More on the welfare and privacy debate

July 30th, 2009 at 11:09 am by David Farrar

I have to say that I am gaining very very different impressions of the two women involved in the issue of the cutting of the TIA allowance and the release of their total income from taxpayers.

Jennifer Johnston has really impressed me with her sincerity, attitude and arguments. The Herald reports:

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett has asked her officials to look into setting up a loan to help solo parents cover their extra study costs.

The suggestion came during a phone call yesterday to Jennifer Johnston, one of two solo mothers whose details she released after they spoke out about her decision to cut the Training Incentive Allowance for tertiary level courses. …

She said she would take Ms Johnston up on an offer to join her for coffee when she was next in Invercargill.

Ms Johnston said she also apologised to Ms Bennett. “I was pretty angry yesterday. I don’t bear her any ill will.”

She said Ms Bennett had listened carefully to her case but also made it clear she could not promise anything.

“I run a family, she runs a department, but my family has a budget just like her department and at times I have to make financial decisions that are unpopular. Sometimes the people I’m responsible for, my children, will come to me and say, ‘Mum, how about we do it this way?’ Sometimes I can compromise and sometimes I can’t – that’s the reality of having a budget. I don’t know what will come out of our conversation but at the very least I know my minister heard my concerns.”

She brushed off concerns about privacy, saying it was not hard to find out what level of benefits a woman in her situation would be entitled to.

I made a similar point on radio yesterday. Most benefit information is a matter of public record. You just can’t calculate it to the exact dollor without knowing what someone’s rent is etc.

But as I said, kudos to Ms Johnston for her positive advocacy and constructive suggestion re expanding loans, rather than a grant.

I have to say that things are rather murkier with Ms Fuller. First of all is the fascinating revelation that she had her benefit information disclosed by Labour in 2007:

The single mother who is taking Paula Bennett to the Privacy Commission for releasing her income details has had her income disclosed publicly before – by Labour in 2007 and by herself on a Trade Me message board last week. …

Ms Fuller listed some of her entitlements on a Trade Me message board under her user name thehappyhocker last week, before Ms Bennett provided the information to the Herald.

Good to see the media pick up on the Trade Me disclosures for they are very relevant.

Ms Fuller’s income had also been used by the Labour Party in 2007 as an example of the success of its policies. She said she had given permission for then social development minister David Benson-Pope to use the information after she set up a cleaning business with an enterprise allowance.

In his speech, Mr Benson-Pope lists her total support from the state as $180.50, including an accommodation supplement of $91, a family tax credit of $69.50, and another $20 a week from Working for Families.

What is especially interesting to me, is what links (if any) Ms Fuller has to Labour. Often people trumpeted by Labour as sucess stories are Labour Party members and activists. This may not be the case, but it often is. And it all comes down to whether there has been appropriate disclosure.

A thread started by Ms Fuller on the Trade Me message boards also has some alarming allegations in it. Also a huge amount of abuse (some from other people on the DPB) – enough to make a general debate thread on Kiwiblog look like a polite conversation.

Dave at Big News blogs on some of the allegations. They include claims of boasting on Facebook of spending $200 on CDs in a month etc. If the claims are correct, Labour may once again be regretting their choice of champion.

And in another thread he blogs on posts by Fuller where she admits to living with her partner while getting the benefit, and knowing what she did was wrong.

And for those who think this is Big Brother, all Dave has done is catalogue posts made voluntarily by Fuller on the Internet.

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