As for forcing single parents of primary school children out to work the minute the youngest gets to 6 years, aren’t we forgetting why we have DPB in the first place? Surely it was to ensure that children didn’t starve and suffer for the sake of their parents’ misfortunes and short-comings? Let’s encourage parents to spend after school time with their children – especially in the first few years of primary school when a child’s progress depends so much on parental support.

  7. ConorJoe, I agree with you but if one is faced with a government intent on handing out money to the rich at the expense of the poor, then some form of direct action is warranted. Rather than complain about the tax cuts and just pocket the money, one can try and do something useful with the money. And incidentally the work of organisations like the City Missions is focussed on supporting people so that they do not end up on the streets. They also support those already on the streets ,an underclass totally forgotten by any government.

    I also sometimes think that NGOs are rather better at dealing with poverty and inequality than are goverments and bureaucracies like MSD.

    You may have read the comments of Peter Singer and the difference that could be made if everyone gave just 1% of their income and if there were some attempts to rein in the conspicuous consumption of which most of us are guilty.

    In essence we can fulminate about the injustices perpetrated by a National government but it is sheer hypocricy unless we are prepared to do something ourselves.

  8. Off topic. Interested in what you think about Brooke V Opening of parliament and the Prime Ministers agenda for the next year, I know you probably dont agree with it but dont TVNZ see the potential in taking advantage of people who earn lots of money and are intelligent and want NEWS not puff pieces from the exceptionally beautiful Amy Kelly (journalist). There was a bit more than an increase in GST but even if there wasnt dont we need some analysis on why he is changing the tax system to encourage a change in consumption etc.
    Sainsbury is clearly not the right person to ask these questions, Henry or Hoskins would be better but surely close up hasnt become beholden to your sort (purveyours of the dark art of spin).
    Regards

    • Off topic. Interested in what you think about Brooke V Opening of parliament and the Prime Ministers agenda for the next year,
      See latest post!

  9. Brian says :

    On last night’s Campbell Live, the Prime Minister gave Campbell a guarantee that lower income earners or beneficiaries would be no worse off after the changes in the budget. ‘No worse off’, but not necessarily ‘any better off’. Middle and higher income earners, on the other hand, will of course be better off as a result of any decrease in income tax, since that is an economic truism. So, in a nutshell, the rich will get richer and the poor stay where they are, which in real terms means ‘go backwards’.”

    In other words those with income less than say $35,000 , and the poor, will be worse off.
    PM NAT John Key has committed a cardinal error which is to renege on a manifesto promise.
    This means John Keys word means nothing. He has proven that.

    New Zealand is a high cost, low dollar, low wage, impoverished country, but the PM NZ man still disputes Alan Bollard’s comment that we are lost behind Australia.

    One term PM, no statesmanship, smiling fool.

    • Brian says : ”On last night’s Campbell Live, the Prime Minister gave Campbell a guarantee that lower income earners or beneficiaries would be no worse off after the changes in the budget. ‘No worse off’, but not necessarily ‘any better off’.

      Agree with all of that untile your last sentence. “ONe term PM, no statesmanship, smiling fool'” I very much doubt that Key will be a one-term PM. My view is that he will take a hit in the polls from this and that the gap between National and Labour will narrow. But I expect to see him still there after the 2011 election.

  10. Absolutely agree with your summation. But after kicking most of us soundly in the guts he continues to enjoy almost unprecedented popularity are we all this stupid or is there something else going on here.