Sunday, February 20, 2011

to the middle class (of which I am a member)

My father and I talk about politics. We do this instead of talking about anything else, really - it's very definitely a family trait to get angry instead of sad, and politics almost always provides something to get angry about. Today I rang him and after a couple of minutes of the regular pleasantries (how are you? What've you been up to?) there followed almost an hour of arguing back-and-forth about Where the Left Is and/or Should Be Going, and What's With The Lack of Fight? Good times, man.

And one of the things we've been chatting about a lot lately is how bad we are at selling our policies to the Average New Zealander, when this should be easy because the Average New Zealander would clearly be a lot better off if they got paid more and weren't in so much debt and weren't treated as disposable by their employer.

So we got onto unemployment, viz:
1. It's pretty high at the moment.
2. Youth unemployment is near 20%, which is an unmitigated social disaster.
3. The Government is talking about raising the pension age.
4. The Government is also talking about forcing solo parents back into work (as in, accept this job or your benefit gets cut)

... it doesn't seem logical to me to be forcing older people to stay in work for longer and/or forcing active parents into the workforce when you have real problems in that people are finding it really tough to enter the workforce at all for the first time in their life.

Also worth noting is that you can't receive the unemployment benefit if your partner is in work. So from the Government's point of view, a family that goes from two incomes down to one when one partner is made redundant doesn't matter - that person doesn't affect the unemployment stats. And if that person stays unemployed (maybe childcare costs are prohibitive, so the family makes the choice to have a stay-at-home parent for a few years), then if and when a job comes available and is taken up by a solo parent desperate for a job - any job - so the kids don't starve, the stats look even better.

Of course, yes, yay paid employment in most cases, though if you do basic reading on benefits and poverty you'll learn about the cost of working (economic and social) and - insert the complications I'm not talking about here.

But you can sell welfare policy as:






and you can also sell it as:

- an acceptance that a glut of workers will drive wages down (as in, Economics 101!)
- an acceptance that workers aren't really in a position to be able to bargain as well as employers can (as in, Reality 101!)
- the creation of a situation where people are forced to take jobs they know aren't really suitable because otherwise they face starvation/having their kids taken away from them/homelessness/as you will
- stay-at-home parents in 2-parent households not really figuring in official stats all that well (and there's a lot of women's issues stuff here, which I'll leave to people who talk WAY more eruditely on the subject than I)

creates a situation where the stay-at-home parent may find it really fucking hard to get a job as good (read: well-paid) as the one they had when they do reenter the workforce, and this has flow on effects which negatively impact the lives of the middle classes, like:
- not being able to pay off the mortgage
- not being able to look forward to a comfortable retirement
- not being able to pay the kid's uni fees
- not being able to go on that overseas holiday

And maybe the answer to that litany of woes should be: cry more! Other people have it worse off than you! But I don't think it's a particularly satisfactory one: I don't think paying off the mortage and travelling a bit et cetera should be outside the reach of the dreams of people who are supposedly relatively well-off in our society. I also think that it can be really hard to properly empathise with people, and sometimes it's easier to explain stuff by applying its effects to your own situation, even if that doesn't quite get across the full horror of having to go to the foodbank because you also had to buy your kid a pair of shoes that week.

The choice to not work for several years because you're raising children is not a bad one.* I think that people who make that choice should be able to do so comfortably. I don't think people who are raising kids should be forced to choose between losing their entire income in the form of government benefits or taking on a poorly paid, casual, and marginalised job that really doesn't provide them with financial security. Or, you know, forced to give up on economic aspirations, no matter how small or large or trivial or major, because you can't save for retirement and raise the next generation at the same time.

*By which I mean: raising children is a difficult thing to do, and it should be far more valued in society than it is - we should be applauding women for looking after small children, not insinuating (or saying outright) that they're all a bunch of bludging slappers who got wot they deserved.**
**Not to say that choosing to be in paid work isn't okay as well. Just. Fuck me, can't women make ANY choices without being dogpiled for it?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

stick it to the (wo)man

So, in brief lots and lots of words:
  1. the Government explicitly wants to get more beneficiaries in work. Don't get me wrong: this is a laudable aim. Most people who subsist on state benefits would like to have more money, and most of them would like to get it through paid employment.
  2. the Government wants to cut funding to education, including early childhood education. To some extent, I do sympathise with the view that early childhood education is basically daycare by another name. But whatever it's called, it's the place where a lot of kids go when their parents or guardians are at paid work, and where some kids go when their parents or guardians aren't at paid work.
  3. cutting funding to early childhood education will have the direct result of increasing the amount of money parents and guardians pay in hand to the centres. This is because the cost of running the centre doesn't suddenly decrease just because their income from one source has fallen.
  4. this will in turn decrease the marginal income of working parents and guardians. That is, the sum of "net income" minus "costs associated with working" will be a smaller figure.
  5. costs associated with working aren't, of course, limited to childcare. Other costs include transport, work-appropriate attire, and any work equipment. And I think these costs are reasonable enough, just as I think that parents paying part of the cost of their small children's daycare needs is fair enough.
  6. but childcare is a really, really high cost for a lot of people. Not everyone is in a position to rely on other family members to take on childcare so that they can enter paid employment. Not everyone has family. Not everyone has family in the same city. Not everyone has family who are appropriate carers for small children.
  7. and children are a social good. I mean, obviously they are also people -- and perhaps someday I will write about why I think people owe each other some care -- but they're an investment (trite, I know) into what this society will be able to support in 25 years.
  8. so the idea that parents should bear sole responsibility for raising and providing for their children doesn't really work for me. I'm going to personally benefit from there being qualified doctors in 40 years, so I should bear some responsibility for making sure that there are children to get there.*
  9. getting back to where I was going with this: it is contradictory to have an explicit policy to encourage people back into work and then create stumbling blocks that you know full well will make employment difficult in some cases and impossible in others.

*As an aside: if your policy, personal or political, ever relies on people not fucking in situations where it is likely that people will want to fuck, your policy is stupid.

For this reason, the statement that people should not have children they cannot afford, aside from being an utterly disgusting statement of privilege and assumption, is just so mind-bogglingly stupid it blows my mind. Children are a logical consequence of sex, and if it ever gets to a point where heterosexual sex, sans totally effective contraception, does not reliably, across the species, result in offspring -- we are so totally -- I'm trying to think of an adjective here...