Who’s to blame for National

After the huge number of advance votes placed in the lead-up to election day, the overall turnout was shockingly low. It’s easy to imagine that this would follow pre-existing trends in favouring the right. National actually got fewer votes than they did last election, despite winning more seats, but the Greens drastically underperformed even in comparison to the landline polls.

People’s response is naturally to blame non-voters. It’s understandable, but incredibly simplistic and I ended up having to quit Twitter yesterday because of how prevalent it was. The thing is, it’s easy for actively political people to see the link between voting and quality of life. It’s much harder when you’re alienated from politics entirely and just trying to make ends meet. The consequences of not voting are entirely abstract, while the consequences of paying for bus fare or using petrol aren’t. Other things that aren’t abstract: trying to find childcare, the risk of illness if you take small children out in that miserable cold rain we had, the cost of a doctor’s visit if they do get sick, the fact that none of you have raincoats, the length of time it takes to dry clothes out when you don’t have a dryer. And while the Greens particularly had some good policy for those really low income families, knowing that is not necessarily widespread. Most people still think of Labour as the real left wing party – and Labour hasn’t exactly been endearing itself to the vulnerable and needy.

That’s not to say that all non-voters are in this situation. Some of them presumably just couldn’t be bothered, or were put off by Dirty Politics, or whatever. But blaming all non-voters for National’s win feels really fucking gross when a huge number of them are struggling to survive and being failed by the rest of society. We (as a group) can’t treat people like shit and then get pissed off at them when they don’t engage in society in the way we’d wish. That’s bullshit. Blame Slater and Collins and Key. Blame the media. Blame Labour. Blame whoever you want, just don’t blame our victims.

Age is a number

The polls have closed in Scotland and the count has started. Aside from the excitement of a nation voting on whether or not to become independent (peacefully!), there are a few other quirks about the referendum that have drawn notice. One is that 16 year olds were eligible to vote.

Some people think this is a bad idea. Some think it’s “insane”, even. Typically the argument is that the brain of a 16 year old isn’t fully developed enough to understand the consequences of their actions.

I am extremely uncomfortable with that argument for several reasons. Firstly, the fact that that’s exactly the same argument that was used to deny women and various ethnic groups suffrage in the past (and in a couple of places even today). This will be rebutted with the assumption that our knowledge of the brain is better now, but during those previous debates they assumed their knowledge of the brain was correct too. The fact is, we know very little about the brain. They’ve just found a woman in China who’s 24 years old and has no cerebellum, the part of the brain responsible for fine motor control, balance, motor learning and speech. Normally when this happens, the person dies quite young. In her case she had the symptoms of a minor to moderate impairment – difficulty walking, slurred speech, late development of both (speaking at 6, walking at 7). Why? Science doesn’t fucking know. The assumption is that other parts of the brain took up the slack. The brain is the least understood part of the human body.

Basing civil rights on mental abilities is really gross. It’s lead to intelligence tests that were rigged for failure. It’s lead to people with any sort of mental impairment being barred from voting (and the history of insanity is pretty fascinating for how mental impairment has been assessed over the years). There are plenty of adults who don’t grasp consequences very well who are nonetheless strongly encouraged to vote. You can vote with a concussion if you want. You can vote no matter what your educational level. There’s no obligation to even read up on the candidates or parties, you can go in there drunk with absolutely zero clues about any of it, pick two options at random, and it’s still a legitimate vote. The fact that we have a tradition of satirical political parties should be some indication that this is not some holy rite that only the most worthy should be blessed enough to take part in.

Meanwhile we let 16 year olds make all sorts of decisions that affect their future in dramatic ways. Pick school subjects, drop out, have children, leave home (in certain circumstances), drive. Car crashes are a major killer, particularly affecting Maori youth, especially rurally.

If 16 year olds are allowed to participate in adult society, and be quite strongly affected by decisions made there (eg youth wages, employment law, tertiary policy, apprenticeship schemes), I think it’s a little outlandish to consider the idea of allowing them to vote to be “insane”. 16 year olds are fairly likely to be taking or have taken civics classes fairly recently, and still have that information fresh in their minds. They are a lot more intelligent than people give them credit for. Not all of them will want to vote, and when you look at the places where they’re allowed to you’ll usually find that at 16 you’re able, but at 18 it becomes compulsory (either to just enrol or also vote), or 16 year olds are only able to vote in particular kinds of election but not all of them. But 16 year olds are right on the cusp of entering the adult world and the decisions people make here tomorrow will affect them strongly. Very strongly, considering some of the areas that have been policy focuses lately. Someone who’s in Year 13 this year and hasn’t turned 18 yet won’t have a chance to vote until they’ve already been in the workforce or higher education (ideally), raising a small child (also pretty hard work), or stuck on a benefit (increasingly more realistically) for two and a half years. That would have been me if you shifted my birth year – I didn’t turn 18 until just after I started university. And yet they have no say whatsoever on who gets to define the terms of their participation for those nearly three years. Looking at it through a civil rights framework, I just don’t think that’s fair. I want to encourage young people to take an interest in politics early. Maybe if we can catch these 16 year olds, it will be one of the factors we need to improve youth engagement. That can’t be a bad thing.

