Policy debate activates democracy across the political divide

Marcus Roberts

Marcus Roberts
Auckland, August 29, 2022

Before the news became dominated by our newest MP’s historical bullying (and the counter allegations of bullying from within Labour itself), the National Party had been making headlines about the social welfare policy announced at its Annual Conference.

The policy is designed to reduce the number of young people (18-25-year-olds) on the jobseeker benefit long-term.

This benefit is for those over the age of 18 who are not working. The expectation is that those on it are looking for work or have a health condition or disability. Currently, more than 34,000 people under the age of 25 are on the jobseeker benefit. Over a third of these have been on it for more than a year. According to National, these young people need to be moved off this benefit and into work.

Dearth of jobs

But is there work to go into? Although unemployment is very low – at around 3.3%, there is a labour shortage in the country. A recent MYOB survey revealed that a third of small to medium enterprises were still struggling to fill job vacancies.

In construction and trades, this proportion was 37%, and in the manufacturing sector, it was 57%.

National is hoping that its policy of linking with community providers, individualised plans, job coaches and carrots and sticks will get young people off the benefit and fill some of these shortages.

Besides the usual base-rallying cries  (“beneficiary bashing!” and “no free-riders!”), there was also agreement from across the political aisle about the importance of getting young people into work. The Prime Minister defended her government’s record of getting “record numbers” of young people off benefits, upskilled and into employment. No more carrots and sticks were required, she said, as both were already available.

Government as employer

While this suggested that National was merely repackaging what was already in place under the Labour Government, one significant difference is from where the support for young people is coming. The Prime Minister noted that the government had increased the number of case managers at the Ministry of Social Development; it is true that MSD has hired 2300 more staff since 2017.

However, National’s policy is to turn from a central government agency to local community organisations, such as NGOs and iwi, who are closer to the young people in question to provide the coaching services.

This part of the welfare policy highlights a significant difference between the two parties: the centralisation or localisation of public services.

No matter where you sit on this issue, this clear distinction deserves a celebration! To have our two most prominent parties as indistinguishable as Tweedledum from Tweedledee degrades our democracy and us.

So, hurrah for a policy debate; it was good while it lasted.

Let us hope that we get some more before the next distraction (bullying or otherwise)  surfaces.

Marcus Roberts is a Senior Researcher at Maxim Institute, an independent think tank working to promote the dignity of every person in New Zealand by standing for freedom, justice, compassion, and hope.

 

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