Is kindness a solution?

Kindness

I’ve recently had some robust family discussion about our welfare system, and some interesting suggestions were put forward.  We are all hardworking taxpayers who are not happy with spraying money at people that are not prepared to help themselves.  I tabled my objections to the ‘kindness’ narrative that Ms Ardern is peddling as a priority for her government, and asked how kindness could possibly be a solution to those rorting our welfare system.  I had envisioned a ‘kindness’ solution as being nothing more than wading in with wads of cash to bail people out of financial hardship.

Others were in support of kindness, but their definition was somewhat different.

Kindness means wrapping people in support.  Grit your teeth, bear with me, it’s worth sticking with the idea to see if there’s merit.  It doesn’t mean throwing buckets more money at them as beneficiaries to further increase their dependency on the state.

We’ll use Ms Benefit as an example. She is a solo mum with three kids (you can make your own assumptions about what letter of the alphabet Ms Benefit identifies with).  She’s behind with her rent.  She pops along to the MSD office with a letter from the landlord, which says her rent is in arears and she owes $2000.  MSD pays the rent arrears.  Prior to the kindness government coming to power, she would have had to pay back a pittance per week for the next hundred years.  Under this Labour government, this requirement has been modified, presumably, under the guise of kindness, to now say you may have to pay it back.  There is a desire to keep people tenanted, so stumping up with the arrears is seen as an easy solution, but it’s not really easy and Ms Benefit carries on with her badly budgeted ways.

Here’s the kindness solution:

Ms Benefit goes to MSD with the letter from her landlord stating she is 5 weeks behind in her rent and owes $2000.  This raises a red flag and the kindness plan is invoked.  Ms Benefit will now be wrapped in support.  Her benefit will no longer be paid directly into her bank account.  She will be assigned a budget advisor who will initially take over management of money.  The budget advisor will pay the rent and utility bills.  A food allowance will be loaded on a pre-paid card to buy food from a supermarket.  It will be limited to purchases at a supermarket, and there will be an onus on supermarket staff to disallow cigarettes and alcohol from being included in the purchase.  Likewise, a clothing allowance will be allocated, only to be spent at approved clothing stores.  If she owes money, the debt will be consolidated into a low-interest scheme with repayments made directly from her benefit.

An assessment will be made of Ms Benefit’s assets.  If she has a Samsung Galaxy 9 or an iPhone 10, that will be downgraded to a basic but functional model.  “But but but I am on a two year plan” will not wash; there will be an agreement with the telco’s to release them from the agreement and exchange the phone for a lower spec but adequately functioning device.

If Ms Benefit is a smoker, she will need to quit smoking, but will be offered free access to quitting programs, likewise alcohol and drug support.  She won’t be able to buy smokes, drugs or booze because she has no access to money.

A skills assessment will be made, with a view to getting Ms Benefit into work, with the number of hours to be guided by the age of her children.

Ms benefit will be assigned a food consultant, who will work out a meal plan, provide simple inexpensive but nutritious recipes and teach her to cook.  Ms Benefit can barely boil an egg, and doesn’t plan ahead for meals.  No more takeaways for her and the kids, and she can’t cheat with a sneaky trip to Maccas because she has no access to money.  It’s a win-win; she spends less and eats more healthy food.

Kiddie Control will be dispatched to check on the welfare of the children.  Do they brush their teeth twice a day, are they doing their homework, are they up to date with vaccines, how are their social skills and are there any behavioural problems.  If there are any issues that raise a red flag, a social worker will be assigned to offer advice and make regular checks that the children are doing okay.

A plan will be agreed for moving Ms Benefit from full immersion social support to self sufficiency.  Control of her benefit will gradually be passed back to her, with regular follow-ups to make sure that she is coping.  There will be no tolerance; if you slip up you lose the privileges you’ve been given and will go back to the full immersion.

Yes, it will be expensive, but if we put the time and money in at this point, it saves money later down the track.  The children will be better educated and less likely to fall into the path of crime, and there will be better social outcomes, not just for Ms Benefit, but also for Mr Teacher, Ms Doctor and Mr Electrician.  At the moment, we are throwing money at this problem, with no view of how we will ever improve it.  Maybe kindness is a solution.


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