By Mike Treen, Unite National Director
(Reprinted from The Daily Blog)
Sometimes working people get misled by some of the arguments used to bash the beneficiary as bludgers and so on.
Firstly we should know that having a welfare system is vital to putting a floor under how far we can be pushed down in this society.
When unemployment went from less than 3% to 12% over a few years during the deep recession of the late 1980s and early 1990s it wasn’t because workers suddenly had a fit of laziness and abandoned our jobs. We were forced out of working by the bosses and their system – capitalism.
Before that crisis hit benefits had a real value that was much higher than the miserable level they fell to after being slashed by the newly elected National Party government in 1990. Those benefit levels have never been increased in real terms since except for a $25 increase for beneficiary parents this year.
The benefit values were slashed not because they were too high and seducing workers to give up jobs but because the bosses wanted to cut real wages as well and the lower the real vale of a benefit the lower they could cut wages.
That government also saw only one increase in the minimum wage in nine years so its real value dropped from about 50% of the average to about one third. Its real value was restored through struggles by Unite and other unions under the 1999-2008 Labour-led government.
It is important to have a benefit system able to protect us during the inevitable periods of capitalist instability and surges in unemployment – such as we may well be facing in the near future.
Unemployment also never dropped back to the levels that existed before the 1980s “reforms” that were meant to make the capitalist economy so much more competitive and dynamic. The lowest official rate was between three and four percent for a few years before the 2008 world financial crisis and accompanying recession drove the official rates to around six or seven percent.
And those official levels are using a very narrow measure of unemployment that only counts you if you tick a lot of boxes. A more accurate number is the “Jobless” category which is also measured of around 11% of workforce currently.
Both the last Labour-led government and this government have systematically introduced measures that make it more and more difficult to access welfare entitlements.
Under Labour there was much more dramatic fall in the number of people receiving unemployment benefits than the comparable fall in the official measurements of unemployment that was a direct consequence of the “active” case management of people off their entitlements.
This has continued under National with increased requirements for women with children of a certain age to make themselves available for full or part-time work. The bureaucratic nightmare of repeated form filling and participation in useless training is used to just bully and harass people into giving up. Benefits gets cancelled immediately for the most trivial and bureaucratic reasons but mistakes by WINZ take months to correct.
The net result is that the percentage of the working age population receiving any type of benefit (unemployment, sickness, invalid, sole parent) has been cut from over 13% in the late 1990s to less than 8% today when the unemployment rate has only fallen from around eight to six percent.
Getting that 3% of the working age population (about 110,000 people) off benefits essentially has just removed about a billion dollars a year from working class communities. It is reflected in overcrowded homes, people living in garages or on the street, kids staying at home longer, poor health, poor nutrition.
That billion dollars saved isn’t going to the likes of you and me. It is being used by a big business government to hand out favours to their big business friends. And of course their is always enough for the police, prisons, military and spies to protect their system.
I am more and more convinced that the only solution is to move to a universal basic income
so that in a sense everyone has a “benefit” as of right from society and particular groups can no longer be stigmatised.