Saturday, February 8, 2014

When hardship is self-inflicted

(First published in The Dominion Post, February 7.)
FEW New Zealanders begrudge some of their taxes being spent on welfare for people who, through no fault of their own, have fallen on hard times and need a hand to get back on the rails.
Most draw the line, however, at helping people who assume a right to be maintained by their fellow citizens in the lifestyle of their choice.

I’m not talking here about the usual sad suspects, such as the women who leave school at 15 and have a succession of children, often by multiple feckless fathers, and rely on the state to pay for their upbringing.

No, I’m talking about people like the Auckland couple interviewed recently by the New Zealand Herald on what the Labour Party’s $60-a-week baby bonus would mean for them.
The female partner lectured in art history until a couple of years ago, when she took time off to study for a doctorate (since attained).

She and her partner were on the unemployment benefit when they had a son 16 months ago, though she went back to work for two days a week when the boy was five months old and now works a three-day week.
The couple also received an accommodation supplement and family tax credits for the baby and the male partner’s 13-year-old son from a previous relationship, though we were not told what their total taxpayer support came to.

The male partner, meanwhile, was described as an actor and musician with an “unstable” income. He had a low-paid sales job but gave it up for a six-week acting engagement. He’s now studying full-time.
What’s striking about this couple is that they appear to have choices. They are educated. Unlike some beneficiaries, they have some control over their lives.

But they chose to have a baby, despite being on an unemployment benefit.
She chose to toss in a full-time job to study for a doctorate. Assuming her qualification is in art history, it’s not exactly a field rich in career opportunities – but then, who are we to question her life goals?

He had a full-time job but chose to drop it in favour of a short-term acting gig. Perhaps he felt a sales job was not worthy of his talents.
The article didn’t say whether he gets a benefit while he studies (another choice), but it’s reasonable to infer that he does. They could hardly exist on her income from three days’ work.

If these people have experienced hardship, as they claim, then it was self-inflicted.
They are not no-hopers, powerless to determine their future.  They have options. But underlying their decisions is the implicit assumption that the taxpayer will fund their chosen lifestyle.

This is a perverse outcome of a welfare system that has expanded far beyond what its original architects envisaged.
We can only be thankful that the couple’s sense of entitlement isn’t more widely shared – because if everyone felt free to do what they wanted, comfortable in the assurance that the state would support them, society would have collapsed long ago.

* * *

I RECENTLY spent a week in Taranaki, a province much under-rated as a visitor destination.
Taranaki boasts the wonderful Tawhiti Museum just out of Hawera, which deserves to be far better known than it is. It has nice beaches too. Oakura is justifiably famous for its surf and Opunake Beach, snug in its little cove beneath the cliffs, has a charm all its own.
As for New Plymouth, it has become a very attractive city, albeit in an agreeably understated way. What a shame, then, that it’s burdened with a monstrous visual blight in the form of the power station chimney that rises above the port.

I remember my late mother, a Taranaki girl, being appalled when this abomination rose up beside the imposing Paritutu Rock in the early 1970s.

The rock is 153 metres high; the adjacent chimney 40 metres taller.  It’s almost as if the hubristic, all-powerful Ministry of Works was determined to demonstrate its supremacy over nature. No one would get away with it today.
The power station has been defunct for years and it’s a mystery that this eyesore has been allowed to remain. A controlled demolition with explosives would be spectacular. It would attract more tourists than Womad.

* * *

OAKURA Holiday Park, where we stayed for three nights, has found an admirably efficient way to dissuade campers from loitering in the bathrooms and toilets.
It subjects them to what Sir Bob Jones used to call swamp-dwellers’ music, relayed from a local rock station and played at industrial volumes.  This has much the same repellent effect as the Barry Manilow-style songs that some European city councils play to drive young troublemakers out of public spaces after dark.

What’s puzzling is why an otherwise quiet, pleasant camping ground feels the need to bombard its predominantly older patrons with rock music. Is it another sign of deference to the cult of youth, or simply a case of the radio station offering a sweetener to have its music piped in?
Either way, it meant that I brushed my teeth in record time.



1 comment:

Jigsaw said...

I find your comments on people on welfare by choice-however stupid, interesting not just because it's often true but also because the left will never admit this for a minute, not for a single instance. In Australia Julia Gillard once said it when she something to the effect that Labor was a party of workers not welfare-not likely to EVER hear anything even vaguely like that from labour here and yet I would suggest that most people's experience is of coming across such cases on a daily basis. It's this disconnect between |Labour and reality that interests me.