I went to a meeting with the Welfare Taskforce Group who are reporting to Government on the welfare system and changes required. I suspect that the group is wanting to persuade a persuadable government that the welfare system should be revalued; away from the current kaupapa of forcing beneficiaries to find work through a series of punitive measures, to a system whose primary aim is to alleviate poverty.

Welfare systems as currently structured activate the Victorian syndrome of deserving and undeserving poor. The deserving poor are people who have been hurt by fate or bad luck and need help to get on their feet again and back to independence. The undeserving poor are those who take advantage of systems set up to help the deserving poor in order to become work shy malingerers who sit around drinking and smoking and using their children as pawns with which to play the system. This becomes intergenerational, one DPB mother breeding another. In the 19th century such people were put into workhouses and endured daily toil for their soup and bread. Now they are forced to attend numerous workshops, to  fill out endless job applications and cold call and given stand downs if they don’t measure up.

When universal benefits are in place, these judgements disappear. No one is calling pensioners deserving or undeserving. Similarly no one is judging working for families nor the various forms of corporate welfare.

At the meeting, after talk of revaluing the system away from punishment, a local hairdresser spoke of the hard graft involved in establishing and then maintaining a small business, especially once you begin employing staff. The small business owner can look enviously at the paid holidays of her staff, the sick leave entitlement, the maternity cover, which she is often denied because she’s working to fill these absences. The small business person can obviously view with bitterness and resentment talk of living wage and unions and collective agreements, all of which are increasing the wage bill. Certainly the ‘undeserving poor’ make a bad impression. And these bitter and resentful small business people make up half the economy.

I suspect their point of view is reasonable from their subjective point of view. Currently they will be seeing a cabinet made up of teachers, unionists, nurses, social workers and professional politicians rather than people like themselves, who, as we are seeing, will make liberal tinkering difficult.

The system is constantly persuading people to enter the small business sector, despite the knowledge of the failure rate, the stress and the bitterness. And the resulting body of opinion stops the progressive movement from overturning the system with sensible propositions like the Universal Basic Income. The irony is that a UBI would make the small business venture much less stressful. These same people who would benefit from such structural change will be its harshest enemy and they will continue to be dubious and lack confidence in a ‘kind’ welfare system and a ‘kind’ government; for they have been created to form the hard heart of capitalism. Meanwhile the rentiers and the money men continue to get away with murder.

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