Being on the dole

December 5th, 2011 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

A reader has sent in this guest post about their experiences of being on the dole and with :

I became unemployed in 2009. It was my choice, and it was a bad choice. I was hoping to move jobs and thanks to the recession, both my plan a and backup plan fell over. After 6 months of living off savings and some Working for Families money, I applied for the dole.

I generally found WINZ to be really helpful and some people I worked with really bent over backwards for me, even when I wasn’t worried about things. Pretty much every case worker sympathized at the lack of jobs, and acknowledged that there really wasn’t much that I could do.

However when I had to renew my dole after the 1 year mark I ran into some issues. I had taken myself off the dole over the summer while I tried to build up a small business I had started. I actually was told I should not be trying to create a business but should be looking for work. As a result of my initiative and in spite of having 3 interviews in the previous few weeks as well as me delaying my reapplication and actually going without income for several days on the hope that I would not have to reapply*, the Case worker decided I was a proud, lazy bludger and cast around for suitable torture. Having discovered that I was ineligible for one course due to actually having been a productive member of society(!), I was enrolled in a “course” for work seekers that turned out afterwards to be a weekly, early-morning commitment.

Well, I turned up every week. Typically, about 6 people who were supposed to did not. They started the process of being kicked off the benefit. Many who did show up didn’t have a CV, including one fellow who had been “looking for work” for over a year. We were told one week that the WINZ staff at that office had been calling people up, and almost no one had been answering their cell phones. The point was well made – would you get a job if an employer rang?

As for the course, it consisted of

A warning about what would happen if we didn’t show up for the course.
Looking through the WINZ web site for jobs that might possibly be suitable

As an experienced professional who’d found several jobs without any help from WINZ, and had a WINZ work broker wonder in amazement that I hadn’t found employment, it was humiliating. There were of course no jobs on offer for my skill set. But I did apply for several more basic jobs and got one interview. It did make me think about what I had to do to get a job, and made it clear that sitting on my bum was unacceptable.

Because, see that’s the thing. When there’s no sales being made on trademe, and there’s no interviews in sight, and the business that’s looking for a hundred non-skilled workers doesn’t even bother to reply to your application, you start to get depressed. And yet the dole payments, the working for families tax credits keep rolling in. That combination of discouragements and easy money is corrosive. I was actually better off unemployed financially than I had ever been for many years employed – and with hours of free time to boot. I would have been a fool if I hadn’t seriously considered making it a long term lifestyle.

In the end, I got a job by looking in other places. We moved city. It was a massive upheaval and traumatic for my family, but I am now a productive member of society.

One thing that helped the transition was the IWTC. Because of that extra income our Working for Families doesn’t drop and helps fund my travel to work and other extra costs. I can’t believe anyone would want to give that bonus money to people who don’t work – if you’re not leaving the house your costs are much, much lower.

I was out of work for almost 2 years. Yes, there are few jobs. But forcing people to get out and look is a good thing. Making them re-apply for the dole is a good thing. Forcing them to regular courses is a good thing (how on earth will someone who can’t get out of bed once a week get out of bed every day for a job?). Giving people a  financial incentive to work is a good thing.

As Labour says, there are people on the benefit who want to get out and work. No one doubts that. But there are also a large number who find it easier to sit at home and collect free money from the government. Society pays people the dole on the condition that they are looking for work, and I find it extraordinary that the measly token gestures such as the National party have made are so vigorously decryed by those who “support” people like me – long term unemployed. Instead of supporting them, they merely make the issue worse.

What would I do?

  • I would reduce (yes, reduce) the amount of working for families paid to beneficiaries and increase accommodation payments. It was my observation that payments are actually quite generous for people with no accommodation costs, but in places like Auckland those costs are crippling.
  • I would have people required to behave much more like they are in work. Many people are simply not employable because they have habits that are simply not compatible with being employable. Having them turning up *every* day for courses or sign-ins at normal work hours would be a minimum. Actually getting together people with complementary skills and seeing what they can produce. Encouraging out-of-the-box solutions.
  • At worst, I would like to see WINZ have work available that pays that anyone can just walk into off the street if they’re prepared to do it. Frankly there were times when I’d have quite happily shoveled manure all day and back again if I’d earned a dollar for it, just so I could be counted as working. I’m not talking work-for-the-dole here, I’m talking work for a little more pay than the dole, as a morale booster.

