As we sat at Brisbane Airport late yesterday, we took a moment to read the Dominion-Post's Saturday editorial. Headed Shearer missing the point, it noted the following after some uncomplimentary observations about David Shearer and welfare:
Mr Shearer said the government's role was to ensure the transition from welfare 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.Of one thing voters can be sure: extending the "in work" tax credit used to compensate low-wage workers for the extra costs associated with work, to beneficiaries, as proposed by Labour last year, will not solve the problem. It will only further reduce the incentives to seek paid employment.Mr Shearer's party is stuck in an ideological cul de sac.The creation of the welfare state was the crowning achievement of Labour's founders. It has contributed to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of New Zealanders making better lives for themselves and their children.However, as the Kahui case and other recent instances of child abuse demonstrate, it has also contributed to the creation of a growing underclass, comprising second and third-generation beneficiaries who do not recognise any obligation to seek gainful employment or to contribute to the community.Until Labour accepts that the system is failing the children of those families, it is unlikely to receive a warm welcome on the doorsteps of working New Zealanders.
The Dom-Post's leader writer is smack-bang on the money. Labour squandered nine years of record prosperity by doing nothing more than entrenching a generation of New Zealanders on government hand-outs, both through welfare payments and through Working for Families.
Working for Families has become a Trojan Horse for the current and future governments. Families with a household income of well in excess of $100,000 per annum qualify for WFF tax rebates. Forget the drain on the tax take; WFF is almost impossible to unravel, and any government which did so would be toast at the next election.
So there was an element of cunning politics in Labour's welfare policies of the early 2000's. And only as global economies have tanked since 2008 have we seen how much this has bitten the New Zealand economy.
As the editorial so correctly notes, Labour had nine years in which to train and upskill New Zealanders, and get them off welfare. They failed dismally, and still offer no new solutions four years into their time in opposition.
New Zealand's welfare system is a mess, and is in need of urgent reform. National is trying to make changes, but electorally, they have to be done incrementally; too much too fast is a recipe for sure electoral defeat.