Wrestling with the narrative

Sarah is on holiday in Melbourne, and suddenly the news cycle is being spammed with a press release from Paula Bennett about the thousands upon thousands of beneficiaries traveling overseas. Typically for a Bennett press release, there’s no real breakdown of the numbers. It’s just “these people are going overseas!” We’re apparently supposed to assume they’re all doing something dodgy, especially with the quotes about WINZ checking with Customs to catch people out, but there’s absolutely no evidence given for this whatsoever.

Personally I’m pretty sure that at least 95% of these people fall into (at least) one of the following categories:
- family or friends paid for a vacation for whatever reason
- it was already booked and paid for before they went on a benefit
- they’re traveling for an emergency or very special occasion
- they’re relocating to cut costs/look for work in a better market

I strongly doubt there are many beneficiaries who are paying for their own holidays out of their benefits.

HOWEVER. Even if they were, who cares? Remember, beneficiaries are not just people who don’t have a job but could be working. Not even the Jobseekers Allowance is only people on unemployment because they merged it with the sickness benefit. Some beneficiaries are on welfare their entire lives because they can’t work. But they get lumped in to this punitive authoritarian culture we have where they’re not allowed anything nice, ever, and they’re always assumed to be trying to get one over on the government. But to be honest, if a beneficiary is able to budget carefully enough to save up for a holiday, they fucking deserve it. That goes for all of them, sick/disabled or not. Because living on a benefit is fucking hard. The kind of constant stress it creates is dangerous and bad for you and having to spend all your energy on the basic necessities of living means it’s incredibly difficult to work to improve your situation. Getting away for a week or whatever and having some time to relax and clear your head is probably actually pretty damn helpful.

I feel like a lot of this really is down to jealousy. I see so many people who should know better saying that they work and they can’t afford whatever the big scandal is this time, and actually that’s kind of bullshit. They choose not to prioritise it. It’s not the same thing. And in this situation when the kerfuffle is over overseas travel, the assumption is that it’s something that’s 100% desirable when there are so many reasons where that would not be the case. Like going to a funeral, or to help with a sick relative. Or even something that seems good, like a wedding, but even if everything is paid for going overseas means getting your benefit cut but you still have to pay your bills, so that’s going to lead to some pretty fucking stressful times. If you would like to swap that with your comfortable secure income, seriously, get in touch, because I would fucking LOVE to. A full-time job at minimum wage is nearly $500 a week, let alone people who are earning enough to have a mortgage, and if it comes with no one obsessing over what I spend my money on and not having to get permission for the stupidest things, BRING IT ON. Unfortunately no one is ever going to take me up on this because despite the trappings of jealousy and resentment everyone knows on some level that being a beneficiary sucks.

Apparently some people think this is a good thing.
Edit: There’s a response article up on the Herald today that includes this quote:

“It proves nearly 10 per cent who have been job tested can afford to go overseas. I think a lot of the time someone else has paid, but it’s still what many New Zealanders would consider a luxury.” (emphasis mine)

Again, remember that the JSA includes sickness beneficiaries.

Surprise email!

I opened my email this evening and noticed a couple of things marked as spam. The first one was the really fucking annoying “Pfeizer” (I assume not actually Pfeizer) people who keep trying to sell me discount viagra, I get several of these a week at the moment. The other one had the subject line “Response to your email” and I decided to check it before deleting it, which was good because it was in fact a response to my email. From Paula Bennett! (one of her staff sends it with a pdf attachment, hence not recognising the name.) “What the fuck? When did I last email Paula Bennett?” I wondered.

Apparently, February 13th. I’d emailed her to ask for a couple of example budgets for people living on benefits. Apparently when I said “example budgets” she read “please tell me what people can get in benefit money”, because she did not in fact give me any example budgets, she just told me what different people can get in benefit money. Fuck, I could figure that out myself in an afternoon, but whatever. She did say that “In both the case of couples and individuals, the amount of benefit paid out is intended to be sufficient to meet basic living costs. If this is not enough for the particular individual, couple or family, additional financial assistance is available, such as the Accommodation Supplement to assist with rent, board or home-ownership costs, Disability Allowance to assist with costs arising from a disability and Temporary Additional Support to assist with other essential costs that cannot be met from income.” Just bear that in mind – AS, DA and TAS are specifically mentioned as additional financial assistance, that can be applied for if other income isn’t enough.

