Work Testing and the Bill of Rights

March 30th, 2010 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Colin James writes:

Paula Bennett says “most people” will see last week’s welfare changes as “fair and reasonable”. She is almost certainly right. But is that the limit of her ambition?

A majority doesn’t make something right. Attorney-General Chris Finlayson, a lawyer’s lawyer, ruled that, under the Bill of Rights, Ms Bennett’s changes are not fair: they discriminate on grounds of sex, marital status and family status in applying the work requirement to those on a domestic purposes benefit whose youngest child is six but not to those on a widow’s benefit or a woman alone on the DPB. Her new law does not qualify for exemption from the Bill of Rights either on the ground that it “serves an important and significant objective” or that it is “proportionate to that objective”.

I’ve been meaning to blog on this issue. It is important to understand that what the Attorney0General has said is not that work-testing beneficiaries is against the bill of rights, He has said, that applying the work test to the DPB but not the Widows Benefit is unjustified discrimination.

He’s right. But the solution is not to not implement work testing. It is to indeed apply it to the widow’s benefit and woman alone benefit also.

In fact I would go further. I would abolish those . They were well intentioned from the days when most women did not work, and relied on their husband’s income. Those days are gone.

I would grandfather in existing recipients, and have some sort of temporary allowance(say six to 12 months) for any non working person who relies on their partner’s income, and the partner dies. It should apply to both genders, and after a period of time, then they should be in employment or go onto one of the mainstream benefits.

The widow’s benefit and woman alone benefits are sexist relics of our past. They were necessary when we lived in a society where women were not encouraged to work, but as 50% more women are now going to university than men, those days are long ago.

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22 Responses to “Work Testing and the Bill of Rights”

  1. vibenna (305 comments) says:

    Surely you mean grandmothered, not grandfathered?

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  2. toad (3,669 comments) says:

    DPF, I don’t support work-testing any of those benefits because it creates all sorts of problems around school holidays – there simply isn’t the flexibility in most jobs for parents to have the school holidays off, and in many places there are difficulties accessing quality out-of-school care during the holidays.

    But if there is to be work-testing, you are correct – it should not be applied on a gender-discriminatory basis.

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  3. Komata (1,110 comments) says:

    Re the following statement:

    ‘The widow’s benefit and woman alone benefits are sexist relics of our past. They were necessary when we lived in a society where women were not encouraged to work, but as 50% more women are now going to university than men, those days are long ago.’

    Sadly, I must disagree, in respect of both the Widow’s and ‘Women Alone’ benefits, as I believe your criteria and intent is short-sighted and (dare I say it) discriminatory.

    Like it or not women outlive men and in many cases by a substantial amount (15-20 years or more usually) These women are also frequently widowed or divorced (seperated) and of an age where it is not possible for them to get work or have any way of doing-so. University is NOT an option. Survival is.

    For the recipients of these benefits their male ‘protection’ has gone (yes, it is ‘old-fashioned’ I agree, but a gender-reality in that males are naturally-wired to protect their females – even in 21st Century NZ), they cannot get work because of their age, they are alone, so what are they to do? Go begging? Prostitution? Sell-up and become vagrants?

    None of the above is of course acceptable, nor should they be, and it was to counter such things that the ‘Women Alone’ benefit was introduced, (by Labour?). It recognises that women DO have it hard on their own, that their environment and circumstances are different from those of men (yes, it IS gender-difference) and that they are in need of extra assistance as a result.

    The Widow’s Benefit is of course much older and dates from the days when women would be left, literally, destitute (invariably with children) and with responsibilities that they had never anticipated, not the least of which was the death of their ‘life partner’. This of course was through no fault of their own and was frequently as a result of their husbands being killed in industrial accidents. At the time it was introduced the Widow’s Benefit was internationally-revolutionary and was a recognition of a Widow’s special circumstances – circumstances which no-one else can ever can comprehend. That situation hasn’t changed – widow’s still exist and still occur on a daily basis, and to suggest otherwise is to ignore the reality.

    Despite the screams and protestations of radical femininsts, women ARE actually different, and not all have the opportunities or the wish to go to University that you suggest they should. Most of them, if they really care to admit it, are actually weaker than men, and most, in such a situation as being widowed or alone through circumstances beyond theitr control, (and which they would never wish to voluntarily be part of), would appreciate all and any help that they can get or are given by a benevolent, concerned, caring society,(which currently is ‘the state’) that recognises their circumstances and has taken some small action to at least assist. At its simplest it is a desperately needed and held-onto lifeline.

