Rose-tinted view cruel fairy tales

5 Feb

By Matt McCarten

(Reprinted from the Herald on Sunday, Februiary 2, 2014)

Winz Office. Many unemployed not receiving unemployment benefit

This Government manipulates statistics to show how well the economy is doing and most of us swallow it.

The manufactured consent is the economy is booming and the number of unemployed is at record lows.

Here’s my unease with the unemployment success story. There isn’t a week I don’t meet jobless people who are seeking work yet receive no support from the state.

Many friends and extended family are hardworking people who tell me they don’t register with Work and Income NZ because they claim they are hounded by officious bureaucrats and made to feel like something icky on the aforementioned’s shoe.

The stories are too numerous to convince me there isn’t a calculated policy to make it humiliating for workers down on their luck to apply for assistance.

I expressed my doubts to my union’s director, Mike Treen, after another sunny economic report was published. Treen is one of those self-taught working-class economists who pores over business pages with the same intensity most Kiwis read sports pages. He told me he could prove statistically that due to deliberate hostile and punitive policies over the past decade by successive governments, more than 100,000 unemployed Kiwis wanting work are today denied unemployment assistance.

I was a bit dubious about such a large figure but this week he was back with his research, courtesy of the Statistics NZ website. You’ll be tempted to let your eyes glaze over, but bear with me because it’s important not to let the Government pretend there is low employment when there isn’t.

Unfortunately it’s even worse than that.

There are two ways of measuring unemployment – the Household Labour Force Survey and the number of people getting the unemployment benefit.

Oddly, there were 30,000 more people on benefits than measured in the Household Survey until the mid-2000s.

During Helen Clark’s second and third terms her government took reactionary measures against the jobless on benefits.

When her government fell in 2008 50,000 more people were unemployed in the Household Survey than receiving the employment benefit – a whopping difference of 80,000 in just six years.

After Labour’s dishonourable record, National had a free hand in extending the purge and the gap exploded to 130,000 unemployed Kiwis who now get no assistance.

If you think the Household Survey exaggerates the unemployed, understand the unemployed measurement includes only those who are physically able, not training and actively seeking work.

Someone working for even an hour in survey week is classified as employed.

Here’s a really depressing statistic Mike Treen found. Using a broader definition of jobless, he says that in the late 1990s about 75 per cent of jobless received a benefit. Today it’s less than 20 per cent. He estimates more than $1billion a year is withheld from the poorest. Little surprise then that at the same time we are told the economy is rosy churches and voluntary social services are overwhelmed by the poor begging for charity.

It’s a different reality from John Key’s smiley-faced optimism selling positive employment messages, aided by the gushing Paula Bennett supposedly responsible for getting shirkers off the dole into real work.

The nerdy genius Bill English in the engine room is hailed as making this good news possible.

The Statistics NZ charts reveal this as fiction.

The 130,000 uncounted unemployed are officially invisible.

As such, they don’t get a penny. The billion dollars they should be getting to survive keeps the government books nicely inflated.

It’s not only cynically dishonest, but heartlessly cruel.

Only totalitarian regimes get away with this.

(Matt McCarten is National Secretary of Unite Union. His weekly Herald on Sunday column is a commentary on social and political issues in New Zealand. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Unite Union.)

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