01 November 2011

Labour? National? What's the difference?

I don't really agree with Bryce Edwards' claim that "Labour and National are in virtual agreement on something like 99 per cent of the way society is run" (NZ Herald, 1 Nov.)

But then again, in partial support of his case, I read these words: "The Government is reforming New Zealand’s welfare system with an active, work-based approach, starting with the belief that most people can and will work. We are simplifying the benefit system and taking a long term investment approach to getting people off welfare and into work. This means more intensive support will be provided to people who are capable of working and who are likely to remain on benefit long term without that support."

That could have come from one of the previous Labour-led government's "social development" policy documents. The basic ideas are totally familiar. But it comes instead from the fact-sheet released today by National as part of its election manifesto.

Labour had planned for years to pull all main benefits into one "universal" benefit, but they never did (and I never found out why!). National's election pledge to reduce them to three is a big step in the same direction.

I might add that the total roll on working-age welfare benefits fell during Helen Clark's nine years in office. Given that evidence, the crucial factor for reducing welfare rolls seems to be low unemployment, and government policy follows up a distant second. National can promise all it likes about work-related expectations, sanctions etc - but, without jobs for beneficiaries to go to, their policy will be as good as dog tucker.


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