No shit: money alleviates poverty

It’s understandable why we’ve generally accepted the rightwing line that “you can’t just throw money at the problem” of poverty. It seems far too simple: people do not have enough money, ergo give them money.

So we end up kind-of-agreeing with the idea that it’s all a big complicated systemic mess which needs to be handled in a number of different ways, which conveniently enough always end up funnelling money into the hands of private business (so they’ll “create jobs”) and making life even harder for the people who have the least (to ensure they’re “deserving”).

The thing is … money basically does fix the problem. Dr Jess Berentson-Shaw of the Morgan Foundation writes at the DomPost:

Boost the incomes of the poor with no conditions attached? Cups of tea will be spat onto the newspaper across New Zealand. However, when we brought together the highest quality evidence, the science was clear. Many will claim there is no silver bullet for fixing child poverty, but the evidence suggests they are not quite right. The best evidence we have tells us that boosting the incomes (without strings attached) for our poorest families will close about half of the gap in health, education, and employment between the haves and the have nots.

The research shows it. The Economist says it. And it does simply make sense, because we live in a capitalist society. In Simpsons quotes, this means:

simpsons money goods and services

Money, and having it, and utilising it to get the basic necessities of life, is basically the central pillar of human life in a capitalist society. (It shouldn’t be, but that’s a whole other post.) Poverty is the specific lack of money. And it’s not like there isn’t enough money to go around: it’s simply being funnelled into the hands of a few. I may sound a little leftwing here, but you know what the obvious conclusion is to me?

We fix poverty by redistributing the wealth of the nation more fairly.

italian spiderman

For the NZ left in 2015, however, there’s a few challenges to face. We’ve accepted a lot of rightwing framing about the deserving poor, the undeserving poor, and the supremacy of paid work as the be-all and end-all of human value. It’s not a simple matter of taking this research and saying “see? Money does fix the problem!” Because it’s been a very long time since Labour, at least, was the party of raising benefits and supporting the poorest New Zealanders unconditionally.

Berentson-Shaw also says:

Pushing parents into work simply shifts them from welfare poor to working poor; between 40 and 50 per cent of our kids in poverty have working parents. The only time in recent years New Zealand reduced child poverty was when we gave cash to some poor via Working for Families.

And Working for Families was explicitly denied to parents on benefits. It was a step in the right direction – but one only taken by reinforcing the idea that the children of beneficiaries can be used as leverage to force their parents into paid work. By accepting that beneficiaries must be forced into paid work. Even when its simply not available.

I’m looking forward to seeing the next two articles on poverty in the DomPost. New Zealanders already agree that inequality is a massive issue and needs to be addressed. Hopefully we can change the conversation from the mean-spirited rightwing frame and get the basic message out there: we are a nation of people who care for each other. We can ensure that every family has the basics of life, and a life with dignity. That means a great public education system, healthcare, state-provided housing, feeding the kids, and giving everyone enough to live on.


It may be that giving people money is “only” a short term fix for their situation. But I care about people, so here’s what it comes down to: right now, there are kids going hungry in our country. Paying their parents enough to put food on the table means those kids aren’t going hungry. If your preferred solution is “let those kids continue to go hungry while we address the Wider Issues” I am not going to be subscribing to your newsletter.

The best arguments for a living wage are its opponents

The fundamental difference between the left and the right is that the left think people are more important than money.

That statement usually raises the hackles of nice moderate rightwingers, but I’m sorry, guys: I can only go on what your side keep saying. Even though overseas even Tories like Boris Johnson have seen the benefits of a living wage, this is what mainstays of the Kiwi right wing keep putting out:

Wellington Chamber of Commerce is calling on the Wellington City Council to drop its flawed Living Wage proposal after its own legal advice said the changes would not be within the law…

“The Chamber has said from the start that the council’s pursuit of the Living Wage is an ideologically driven decision. The council has a duty to ratepayers to deliver services in a way that is most cost-effective for households and businesses. This is their clear legal obligation under the Local Government Act.

“Delivering services in the most cost-effective way” is one of those statements that sounds really reasonable and pragmatic and ~fiscally responsible~, until you realise that a perfectly logical end point of this is paying people minimum wage to do vitally important work and engineering society to deny them the power to organise and demand better work conditions. Until you realise that people deliver the services. Not robots.

How about this line from Wellington City Council chief executive Ken Lavery:

[The Council] flew in the face of warnings from its own officers and chief executive Kevin Lavery that it would effectively be paying 19 per cent more than the going rate for guarding, noise control and cash collection services over the seven-year life of the security contract without seeing any extra benefit.

People don’t have “a going rate”, Kevin. People need to eat, and pay the rent, and when they’re doing critical jobs like keeping our city running I’m entirely happy to take a miniscule rates increase to cover it.

The living wage doesn’t provide some extravagant “I want a pony” lifestyle. It’s as simple as this:

… councillors also heard from Wellington security guard Tipo Panapa, who said earning the minimum wage made him feel undervalued for the difficult work he does.

His dream was simply to earn enough money to take his paraplegic father to Lyall Bay for fish and chips on the beach once a week, he said.