* My wife was castigated by another staff member for my recklessness when she visited the office for another matter. She was almost reduced to tears in fact. Which makes what happened even all the more bizarre.

Always great to have a first hand perspective.

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40 Responses to “Being on the dole”

  1. Recruitment Auckland (2 comments) says:

    As an employee of one of the recruitment agencies in auckland I would have to agree that we are now seeing higher levels of employers in most industries taking longer to hire. WINZ is simply there to mop up the mess.

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  2. labrator (1,850 comments) says:

    Good opinion piece. This part is what I found most galling about Labour’s give WFF to beneficiaries scheme

    if you’re not leaving the house your costs are much, much lower.

    The difference between the dole and having a low skill job is not just the wage packet difference, it’s the getting to and from work and ancillary costs. Public transport (if that’s even useful for you) isn’t cheap. A car with registration (per year $400), WOF ($100 a year), insurance ($300+ a year) and of course petrol and maintenance (>~$2000)… and suddenly your costs jump exponentially over sometimes going to WINZ…

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  3. PaulL (5,981 comments) says:

    My view is that we need to lower the marginal cost of moving into work. First $X, no abatement of anything – keep 100% of it. Get people working 5 hours a week. Next $Y, make sure the abatement is never more than 33%. If I work 1 hour extra (at $12 per hour minimum), I always take home $8 extra. Makes it worth working that extra hour.

    My aim here is for people to go do 5 hours work a week. Then maybe they do another 3. Then another 8. Before you know it you are full time.

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  4. Martin Gibson (246 comments) says:

    Great to have that sort of perspective.

    Approaching issues like unemployment from a compassionate perspective will always yield more productive results than being either punative or patronising.

    The error people who want to “advocate” for beneficiaries usually make is to argue that they need more cash. They always want to take away pain, but pain is handy to tell us our toes are too close to the fire, and removing it is often not compassionate at all.

    It doesn’t take a long period out of work before you need a jumpstart that expands your horizons out where they were before inactivity shrunk them in — often to the dimensions of the bedroom kitchen lounge and toilet. One of my mates sagely said the other day: “You look back at six months out of work, and it is useless to think what else you might have done; you are unemployed one day at a time”.

    Like any unused muscle, the ability to get out and be productive atrophies with under-use and needs a bit of remedial exercise.

    Like exercising an unused muscle, the first few times there is pain, but then there is a sliver of satisfaction here, a bit of optimism there, a bit of positive anticipation there.

    There is the joy of the self respect you didn’t know you had lost when you spend money you earned yourself.

    I especially liked the idea of the day work. Of all the work you can do to feel good about working again, planting trees is right up there in my experience.

    It should ideally not be forced either. For most people some satisfying remedial work should sell itself and something one does of one’s own free will is always done with more enthusiasm.

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  5. iMP (2,385 comments) says:

    I can totally relate. Of the 160 jobs I applied for over 18 months during a season of unemployment after redundancy, I got 4 interviews. Most didn’t even bother to reply. I applied for the same job 3 times over two years (talk about keen) and got second, twice. Winz was humiliating and on a different planet. After a little diplomatic research, i discovered that in many cases less skilled younger people with far less experience were hired in my stead (I’m under 50). In some cases, I had worked for the company in the past.

    I was told more than a handful of times, that I was TOO experienced. So I continued my PhD study and carried on as a security guard.

    the problem in NZ is our economy is too small. We have to create new sectors (liek Tourism and IT were 20 years ago) and especially mineral, coal and oil development, if we are ever to be on a par with Oz.

    BIGGEST LESSON LEARNED: We downsized and radically simplified life; got cheaper accom., and have saved. This is a far better way to live and helps see you thru lean seasons out of your control.

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  6. leftyliberal (651 comments) says:

    @PaulL: I agree that the effective marginal tax rates are very high which IMO contributes to the problem of long-term dependency (though how much it contributes is unclear), however your solution does not really work without everyone receiving the dole to begin with (i.e. a universal allowance). At the minimum wage of $13.50 an hour at 40 hours per week, a marginal tax rate of 0.33 would not cover their dole payments ($180 in tax a week). It also introduces the situation where someone that works for 20 hours a week may be worse off than someone on the dole working less.

