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  • Added September 18th, 2010
  • Filed under 'Articles'
  • Viewed 1372 times

So-called welfare dependency.

By Laura Black in Articles

What happened to loving our neighbour?


In these early days of recovery in Christchurch, the commitment and attention of government and by the citizens to each other is heartening. Cantabrians are in great upheaval, with a looming accommodation crisis, the refiguring of many of their common spaces, economic uncertainty as businesses decide whether to reopen; and the stress, anxiety, and grief that so often comes with sudden change.

It is therefore appropriate that the nation show solidarity and offer whatever assistance can be provided, much of which may be needed over several years.

Despite this timeline, no-one is suggesting that Cantabrians are at fault, or have inadvertently contributed to their current misfortunes, nor will it be suggested in 6 months time that the victims of the earthquake need to have their "dependency" on aid fixed with tough love.

Yet this is precisely the stance of the Government's Welfare Working Group as it considers the "welfare dependency" of the victims of 5 successive economic earthquakes (the two oil shocks in 1973 and 79, the 1984 economic liberalisation, the 1991 "Mother of All Budgets", and the 2008 credit crunch), of the unceasing tremors of a low-waged economy (a natural result of the quest for low inflation as predicted by the Phillips Curve in 1958).

How is it that the myth of "dependency" with its assumptions of fecklessness, laziness, corruption, and belief that benefit levels are if not luxurious then at least sufficient, has taken hold in this way? For it is easy to disprove all those assumptions ... most beneficiaries loathe their reliance on benefits, would love to be able to work, are conscious that their income comes from the taxpayer, and struggle on an income that is half the poverty line.

How is it that we can look at our neighbours with less than love, less than respect, even scorn? What happened to loving our neighbour as we love ourselves? Well, I have a radical suggestion: I think we are loving our neighbours as ourselves, just not loving ourselves particularly much.

The clue lies in that Phillips Curve. For over 60 years, the inverse relationship between inflation and unemployment has been well known: higher inflation is generally matched by lower unemployment; lower inflation is matched with higher unemployment.

Managing inflation keeps consumer goods and services affordable. Managing unemployment ensures people can support themselves. (Notice that one mentions "people", the other focuses on "things".) Since the 1989 Reserve Bank Act, successive New Zealand governments have focussed all monetary policy on inflation.

We have not sought balance; we have absolutely chosen things over people and in doing so have bought into the psychologically and spiritually damaging effects of defining ourselves by what we buy: people struggle to form a relationship with their own self, spirituality, or empathy when things are all that matter. It is not surprising that people also struggle to form a relationship with others with things in the way.

Self knowledge, spirituality, and empathy arise from reflection, honesty and courage: none of which can be bought, but all of which are nourished by meaningful activity, joining with others toward a common purpose, the interpersonal ebb and flow, and the consequential learning, of employment (in its broadest sense of "to make use of, to apply, to occupy or devote").

The Good Samaritan did not rush on late for the opening of a sale. He stayed and employed what he had to the benefit of the wounded stranger. It is what New Zealand must return to, not just for Cantabrians, but for all who have suffered upheaval beyond their control.

By Laura Black, Director, Methodist Mission Dunedin.

First printed as a Connections article in the Parish Weekly Bulletin, 19th September, 2010.