    Suggesting that this assistance be removed is, I would suggest, callous and would seem to indicate an indifference towards a group which can neither defend itself or be heard – the Widow’s and Women Alone who inhabit New Zealand. For that i can only say ‘Shame on you sir, shame!’

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  4. Pete George (22,839 comments) says:

    Surely you mean grandmothered, not grandfathered?

    On a thread about sexism? Surely it should be grandpersoned?

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  5. big bruv (13,292 comments) says:

    Toad

    “DPF, I don’t support work-testing any of those benefits”

    Well there is a surprise!

    The school holiday argument is weak, when the holidays do come along these bludgers can use the numerous day care facilities this nation has available to them.

    And anyway, when their youngest child is six the parasites should be looking for full time work.

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  6. Graeme Edgeler (3,267 comments) says:

    On a thread about sexism? Surely it should be grandpersoned?

    Grandparented – a grandperson could include a grandchild =)

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  7. CJPhoto (214 comments) says:

    Is the widows benefit itself against the bill of rights, surely that discriminates on sex and marital status.

    The AG shouldn’t knock back a proposal because existing laws breach the BofR.

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  8. slightlyrighty (2,496 comments) says:

    2 questions.

    1. Why is the widows benefit only available to women whose partner has died? Surely that is in itself sexist?

    2. If the benefit is only available to women, as per the application form, http://www.workandincome.govt.nz/documents/widows-benefit-application-m21.pdf, then why is there a space on the form, where the client elects how they wish to be referred to, labled “Mr”?

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  9. toad (3,669 comments) says:

    @slightlyrighty

    Out of sensitivity for widows who have had a sex change?

    Nah, I think it is just becasue their forms have always been badly designed and confusing.

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  10. Murray (8,838 comments) says:

    Actually the solution is to pass it into law, then the Bill of Rights ACT – it only has power as an act – states quite clearly that it cannot be used to circumvent any exisiting law.

    This is exactely what Helen Clark did so colour me faux surprised that they are jumping up and down now. The Bill of Rights act is a joke bill that gives the illusion of rights. That labour spent 9 years using it as their personal door mat should have made that obvious.

    And given the greens idea of democracy consists of passing legislation against the will of 85% of the people then I’m really looking to hear from toad on the issue of rights either.

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  11. kowtow (7,625 comments) says:

    Time to scrap the Bill of Rights and introduce a notion of responsibilities.

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  12. Murray (8,838 comments) says:

    In New Zealand home of the entitled layabout????? Are you mad?

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  13. Lindsay (141 comments) says:

    Komata,

    If today’s widow’s benefit resembled the original widow’s pension (not introduced by Labour but the Liberals) it would not be enough to live on. It was means and morals-tested in a similar way to the old-age pension. It didn’t provide enough to live on without supplementary work. Children were only supported until 14 – not the 18, and sometimes 19 years of age that today’s benefits cover. Remarrying was the best option and quite a common occurence.

    Most of today’s widow’s beneficiaries are over 50 and didn’t grow up in a time when 50% of women went to university. They are a different breed. But I don’t think it is unreasonable that they do some work to contribute, especially in the caring field where there are many shortages. Probably a good many already do voluntary work. So I think DPF’s suggestion is right – to grandparent existing recipients but change the system for future applicants. The numbers have been steadily declining anyway.

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  14. RightNow (6,659 comments) says:

    So there’s a lack of suitable and affordable care for school aged children to enable their beneficiary parent to go to work, at the same time as there is a lack of suitable work for beneficiary parents. How about some mentoring and start up funding for some of these beneficiaries to provide day-care facilities? There seems to be a perpetual shortage of places in quality day-cares (our day care has closed their waiting list as the waiting times were getting above 2 years).
    Demand appears to be outstripping supply, and you would have to expect at least a few beneficiary solo parents (and probably even a higher ratio of those receiving widow’s benefits) are actually good at caring for children, and should be able to be trained as qualified ECE teachers. All they need is someone to run the business side of things.

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  15. Lindsay (141 comments) says:

    Rightnow, We have the the potential workforce to meet the demand across the caring industries; pre-school, aged and disability. Pre-school would be perfect for DPB beneficiaries looking after just one child (around half).

    When I suggested training welfare dependent single mums for aged care work – given our rapidly ageing population – she said to me she didn’t want to see single mothers “ghettoised.”