The benefits are obvious and demonstrated. When people have enough to take their dad for fish and chips once a week, they’re happier. They’re more engaged with their work because they know their employer cares about them as people, not as “a going rate”. Less turnover, lower recruitment costs, more experienced people doing the work of guarding our city and cracking down on those damn noisy teens across the road. More money going into local businesses – like the fish and chip shop which I’m pretty sure would be delighted to get more regulars.

The arguments against the living wage, time and time again, boil down to “over the last thirty years we’ve worked damn hard to make sure people’s income hasn’t kept up with productivity or the cost of living, and that’s a feature, not a bug.”

And when that is the argument against, why wouldn’t you be in favour?

Anne Tolley says another unbelievably gross thing

At this point, dear readers, I’m starting to ask myself if Anne Tolley is either a masterful piece of anti-Tory performance art, or sacrificing her own humanity in order to make either Paula Bennett or Judith Collins look much more electable as leader human.

There was describing systemic sexual violence against children in state care as “some people were let down badly“, there was the retrospective legislation to deny people a day’s worth of benefit payments which they had been unlawfully denied for 18 years, and then she suggested pushing sterilisation on people who have kids while on a benefit.

Then there was this, in response to revelations that people going through cancer treatment are having to provide monthly medical certificates to Work and Income to justify why they’re not looking for a job:

Minister of Social Development Anne Tolley acknowledged that having to provide monthly medical certificates in the early stages of cancer was difficult, but said the government had to draw a line somewhere.

She said if cancer patients were given special consideration, other people would want those considerations as well.

Because God forbid that we have special consideration for people in incredibly difficult, painful, special circumstances.

Anne Tolley is a revelation of the real attitudes of this government. Literally everyone – even people with serious cancer who actually have jobs to return to when they’re able – is assumed to be a parasite on the system. The government, in her worldview, isn’t here for people. It doesn’t have a role supporting people in difficult times. Its only purpose is, by any means necessary, to squeeze the maximum possible economic value out of every meat widget person.

This is something our present government has been pretty good at hiding, largely thanks to its hyperfocus on a relaxed, bland, average-Joe-millionaire Prime Minister. I don’t know what it is, but 2015 just seems to be the year the whole facade comes tumbling down.

Midwives deserve equal pay

It’s another one of those less-easy-to-grasp pay equity cases: the College of Midwives has filed a discrimination suit on the basis that midwives aren’t paid as well as equivalently-skilled/trained/responsible workers in male-dominated industries.

The College of Midwives says the midwifery-led system in New Zealand has improved the outcomes for women and their babies to the extent that it is a world leader in maternity care and it has never been safer to be born.

Despite this however the LMC Midwife is paid the equivalent of someone considered unskilled, semi-skilled or junior staff. This is untenable and must be urgently addressed.

The thing is, unless you’ve had a baby yourself, you probably don’t know a huge amount about what they do or how they’re paid.

Thank god for living in the internet age: here’s a fantastic post on the subject from a Kiwi midwife:

Who do you compare the midwifery workforce to?  What group of  mainly men are specialized, medical care providers, with a responsibility for two lives, a 24/7 52 week a year responsibility for care provision, and the responsibility of two lives in every decision they make?  For that, I don’t have an answer.  But I am sure that as a group, we could come up with some ideas.  Leave a message in the comments if you have a job description that compares.  I am thinking maybe electricians?  Or something?

So.  i can’t resolve the “how do we decide who to compare to” question.  But I thought I would try and add a little light to the subject of “what do midwives actually get paid?”

Seriously read the whole thing before posting another snotty tweet about how ~unqualified~ midwives are.

I’m sad to see a bit of sneering and scoffing on this – from people on the left. I expect the “ew, be grateful for your scraps, peasants” attitude from the weirder parts of the right, but come on, people. We knew it was shady when Cameron Slater was trying to smear Ports of Auckland workers over their salaries. We know that capitalism seeks ways to devalue people’s labour in order to exploit them economically. We know that our healthcare system is stretched and our present government doesn’t value the long-term benefits of properly investing in skills and services.

This is part and parcel of the same project, to undermine women’s work, to paint midwifery as “just holding someone’s hand and telling her to breathe”, not “real qualified medicine”. This is one battle in the wider workers’ struggle. So get over the fact that 99% of the workers involved are women and back our midwives.

Our assumptions about work and workers

Yesterday I posted about sexist discrimination in the workplace, and noted:

So there’s the gendered, identity-politics side of the argument. But there’s a slightly broader set of assumptions in play, around work and workers, regardless of gender – and my thoughts on that got a liiiiittle bit long, so tune in tomorrow.

And here it is! Am I not a beneficent goddess?

We make a lot of assumptions about the nature of work, and our – really, employers’ – expectations of workers. You see the sharp end when people refuse to hire women because of course they’ll have kids and of course this will be a massive drain on the business.

But those memes are just the sexist subset of assumptions we make about work and workers. And those assumptions hurt us – workers, society, and business.

(I will note a lot of this post focuses on pretty middle-class notions of work – permanent/fulltime/office-based, and this does not nearly cover all types of work and workplaces.)

