Dom Post on the sickness beneficiary

The Dom Post editorial:

Labour leader tells a good story. Unfortunately, the punchline is missing.

If he can deliver it, voters might start listening to Labour again, but till he does the story serves only to illustrate the paucity of critical thinking within his party.

The story goes like this: during the 2008 election campaign Mr Shearer knocked on a door in his Mt Albert electorate. “See that guy over there,” said the man who came to the door, gesturing to a neighbour’s house. “He’s on a sickness benefit, yet he’s up there painting the roof of his house … Do you guys support him?”

Mr Shearer recounted the encounter at a Grey Power meeting in Auckland this week. The answer to his constituent’s question, he told his audience, was no, Labour was not in favour of people receiving the sickness benefit when they were fit for work. Fairness was a core feature of the social contract. People who needed assistance should get it, but once they were back on their own feet they should pull their weight and contribute to society.

Regrettably, that was the beginning and end of the lesson.

Mr Shearer said the government’s role was to ensure the transition from to work occurred through upskilling, educating and giving a “nudge” to those not honouring their side of the bargain. But he did not say how he proposed to persuade the sickness beneficiary to descend from his roof and seek paid employment.

Given that the last Labour government had nine years to upskill, educate and nudge, the public could be forgiven for assuming that under Mr Shearer Labour has nothing new to offer.

That is the real issue. I’ve got no problems with the story as an example of what shouldn’t be tolerated, and think the Labour activists condemning it are being rather precious.

The real issue is that Shearer said he was against this happening, but his party has opposed policies to prevent it – and offers nothing new.

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