    If you’re advocating a universal allowance, then absolutely it would work – it allows a much flatter (perhaps completely flat) tax starting at the first dollar earnt (albeit a higher tax rate than we have now – I think 30% covers about 11k taxfree universal allowance).

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  7. iMP (2,385 comments) says:

    NZ employment is very fickle these days. At one stage my partner and I held 5 part time jobs between us; neither of us – we hold 5 degrees between us – could secure full-time work. I have even been under contract for a job that was 3 hours a week (had to go thru an application, interview, and 90 day review process). Another job was 2 hours per week (again, several meetings to get appointed).

    As you get older, it gets harder and harder, regardless of your experience, education or vocational training.

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  8. Manolo (13,774 comments) says:

    iMP, I admire your persistence. Good on you, mate.

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  9. garethw (205 comments) says:

    “I was actually better off unemployed financially than I had ever been for many years employed”

    Would be great if you could expand upon this with a little more detail – a full picture of the abatement/incentive issues here would be useful

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  10. tas (625 comments) says:

    I agree with PaulL. We need to look at work incentives.

    Abatement rates for the unemployment benefit are 70% not including tax. So, if you get a part-time minimum wage job, you only keep $3 or $4 per hour, which probably barely covers costs.

    That isn’t fair to those who make the effort to work.

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  11. nasska (11,510 comments) says:

    When someone can honestly say that they are better off on the dole than working it raises some fairly tough issues. Most benefits are pretty basic….I know I’d find it impossible to live on under $200/week in the hand but the add ons for housing costs & special grants can up the ante a fair bit. Most of us are not too keen on having about one in ten fellow citizens sitting on their arses but the working poor are not much better off.

    There’s two possible answers. One is to lower the benefits (& you’re heading into soup kitchen territory here) although if the AGC is as bad as the pessimists state that is what will happen. The second is to develop the riches that NZ is blessed with, earn some real money & pay our workers properly. Do whatever is needed to keep the Green luddites out of the loop & mine & drill the bloody country like any other half sane nation would do.

    Contrary to Green & socialist propaganda there is no other way. We either develop our resources or slip into third world poverty.

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  12. BD (11 comments) says:

    I had the same drama, made redundant in March 2009 from a middle management position. I found myself competing for interview roles with associates from former competitor companies in the same situation as myself. Some of these guys used to be either senior management or heads of departments looking after 30-40 employees.

    My gmail has close to 400 emails in applying for roles (either what I was earning 4-5 years ago or trying to see if I could make the next step up). Had 4-5 interviews, one role went all the way through to meeting with the Chairman of the Board only to be told two days later they were adding KPI’s to the role outside of my experience. Between all this I was doing anything from house painting, clearing overgrown sections and working in a removal company just to get some sort of money in the door. The work was irregular but at least it was something.

    I was told that I wasn’t eligable for any assistance due to my wifes income at the time of $55k, never mind that we had a mortgage (luckily we paid our credit cards off monthly and had no HP agreements). We made serious cutbacks, first the luxury items, Sky, internet, eating out (takeaways included), rugby games, even the National Party membership went. Utilities and food were next in line, we probably reduced our monthly spend by around $2,000. Redundancy/Super payout sat in our account to cover what normally would have been paid by salary but this eventually dried up so our savings were the next to be hit.

    As well as applying for roles in Auckland, it was Hamilton, Wellington and Christchurch. As we disconnected the internet, my routine was to drop the wife off at work then head to her sisters to use the internet, sort of felt like I was going to work. Getting up at 6am, showering, shaving etc… in front of a PC going through Seek for a good 2 hours then checking other employments sites. The worst thing is the lack of contact with anyone, going from a role where you were getting calls every 15mins to being at home chasing recruitment agents for roles that I had applied for but had not heard back, they seemed to not really want to know you or call back.

    Eventually after two years I have found a job unfortunately it is Sydney, my base climbed from $85k p.a to $150k AUD p.a. To be honest it was an easy decision as it got me back in work however I have left a lot family and friends behind which was hard. My wife still works in NZ so we have been flying alternate weekends back to either Auckland or Sydney for the last year. She will leave her role shortly to join me over here but this is hard for her as she is leaving a position that she has worked hard to achieve. We will be back in NZ but probably not for 10 years, we need to make up for lost income, savings and retirement fund from that period of time which put us back by 5 years.