Workers are “an investment” as opposed to “people”

A common complaint from employers who want to be allowed not to hire women is that they’re the sexist pigs real victims here. It goes, “I put all that time and money into training someone, then they leave and I don’t get any benefit from it!” Or “it’s too hard to train someone else up when women go on maternity leave!” Or “why should I pay women equally if they’re not going to stick around?”

As I covered yesterday, this “logic” doesn’t fly. Men aren’t guaranteed to “stick around” either – welcome to the generations Y and Millennial, who don’t plan on stepping straight from school into a life-long career with one employer.

Plus, you’re paying people for the work they’re doing now, not the promise of future work – unless you own an American sports franchise and are in the habit of signing people to ten-year contracts.

Besides, what’s the problem with having multiple people who are skilled and equipped to do your work? Heck, if someone goes on parental leave and you train up someone new and awesome to do the job, you have more options, don’t you?

The parent doesn’t want their job back – you’re covered, and don’t need to panic about handover. They’re both so productive you expand the team – isn’t growth a good thing? Or they agree to job-share, and now you’ve got back-up if one takes sick leave – whether it’s for their children or not!

Maybe the new person goes off to another great job, upskills even further, and comes back some day to add even more value – because they remember how you gave them a chance.

Actually, workers are an investment. Treat them well, develop their skills, and long-term you’ll reap the rewards. The real problem is that a lot of employers are just bad at investing.

All jobs must be 40-hours-a-week and flexibility is too difficult

This isn’t just about women, and it’s not just about parents. I know plenty of childless dudes who are night owls. They’d love to do their eight hours from 5pm to 2am, or work Sunday to Thursday, or ten hours/four days a week. Or work 35 hours. Or 20 or 30 as a job-share.

They’d be happier, healthier, and way more productive. The financial benefits would be huge. The social benefits in terms of job creation, prosperity, health, community would be revolutionary – and happy, prosperous societies are good for business too.

But a lot of us in desk jobs are churning out 8 hours a day, Monday to Friday … if we’re lucky. When the boss is putting in 60+ hours, there’s pressure to stay longer. When you’re billing in 6-minute increments, taking a full lunch hour means wasting 50 billable units every week.

Then there’s management anxiety. How many managers say “I need you to be in the office when I’m in the office” or “I need you to look busy when the senior manager comes around”? Or freak out because you leave at 4:55 to get a quicker bus home?

The assumption is that workers are inherently lazy (that’s why we have to force people off the dole) and won’t do good work without someone standing over them. Or anything which isn’t “core work” (a great rightwing “bureaucracy busting” meme) is a waste of resources – god forbid you stop for a cup of tea and the Five Minute Quiz to refresh your mind and build relationships with your co-workers.

We’re all meant to be lean mean cogs in the machine, individuals competing against each other, so there’s the assumption that sharing jobs and knowledge is a bad thing. After all, if Jo and I share a client list, and I work Monday-Wednesday and Jo works Thursday-Saturday, Jo might steal all the credit and get a bigger bonus!

Or, not pitted against each other, we could both be relaxed and fulfilled, we could juggle days if one of us (or our kids!) got sick and our clients would get great service. I’m sure there’s money to be made in that somewhere …

Managing people is haaaaaaaaaard

This always gets me, as a unionist. The myth that it’s too difficult to manage people’s performance, which is why bosses like Peter Talley need the power of summary dismissal without appeal.

I’ve never been a people-manager. But I’ve had good ones, and terrible ones. The good ones did bizarre things like sit down, set goals, and check in regularly to see how I was going. The bad ones were “too busy” to have regular meetings which usually resulted in some workers (funnily enough, not the parents) doing poor jobs and others burning themselves out to get the work done without seeing much reward. Guess which teams had higher churn?

The quality of management in New Zealand workplaces is poor, and this affects productivity (which is the only thing that matters.) There could be many reasons for this. In my experience the worst managers were expected to do a lot of “front line” work, and were terribly managed themselves, always putting out fires with no time to actually manage.

Sometimes you wonder if self-preservation is at work. If some organisations stopped managing-by-crisis and took the time to develop the best ways to get results and how their resources should be deployed to support that, I suspect some bosses would find they were part of the problem, not the solution.

So instead of addressing the big issues, they jump to the quick and dirty solutions: firing people at will. Paying workers off in exchange for not taking annual leave or sick leave. Refusing to hire women.

And that’s how we get back to sexism, work and parenting. It’s so much easier to write off an entire gender group as “bad investments” than to really, fundamentally change how work works in New Zealand. It’s so much simpler to say “you have kids in daycare, you’ll take too many sick days” than negotiate flexible work hours or job-sharing.

I’ll end with a great irony: you know how daycares are “hotbeds of sickness”? Maybe it has something to do with the fact that we, as a society, do not support parents, of any gender, to be at home with their sick children. If you have to be at this meeting and your partner cannot miss another day this month and both your parents are still working and little Jimmy has the sniffles, little Jimmy goes to daycare. The other kids at daycare get sick. Their parents get sick.

And that’s just great for profit and productivity.