The strange case of Paula Bennett

By Sue Bradford of AAAP

10 April 2013 for The Daily Blog

Paula Bennett is becoming more and more blatant in her persona as the face of National’s war on the poor.
In this morning’s Herald she says, “… I think living on the full DPB is hard. I don’t know how you can live on 50%.”

Yet Paula Bennett’s welfare reforms are the very vehicle by which more and more people are being sanctioned.

Sanctions can mean having your benefit cut by 50%, losing it altogether – or never being granted assistance in the first place.

The government’s own figures show that over the last six months an average 4,654 beneficiaries a month have had at least half their benefit taken from them, or had it cut completely.

Last month, in March 2013, 5,600 people were officially sanctioned.

The latest welfare reform legislation which passed through Parliament last night on a vote of 61-59 – the Social Security (Benefit Categories and Work Focus) Amendment Act – is only going to make things a whole lot worse.

In the past National has boasted about not replicating its infamous ’91 benefit cuts.
Yet what they’re doing at the moment is just as bad as what they did back then, and a lot more insidious.

I am really fearful of what is to come.

In a time of high unemployment, these changes are simply going to force more and more of the already disadvantaged into competing for what low wage, insecure jobs do exist.

Many more sole parents, disabled, sick and injured people are going to be work tested – and drug tested with sanctionable consequences – as a result of Bennetts’ reforms.

Women who dare to have babies while on welfare face work testing from the time their child is one year old.

And as we can see, the numbers of people being sanctioned is already increasing exponentially.

Benefit rates are wildly variable depending on circumstances and whether your local Work & Income officer grants you your full entitlement, but just to give you some idea of what we’re talking about here, the current net DPB rate is $295.37 a week (half = $147.68); the unemployment benefit rate for a single person aged 22 is $171.84pw (half = $85.92).

The results of all this will be tragic and costly.

More and more people will live in various forms of homelessness – in boarding house rooms, garages, sheds, tents, cars and already overcrowded houses – or outside, in bus shelters, doorways, beaches and parks.

More and more will not have enough to eat each week, much less have adequate heating this winter.
All the reports on child poverty in the world are useless in the face of a Government which deliberately inflicts deepening poverty on people every day of the week.

Paula Bennett displays an amazing honesty when she says she doesn’t know how people can raise a family on half the DPB and that she has ‘concerns’.

Yet she is the Minister responsible for taking the axe to our welfare system, and to peoples’ lives.
I continue to struggle with what kind of disconnection is happening in her mind.

National loves her. She’s doing a much better job than Jenny Shipley ever did at fronting harsh welfare changes.

Much better to have a Maori woman, a former solo mum, taking the lead, than a former school teacher from the white South Island heartlands.

And Bennett knows what she’s doing.

She knows it even more than someone like Shipley, which makes her leadership role in this even worse.
Paula Bennett’s seeming naivety and smiling, bubbly front mask a long, deep commitment to National’s ideology – a belief in helping the already-rich get richer while the poor are forced into ever deeper poverty, no matter the downstream social and economic costs.

I’m no psychologist, but I’m sure there’s a name for the psychopathy she so evidently displays – a complete disconnect between ‘caring for people’ and the ideological principles which drive her political career.

Shame on her – and shame on every single person who voted for her and for National at the last election.

We are all reaping what you have sown.