Government businessSocial Assistance (Future Focus) Bill read a first time, referred to Social Services Committee for report by 30 July 2010.
I met a lovely old maori man on the street on my way home last night, about quarter to 8. He was standing outside a dairy selling greeting cards. He looked tired and was showing signs of a tough life. He informed me he was selling cards as an alternative to recieveing a benefit. I asked him why he would do this. He said that the benefit wasn’t enough to live on, and he hated having to go and beg for food parcels. Selling cards, he said, he could make $100 a day. I asked how many hours he worked a day and he said with a smile ” I do work long days madam, bless you for asking.”
Now, there’s a choice of how to respond to this story, and some of you may say this affirms the principle that work gives self respect and all we need to do is make the benefit system tougher and others will follow his example and get jobs. I’m assuming this is the type of thinking behind the Social Assistance -(surely ironic) Bill.
But for me this experience reminded me of the people of all ages on the streets in Indonesia, India and Mexico try to survive by selling products pens, chewing gum, and small baubles for tourists .
I don’t see how forcing someone to effectively beg on the streets improves their self respect. I certainly didn’t sense his empowerment as he treated me the “madam” with such deference. Forcing people into marginal employment of this type in many ways seems to cement them into a place near the bottom of our social heirarchy.
If I was in his position I don’t know what would happen if I got sick or felt threatened by passerbys. Who would stand up for me? How would I get by without sick leave? I get annoyed by people worrying about me walking home alone at night, but here we are as a society seemingly fine about an older, smaller built man on the streets at the night approaching strangers to part with some money.
Personally, I think it would be easier for us all to stand up collectively for good education and a living wage rather than defend him and all the others in this position/ourselves on an individual basis. I think that would result in a fairer, safer, kinder and more innovative society. One I would feel proud to be part of.
I’m looking forward to writing some letters and putting in a submission on this bill.
And on a related note I think Annette King made some good points in her question in the house yesterday:
“Why would the Government put in place a policy when it is not backed by research, when she cannot determine how many people would shift from benefits as a result of the policy, when the so-called savings of $200 million over 10 years have been discredited, when Treasury opposes parts of it, when the Attorney-General said it does not create a fairer benefit system, and while 168,000 unemployed people are out there wanting jobs?”
As with the plans to mine our National Parks the government’s accounting and arguments don’t add up.