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- Added July 19th, 2013
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The Lies We Tell Ourselves
By Laura Black in All Sorts
tackling poverty-sometimes itís easier to believe the myths than confront the reality.The Lies We Tell Ourselves
A recent report from the UK (see below for link) sets out to tackle our comfortable myths about poverty; the "lies we tell ourselves". It has been put out by four Churches: the Baptist Union, the Methodist Church, the Church of Scotland and the United Reformed Church, and is quite confronting.
Most challenging of all is the suggestion that the reason these myths are so popular is that they keep the rest of us from having to take any responsibility for the struggles faced by those on low incomes.
With the New Zealand government's latest welfare reforms predicted to cut over 6,000 people off benefit (not because they have a job, but because they will "fail" the new requirements), it is perhaps time that we also front up to these comforting lies.
Myth 1: They are lazy and don't want to work. The greatest proportion of children in poverty in the UK is from working households. In New Zealand, the government plans to spend $2.545bn on Working for Families this year, about two-thirds of what it will spend on benefits to non-working families. This suggests that in New Zealand, too, the greatest number of children in poverty have a hard-working parent.
Myth 2: They are addicted to drink and drugs. In the UK fewer than 4% of beneficiaries report any kind of addiction. In New Zealand the government is budgeting for a similar number of people to have their welfare cut for failing a drug test: and that's allowing for the odd bit of pot staying in someone's system for upwards of 30 days.
"The longer I live, the larger allowances I make for human infirmities. I
exact more from myself, and less from others. Go thou and do likewise!"
Myth 3: They are not really poor - they just don't manage their money properly. But statistics show that the poorest spend their money very carefully. Not surprising when the minimum wage, after tax, for an adult working full-time is less than the cost of renting a house in Auckland.
Myth 4: They are on the fiddle. In New Zealand the Ministry of Social Development's own fraud unit found less than 1% of beneficiaries were fiddling the system. It's only when overpayments (made by the Ministry, in error) are counted that the figure climbs.
Myth 5: They have an easy life. We constantly hear that being on a benefit has become a lifestyle choice. If that's the case, why were there only 35,000 people on the dole before the 2008 financial crash? Was it just a coincidence that living on half the median wage became popular just as the worldwide economy tanked? No, that can't be right ...
The new "welfare reforms" launched this month aim to attack drug taking by those on benefits (but not working for families), unanswered arrest warrants for those on benefits (but not working for families) most of which will be for traffic fines, and lack of early childhood care for the children of those on benefits (but not working for families) at a time when uptake of early childhood education is above 93% nationwide.
It is hard to see how these moves will make a positive difference in the lives of those who are not working; certainly none of these reforms create any jobs, the only thing that can comprehensively answer high rates of unemployment.
But at least it is now clear how it is that New Zealanders might support such moves: sometimes it's easier to believe the myths than confront the reality.
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