    Although our lifestyle wasn’t extravagant (we didn’t have a flat screen tv or new phones or the latest and flashiest of clothes/sunglasses) it was hard to adjust our spending, we were also fortunate in that my wife had a position to support us both however I know that there are a lot more people out there that are struggling. I was fearful of going on the dole as to me personally that would have meant that my career/worklife is over but I realise that not going on the dole isnt an option for a lot of recently unemployed. That was the first time that I have been out work since I left school and uni, excluding a couple of gardening leave breaks, and it was the worst period of my life. I think if you are motivated and self driven enough you will continually look for work regardless of your work history and would do the courses that WINZ provides. No matter how pointless they seem, even turning up for them on time shows some sort of commitment.

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  13. Johnboy (16,554 comments) says:

    Sell the boat and the plane nasska and go teetotal and you could probably just manage. :)

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  14. nasska (11,510 comments) says:

    Johnboy

    I’ve done my bit…..sold the boat, hate flying & been on the wagon for ten years. I’ll have to think of something else.

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  15. Johnboy (16,554 comments) says:

    Knit your own jumpers nasska.

    Compliant sheep are of course a prerequisite. :)

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  16. iMP (2,385 comments) says:

    Bd (2). Your story is amazing and, unfortunately, familiar in NZ. Tnx for sharing it. Glad you made it in AU. I applied for work all over the world with a heavy heart (I love NZ), but in the end, with kids here, doubt I could have left. Ironically, they now work in 3 diff. countries. I did get second for a job in Azerbaijan.

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  17. nasska (11,510 comments) says:

    Johnboy

    The sheep are disciplined but I don’t think knitting is my thing. I could actually live quite a good life on what I’ve got…it’s just that every time you get rid of the “DR” against the balance of the bank statement some useless pack of bludgers like the IRD or the local council stick their parasitical hands out & it’s back on the treadmill.

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  18. PaulL (5,981 comments) says:

    @leftyliberal: universal allowance would work well for me.

    Base allowance for being a NZ citizen. Targeted assistance over that for having costs outside the usual (disabled or disabled dependents for example). Tax free threshold + flat tax. Slightly higher GST. Wealth tax. Property tax (maybe a subset of wealth tax). Done.

    The system we have needs to focus on what it takes to get people into work. Things like WFF are too focused on delivering welfare to swing voters, rather than anything of value to the country.

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  19. Johnboy (16,554 comments) says:

    Socialism is wonderful as long as the other bastard is paying for it and hasn’t gone broke yet nasska.

    Mr Shearer and Mr Cun(t)liffe are squaring off for your future dollar as we speak.

    Enjoy! :)

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  20. IHStewart (388 comments) says:

    Just realised my comment was fast becoming a blog, so will copy, paste, save,delete and say thanks to your reader for sharing with us his experiences. I can think of a 6 month period in my life when being on the dole would have been far more lucrative if I was prepared to break the law and work in the black economy on a casual basis. It was tempting but a fraud conviction was not.

    ” At worst, I would like to see WINZ have work available that pays that anyone can just walk into off the street if they’re prepared to do it. Frankly there were times when I’d have quite happily shoveled manure all day and back again if I’d earned a dollar for it, just so I could be counted as working. I’m not talking work-for-the-dole here, I’m talking work for a little more pay than the dole, as a morale booster.”

    I like this idea, and today I listened to Mike Williams on the panel talking about the Howard League and the literacy programme they are running in prisons with volunteers, hell if I was unemployed and could increase my dole payment by teaching people in prison to read I would do it.

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  21. joana (1,983 comments) says:

    great posts IMP and BD.

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  22. Johnboy (16,554 comments) says:

    You can hardly go wrong in life IHS if you adhere closely to the teachings of Mike Williams, Peter Williams and Barry Hart. :)

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  23. IHStewart (388 comments) says:

    Johnboy I adhere to good ideas. I don’t give a shit where they come from. I realise your solution to civilisation is shoot the poor. I have a larger view and you might want to hope it is followed as you “…let them eat cake “

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  24. Johnboy (16,554 comments) says:

    Mike Williams, Peter Williams and Barry Hart could hardly be described as “the poor” IHS! :)

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  25. laworder (292 comments) says:

    nasska wrote

    There’s two possible answers. One is to lower the benefits (& you’re heading into soup kitchen territory here) although if the AGC is as bad as the pessimists state that is what will happen. The second is to develop the riches that NZ is blessed with, earn some real money & pay our workers properly. Do whatever is needed to keep the Green luddites out of the loop & mine & drill the bloody country like any other half sane nation would do.

