Paula Bennett’s press release this week has sparked fears that the elections will descend into a beneficiary-bashing fest.
New Zealand was one of the first countries to embrace a social welfare system and has always been well regarded internationally because of that. It is one of our greatest achievements, along with being the first to give women the vote and declaring our nation nuclear free.
The recognition that the state should not just be there in the case of unexpected misfortune, but actively promote the welfare of all citizens, was innovative and visionary. It is what defines New Zealand as a great place to live. It means that we are all equal. Everybody can participate in the things that we all enjoy.
Our social welfare system is too precious to be used to score cheap political points. Scouring New Zealand to find the very few people who do abuse the system then using them to encourage resentment of a state funded welfare programme is mean. It is also harmful. It will turn New Zealand into a place that is ugly and unpleasant for everyone.
The way to reduce spending on social welfare is to ensure that there are enough well paid jobs for everyone who needs one. If this is no longer possible, let’s be honest about it and have a constructive discussion about finding a way forward that will still see that everyone has a liveable income.
Beneficiary bashing should be seen for what it is – an admission of failure on the part of the government. Their economic policies have failed to deal with unemployment. Rather than admit that there is a problem, they seek to deflect the blame on to the people who find themselves out of work.
Hopefully New Zealand voters are too smart to fall for this.