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Welfare Retrenchment: An LGBT Issue

in NEW ZEALAND, 20/03/2011

(Craig Young) - The National Party's "Welfare Working Group" has proposed a massive retrenchment of social welfare benefits that threatens to damage New Zealand's social fabric. Our communities must oppose this.

At the moment, the Welfare Working Group's proposals centre on solo mothers who receive the Domestic Purposes Benefit. There are proposals that that the permissible maternal care period for infants be truncated, although the government is short on details about what statutory childcare provisions there will be for solo mothers in this situation. It's worth noting that not all solo mothers are straight, for that matter. Some lesbians are parenting on their own, whether they've just left a straight relationship, decided to 'prove they were a woman' through getting pregnant, or are between relationships with women. So, what happens to them, given that some of them may not have access to extended family, whanau or aiga grandparenting arrangements or sisters, brothers or cousins willing to look after their children?

There are also long term punitive sanctions directed against alcohol and drug users. Not so fast. Some alcohol and drug users are 'self-medicating' people with mental health problems. They have experienced severe educational and employment hurdlles in the past and should really be either receiving community care and/or Invalids Benefits. Of course, they can't, because public health acute or respite mental health care has been slashed since the nineties. No wonder the Nats are intent on building so many prisons. And yes, some of them are lesbians, gay men or bisexuals. It is long past time that we had our own specifed professional practice interventions and patient-centred standards of treatment and care for members of our communities who experience mental health crises and/or substance abuse problems.

Finally, what about the transgender, whakawahine and fa'afafine communities? Gender identity discrimination is still not covered under the Human Rights Act in New Zealand, with the consequence that residential discrimination, disrupted educational access and irregular employment options are commonplace within many trans lives in this country. What about them? At least amend the Human Rights Act to insure that they're on a level playing field.

The "Welfare Working Group" has been justifiably subjected to fierce criticism from veteran beneficiaries rights campaigner and former Green MP Sue Bradford, the Labour and Green Opposition parties, the Anglican and Catholic Church social service agencies and other social policy heavyweights, who established an Alternative Welfare Working Group as an alternative benchmark. They argue that the New Right concept of 'welfare dependency' is a crock, a radical US Republican attack on mainstream European and Australasian comprehensive welfare states that have helped insure equitable access to public health, income maintenance and support, disability care and affordable primary and secondary education for most western citizens since the Great Depression.

The United States is backward in that regard, and we do not need to emulate its manifold social crises. Over fifteen years since radical Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrick launched his "Contract With America,' homelessness, family disintegration, youth suicide and substance abuse, violent criminality and the methamphetamine crisis have all spiralled out of control. One suspects that the only reason that the problem isn't more serious is the US military and its subsidisation of medical and social service care for its staff. It is not surprising to see Key administration fellow travellers like the Maxim Institute "Family First' spokesperson Bob McCoskrie rubber-stamping these radical moves, bleating about 'marriage dividends' and in opposition to most mainstream Christian social service agencies.

Oddly enough, one of the brilliant exposes of these socially destructive policies was fictional, courtesy of the US 'true crime' series SUV, in an incisive episode. On the face of it, it seemed to be about adolescent prostitution. However, the narrative provided a damning implicit indictment of 'insurance-based' unemployment benefits, temporary social housing shortages, homelessness, forced adolescent labour for family support, family disintegration, exploitative child labour practises, underfunded government child protection services and anti-union policies that lead to the exploitation of children and adolescents in ways too horrible to contemplate.

Granted, the aggrieved parent in this case was a straight construction worker, but it might just as easily have been a bereaved lesbian mum or gay dad in that situation. So much for those 'Victorian values' so beloved of the New Right...but then child exploitation and prostitution was rife in Victorian London and elsewhere.

The Welfare Working Group report is not about welfare 'reform'. It is about benefit retrenchment, immiseration of the marginal, weak and vulnerable and personalises structural problems with the open economy, the current global economic crisis, foolhardy Key administration temporary employment anti-union policies, and so on. What good is it stating that work is the path to dignity' if the work is temporary or insufficiently paid and only an interim solution?

Postscript: Can the Key administration now proceed with this planned retrenchment and punitive approach to welfare policy, given the widespread destruction of accomodation, businesses and loss of employment now evident in quake-ravaged Christchurch? One would hope not, otherwise it would be a gross underestimation of the magnitude and dislocation caused by this natural disaster. However, it is possible that it may now be deferred until sufficient time has passed if the Key administration wins a second term after the forthcoming New Zealand General Election. Already, however, it is talking about opportunities to cut other entitlements to pay for the cost of reconstruction. As we;; as that, the initial political consensus around the tragic events of late February 2011 seems to be unravelling. Already, Labour MP Lianne Dalziel has raised concerns about her predominantly working-class constituency in Christchurch East, for example, and tardiness in relief services.

It is high time New Zealand LGBT communities joined other elements of New Zealand civil society and declared our opposition to these draconian proposals. The Key administration must not be allowed to further victimise weak and economically marginal citizens, including members of our communities.

Not Recommended:
Welfare Working Group Report: ips.ac.nz/WelfareWorkingGroup/Index.html

Strongly Recommended:Alternative Welfare Working Group report: www.welfarejustice.org.nz/
 

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