    There is a third option (not that I’m saying the second option is in any way a bad idea). And that is to pay benefits – ALL benefits – in the form of vouchers (electronic preferably) redeemable for anything bar alcohol, tobacco etc. Also, reduce the abatement rate as suggested by others. This will give those that need it an incentive to work without punishing the genuine ones unduly. Give people the support they need, without the State becoming an enabler for addictions and self destructive lifestyles. The State shouldnt be giving people money to drink, smoke or waste on pokies etc. But nor should we let people starve, lose their homes, or not be able to get to job interviews or training.

    The other idea of walk-in jobs is also a sound one.

    Regards
    Peter J
    Webmaster for http://www.sensiblesentencing.org.nz

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  26. IHStewart (388 comments) says:

    Johnbhoy you are an idiot.

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  27. nasska (11,510 comments) says:

    laworder

    There’s nothing wrong with the third option as you outlined Peter & in my opinion the sooner it is implemented the better. It still comes under the heading of housekeeping rather than addressing the long term problem. Thing is that the socialists want to micromanage the division of the cake we have at present but what is needed to lift up the whole of NZ, rich & poor,
    is a bigger cake.

    Increased welfare payments, “green” jobs & “the knowledge economy” are only buzzwords in a country where about a quarter of school leavers would struggle to read a newspaper. To utilise our excess labour requires mining and/or industry which provides well paid semi skilled work. We are not going anywhere when the rights of snails trumps the rights of citizens.

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  28. Johnboy (16,554 comments) says:

    IHS: I fully accept your judgement on the basis of ‘It takes one…..’ :)

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  29. dad4justice (8,222 comments) says:

    Yawn,yawn……….

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  30. BlueGriffon (204 comments) says:

    Your guest poster makes it sound so easy. He was lucky – he had children! Try being a single, reasonably high income worker with no kids and see how you get treated by Winz.

    Totally different story! Phil Goff has a 5 page whinge about my experiences with Winz.

    The trouble is that Winz don’t treat people the same. Middle class educated people with no children get completely different treatment to your average lay-about. In fact, Winz don’t know how to deal with the unemployed ‘work-ready’. Sending people with a full CV and an unbroken 10 year employment history to the Workchoices course (or what ever it is called) is a waste of everyones time.

    It also depends on what case worker you end with too.

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  31. Mark (496 comments) says:

    What I would like to see if you take on a new job if you have been unemployed for 6 months or longer that if you get a job you can continue to get benefit, WFF payments, etc for a 4 week period while you transition to a new job.

    That would be the carrot, however the stick would be if you didn’t stay employed for six months or longer then your minimum standown period would be at a minimum four weeks or longer, with some protection against employers who now use against you the situation you are in.

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  32. infused (654 comments) says:

    I can give you my own experience right here.

    It was 2005. I was on the dole and trying to start a small business. I went through the enterprise grant. I was already running a small IT business for a few months before going on the enterprise grant. They actually said this wasn’t a problem. Long story short, I didn’t get the grant because my figures didn’t stack up. My business model didn’t make sense (flat rate it support).

    They made me go to these shitty courses, in the end I left the dole after a few months.

    Anyway, I decided to go for it and risk it all anyway. It was a real hard first two years. I was living off around $100-200 a week. Looking back, I have no idea how I did this. You generally find a way though eh?

    Anyway, about to go in to my 7th year and I look after some very big businesses in Wellington and employee 3 people. I’m very close to turning over my first million dollars.

    The system is fucked.

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  33. reid (16,457 comments) says:

    The system is fucked.

    infused the system worked, for if it molly-coddled you, would you ever have succeeded?

    The system fails only when it encourages people to set and hold low standards for themselves and their own families.

    Many now have them. Why?

    Low expectations. From parents, grandparents, schools, peers and most importantly, society.