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  16. Lindsay (141 comments) says:

    Sorry, Hurrying there. I made the suggestion to Cindy Kiro at a working conference about poverty.

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  17. RightNow (6,659 comments) says:

    That’s an unfortunate attitude from her Lindsay, especially after the deal with McDonalds (which never rang true with me since McDonalds was always going to hire staff with or without government kickbacks).
    If the potential workforce is already there, then it would seem to be a good idea for the government to assist more start-ups in the caring industries, and IMO especially in the pre-school area. It may actually produce tangible results, unlike any other government employment initiatives to date. Child-care really seems to be one of the few industries where demand is outstripping supply, whether because of tight regulations, low wages or whatever. Anecdotally I think it has strong appeal to natural mothers (from my observations of the teachers at my kids’ day-care) so seems to be a good fit option for those beneficiaries we want to get back into some form of employment.

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  18. RightNow (6,659 comments) says:

    Oops – I thought you were talking about Paula Bennett.

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  19. Rex Widerstrom (5,261 comments) says:

    “Women alone on the DPB”? What criteria would one need to fulfil to claim the DPB whilst having no dependent children? If you are single, unemployed, not sick or invalided and have no children, I would have imagined the only thing available was the unemployment benefit, with the inherent work obligations that brings.

    Yet there’s a class of women (or is it only women?) who aren’t bringing up children, yet who have an entitlement to ongoing taxpayer support with no obligations attached?* How do they qualify?

    * Other than former female politicians, of course, who entitlements to ongoing welfare put everyone else’s into the shade.

    Lindsay notes:

    When I suggested training welfare dependent single mums for aged care work – given our rapidly ageing population – she said to me she didn’t want to see single mothers “ghettoised.”

    What an excellent idea! I know a solo mother who’s done just that (though had to fight against the system to receive support while studying for the appropriate qualification, and looks after disabled people of all ages, not just elderly) and enjoys the work tremendously. Not everyone would, of course, but a fair percentage would give it a go I imagine, and you’re right – it’s an area in which the workforce shortage is only going to get worse as the numbers needing such care increases.

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  20. Viking2 (11,129 comments) says:

    THE LITMUS TEST OF WELFARE REFORM

    As New Zealanders, we have grown up to believe in and cherish an egalitarian society. We like to think that our children’s futures will be determined by their abilities, their motivation and their hard work. We want all kids to have a genuine opportunity to use their talents and to get rewarded for their efforts. That’s The Kiwi Way.

    There are streets in our country where helplessness has become ingrained. There are streets of people who believe they are locked out of everyday life. The worst are home to families that have been jobless for more than one generation; home to families destroyed by alcohol and P addiction; home to families where there’s nothing more to read than a pizza flyer; home to families who send their kids to school with empty stomachs and empty lunch-boxes…

    These are tough problems – very tough problems. But I have no intention of being a Prime Minister who tackles only the easy and convenient issues. I don’t pretend I’ve got all the solutions. But I can tell you that dealing with the problems of our growing underclass is a priority for National, both in opposition and in government.
    The Kiwi Way, John Key 2007

    The National Government has just announced their welfare reform package. The crucial question is whether the measures will fulfill John Key’s promise that “dealing with the problems of our growing underclass is a priority for National, both in opposition and in government”.[1]

    continued @; http://www.nzcpr.com/weekly222.htm

    Reforms Could Arguably be Worse than the Status Quo

    The National government’s long awaited welfare reforms are at best a rehash of previous efforts to reduce the cycle of dependency. At worst, they may increase it. What better way to worsen inter-generational dependency than tell people on the DPB that if they want to avoid working they should have more children?

    http://www.nzcpr.com/guest187.htm

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  21. Scott (1,707 comments) says:

    We could get rid of the bill of rights? Seems to have done more harm than good in my opinion.

    Then we could assess policy on its merits rather than on some leftists idea of ‘rights’.

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  22. Chuck Bird (4,682 comments) says:

    New Zealand has no checks on the power of the government between elections that most other democracies have. There is no constitution, no second house and referenda are not binding. While it could be argued that the Bill of Rights should not be automatically binding on legislators the Bill of Rights should not be ignored simply because the government does not think they will lose too many votes by ignoring it.

    There are legitimate reasons why the differences between the sexes should be acknowledged. For example, I see nothing wrong with women wanting separate gyms because they may feel uncomfortable exercising in the same gym as men particularly if they were greatly overweight. However, expecting widows and widowers to be treated equally in the twenty-first century is not trivial.

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