Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Questionable Assumptions of Anne Tolley about Beneficiaries

Oh dear. Is there any Ministerial portfolio that Anne Tolley *can't* embarrass herself in.

I've just listened to the interview she did Friday with Duncan Garner, and good grief.

Here's how Tolley attempts to explain unemployment in her electorate:

"Up the East Coast it can be a pretty good lifestyle ... at times it looks pretty good. Especially at this time of the year - a little bit of Dole, and they have a cash crop, and good kaimoana. It's a pretty good lifestyle. So it's a pretty tall ask sometimes to convince people like that that they should be working 5 days a week and earning their money when they haven't had to and they haven't seen anyone in their family have to do that."

Hark; is that a racist dog-whistle I hear yonder...?

Let's be honest. When Tolley talks about kaimoana-gathering, dope-growing, intergenerationally-unemployed beneficiaries on the East Coast, the "people like that" she's referring to are Maori. Or, rather, what she *thinks* of Maori. (In my experience, the invocation of stereotypes almost invariably indicates *far* more about nature of the the stereotyper than the group being stereotyped)

And while it's true that Maori have been disproportionately done over by three decades of neoliberal economic malaise (as of 2013, 80.3% of beneficiaries in Gisbourne and 56.8% in the wider Hawke's Bay were Maori, for instance); the fact that the Minister can't proffer a better explanation for this than 'they've picked up a cool-looking lifestyle their parents showed them' betrays the trademark and woeful lack of vision, empathy and understanding of the issues that we've sadly come to expect from Tolley.

To her credit (and my frank surprise), she rejected Garner's goading use of the term "Bludgers", and explicitly acknowledged that the vast majority of Kiwis drawing an unemployment benefit *do* in fact use the welfare system as intended to support themselves through tough times rather than a means to fund an "alternative" lifestyle.

But the implicit message in the rest of Tolley's words seems all too clear. National will trumpet till the dairy-farm ownership comes home *any* reduction in beneficiary numbers as evidence they're capable of doing something about unemployment (even if the *actual* reduction in the number of "work ready" Jobseeker beneficiaries from this time last year is only 2,217 - while more than half the remaining negative 10,000 is attributable to the litany of potentially non-employment related reasons why one might stop receiving a Sole Parent Support benefit). But when pushed to explain *why*, if they're so good at job-creation, there's still more than 300,000 Kiwis reliant on welfare for their daily bread ... all they have to offer is "it's not our fault the stats include lazy Maori and the disabled/long-term impaired. Ignore them. They don't matter. Everything's peachy on Planet Key!"

I'll save for a future post a more in-depth commentary and analysis on why it might be that some beneficiaries may feel they have to resort to the proceeds of crime or relying on nature's bounty rather than the state in order to feed their families. In the mean-time, if you're one of the nearly 70,000 "work-ready" Kiwis still on an unemployment benefit who're having difficulty finding gainful employment ... Marie AnTollynet has this suggestion for you: "Let Them Pick Kiwifruit."

Great she had a such a "fabulous" holiday.

[My thanks to Simon Noonan & Andrew Paul Wood for their assistance with this piece]

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