Here’s the three examples:

A single parent with a 5 year old and a 14 year old living in Manurewa paying at least $340 in rent:
Sole Parent Support: $295.37
Family Tax Credit: $157.17
Accommodation Supplement: $165
Temporary Additional Support: $14.86
TOTAL: $632.40

A single parent with a 5 year old and a 14 year old living in Manurewa paying at least $340 in rent who has a full-time minimum wage job (ie 40 hours at $13.75):
Net wages: $463.25
Family Tax Credit: $157
In-work Tax Credit: $60
Accommodation Supplement: $153
TOTAL: $833.25

A single person aged 25 years living in Manurewa with rent of at least $150:
Jobseeker Support: $206.21
Accommodation Supplement: $69.21
TOTAL: $275.21

Already you can see that in the first example the total figure of $632.40 relies not only on the accommodation supplement but also temporary additional support. They do not generally advertising temporary additional support as something you’re meant to rely on as part of your income. It’s supposed to be the “you’re a complete failure” (there’s actually an aura of shame that clings to the very application form I think) money if you need to, like, pay off a loan or something, you know, temporary.

Not being a parent I asked on Twitter if it was actually feasible to raise two kids on that if you’re paying $340-$400 (more on that in a moment) in rent, and was told yes, just barely. It would basically be the same way I’m living, by budgeting very, very carefully. The working parent gets $200 extra, but is it just me or did anyone else have the impression that full-time minimum wage was kind of more than $463?? Obviously that’s after tax, but still, that’s really not much money.

Anyway, after looking at those of course my next stop was the TradeMe rental section. After ascertaining that Manurewa was in fact in [South] Auckland, I looked up rents there. There are a few two bedroom places listed for around $340 – $380, one or two for even less than that. In total there are 11 listed. Three bedroom places I think the cheapest I saw was about $360, and I saw a couple up around $470. Most of them were in the upper $300s, so if the 5 and 14 year old are different sexes and want/need separate rooms, that’s going to be a lot harder.

As for a single person with $150 to pay in rent, you can do it. You need to split a place, of course, but I’ve just listed the prices for 3 bedrooms and if you go up to 5 or 6 you could get away with paying around $100 each in some of them. 1 bedroom you’re looking at nearly $300, 2 bedrooms again I just listed – between $150-$200 split.

I guess it was sort of an informative reply, if completely not what I asked for.

What is fucking happening

So I went to log into my WINZ account to see if I had an example letter for Sarah to look at and apparently they’ve updated their log in system again. The new steps I have to take follow:

1. Load the main page.
2. Click “my account”.
3. Click “my account” again.
4. Enter my log in name and password (one-factor authentication).
5. Verify my mobile number is correct.
6. Enter a temporary passcode that they text to my mobile (two-factor authentication).
7. Enter my client number and one-time password (three-factor authentication… maybe four? I don’t know if this counts as one or two extra factors).

From what I can TELL I only need to do step 7 this time because I “haven’t logged in before [under this system]” but that still means I have to do it. To get a one-time password, I have to call their 0800 number or visit a service centre with identification. If I call the 0800 number, I can get it automatically if my voice is registered, otherwise I have to identify myself (probably give my client number, date of birth and address), tell them my mobile number and email, and tell them the number on my current ID – community services card if I have one, driver’s license or 18+ card otherwise.

Seriously, for fuck’s sake. There is less security than this on my online banking. Even if you ignore the steps to GET your one-time password, you need a total of two log ins and three passwords, two of which are disposable ones.

Considering that for several months you could “hack” WINZ by using the File -> Open command on their public computers, I’m sure they worry about security, but this is really just a little bit over the top.

Such overwhelm

Usually it helps me to write. At the moment it’s hard, because to write about situations and choices I have to think about them on some level and I don’t really want to. This is about the third day I’ve been lying in bed knowing time is slipping away from me. Even if I change nothing, I have to stay on top of my schoolwork, and with three assignments due in the next two and a half weeks I fall behind every day. I’ve done some on the easiest – just today I wrote three definitions of social research terminology! I don’t think that’s exactly the level of commitment they have in mind for the course.

If I drop classes to lighten the load it takes that much longer to finish. The semesters stretch out ahead of me for years. Plus, I’d have to arrange limited full-time status to keep the student allowance that is the pittance paying my bills.

If there was a single position, a person, who could do all the contacting and negotiating and advocating, who could deal with mental health teams and WINZ and HNZ and Massey, instead of having so many different agencies either funding themselves or contracted to the government to cover niche areas in a jigsaw pattern with thousands of pieces, I would still find it nearly impossible to connect with them. That’s how people fall through the cracks. I have to be well enough to get help in the first place. Well, I tried that. All I got was a complete lack of fucks. Now I just wish there was a way to regroup and rest without having to rely on support as fickle as the government’s, because they can never be trusted not to withdraw it when you’re at your most vulnerable. If that sounds bitter I guess it is. No one wants to live like this. But there is no market solution to supporting people who can’t work. Even $250/wk adds up fast and there’s no way for a third party to get a return on that investment, unless perhaps you bring back indentured servitude and see if the temporarily ill outweigh the permanently disabled. Surely we can rely on the goodwill of the corporates to make sure they don’t cut off the low hanging fruit.