    This is why and only why Scandinavian countries succeed. Their society helps people develop high expectations. Homogeneous, supportive, same with the Japanese.

    But here?

    No way.

    Cruisy bro. Chill out.

    You’re one of the lucky ones infused. You got the right juice but why do I suspect it wasn’t by design?

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  34. rakuraku (162 comments) says:

    I too am University educated Lincoln, Massey and Auckland Universities, in economics, accounting and management.

    When I was younger I was told I did not have the experience and spent hundreds of hours job searching having interviews with management consultants etc.

    Now into my 50’s and having had a number of positions in export/import and the construction sectors I am now told I am too old and I have job stability issues.

    The facts are we have a piss arse little economy with a pissy little local market of 4.5 million people, the only industries with any grunt are the dairy, sheep & beef, horticultural, fishing and forestry sectors.

    We have had successive Governments who are playing with it, and do not actually know how to develop a business plan for the economy, they just spin us the next line of bullshit which comes into their heads.

    As for the brain drain, the problem is we do not have the jobs here in NZ because successive Governments do not give a rats arse about the average Joe in the street, they are too busy sucking up to the BRT who are eyeing up the State Assets which have already been paid for by our forebears.

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  35. ross (1,437 comments) says:

    “I was out of work for almost 2 years. Yes, there are few jobs.”

    But look on the bright side, there will be 170,000 new jobs over the next 3 years. Don’t take my word for it, ask John Key.

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  36. ross (1,437 comments) says:

    “When someone can honestly say that they are better off on the dole than working it raises some fairly tough issues.”

    The obvious one is that wages here are low. The response from government should be to raise the minimum wage, but it seems quite happy with the status quo.

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  37. Elaycee (4,392 comments) says:

    ross says: “The obvious one is that wages here are low. The response from government should be to raise the minimum wage, but it seems quite happy with the status quo.”

    ross, it might be an idea to take off your red eye patch and open the mind to reality 101.

    If the answer was to raise the minimum to $15 per hour, then why not make it $20? Or better still, lets make it $25 per hour and (according to your theory) our problems will be over. Pffttt…. Clearly you have forgotten the fact that someone, somewhere has to pay for it!

    If you believe in that theory, then you probably also think that David Cunliffe is the answer to Labour’s leadership woes.

    Oh oh….

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  38. nasska (11,510 comments) says:

    ross

    Raising the minimum wage means nothing & does nothing but spur inflation unless it is backed by an equivalent increase in goods & services. Wages are low because the value of the goods & services they represent are low. The local economy only caters for locals….what we need are exports which will pay for the crap in the $2 shops & the second hand cars from Japan rather than putting them on the bill for the next few generations.

    Look around you & see what we have that other counties want. Dairy products…yes but the Greens go apeshit over a teaspoon of cowshit in a river. Coal, gold & oil but the Greens & their queer socialist mates want to leave it in the ground & carry on doing the only thing they do well….taxing the supposedly rich.

    The domestic economy services our citizens but it is financial churn. Raise one worker’s pay & another worker pays more for what they need. When we crank up our exports we’ll all enjoy the benefits.

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  39. meanybeany (27 comments) says:

    This post was written by someone who is very articulate. I find it hard to believe that a person who has such a good command of the english language that he is obviously quite intelligent, finds it difficult to find a job. We have huge difficulties recruiting staff with enough english language skills just to be able to communicate on just a basic level.

    Is this post real? Was it ghost-written?

    [DPF: yes real. I know the author]

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  40. MT_Tinman (3,186 comments) says:

    Quite a few years back I also was out of work for a while. I was a single parent at the time.

    Sitting on my arse being bone-idle lazy lasted about ten days then I got bored.

    I was in Christchurch at the time so wandered out to Orana wildlfe park and worked (unpaid) as a volunteer guide. This gave my son something to do as well, as a junior volunteer.

    One day I saw the lady who ran the restaurant shovelling some dirt in her garden, went over and helped and quickly became an unpaid (she couldn’t afford staff at that time) kitchen hand/restaurant worker.

    This translated to a paid kitchen hand/restaurant worker/wine waiter in fairly short time and six months later I was running a tourist hotel restaurant.

    I do not believe there is no work out there, just that people can’t/won’t go out and do something different to demonstrate their willingness to work and don’t/won’t take whatever chance ends up in front of them.

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