Gordon Campbell on the new bureaucratic tests facing solo parents

Offhand, its hard to think of a more cynical example of political opportunism than the requirement that solo parents will now need to re-apply for their benefits each year. This new rule is being enforced in the full knowledge that a significant number will be unable to meet the bureaucratic requirements of the process – thus enabling the government and Minister of Social Development Anne Tolley to claim success in bringing down the beneficiary numbers.

Essentially, that’s what has already happened after unemployed people were required to re-apply for the job seeker allowance.

Figures from the Ministry of Social Development show 11,693 job seeker benefits were cancelled in the year to March because people did not complete the annual reapplication process. Of these, 3489 had found work, others started studying, found a new partner, went overseas or died. However, 4916 just dropped out of the system because they did not do the paperwork.

Obviously, very few of those 4,916 dropped off the job seeker benefit had won Lotto. Mental health issues, literacy problems and related cost difficulties – transport etc – associated with the re-application process are the more likely explanations for why they didn’t do their paperwork, and thus vanished from the rolls. To go where? Chances are, onto the streets. According to Tolley, those 4,916 comprised “only” 4% of the total in receipt of the jobseeker benefit. Well, if the same figure recurs among the 69,240 of working age solo parents currently in receipt of the solo parent benefit that will mean 2,670 solo parents and their children will lose their means of support. That’s a significant saving for the government. It will be left to taxpayers in future, to pick up the social cost.

The vast majority of solo parents are women – 63,480 out of that 69,240 total. Despite the old stereotypes of promiscuous teen mothers, solo parents aged 18-24 comprise only 21.6 % of the working age people receiving this benefit.

Those aged 25-54 comprise a whopping 77% of those reliant on the solo parent benefit. In other words, the people who are being victimised by this latest round of beneficiary bashing are primarily the women who are picking up the pieces – and caring for the children – in the wake of marriage (and relationship) breakdowns. Very hard to see any sign of that much-touted ‘compassionate conservatism’ in this particular exercise.

Unfortunately, it is relatively easy – and politically safe – to target solo carers and their kids. By contrast, imagine the outcry if the government suddenly required pensioners to re-apply every year for their National Superannuation. (You know, just to ensure that they’re getting their correct entitlements.) Any political party that tried to impose such a demand would be voted out of office at the next opportunity. Women and children however, are disposable.

TPP and Human Rights

Now that the Obama administration has been given fast track authority on trade, those Democrats foolish enough to help Obama on that vote are getting a sharp foretaste of what FTA means. Under FTA, the US cannot enact trade deals with countries classified as “Tier 3” human rights violators by the US State Department. As a designated “Tier 3” country, Malaysia would fail that test, and thereby the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal itself would fail. Reportedly, 139 mass graves have been found along Malaysia’s border with Thailand – with many of the victims being migrant workers/and or Rohingya refugees fleeing persecution in Burma. Oh, and Malaysia has also just blocked a website critical of government corruption and the country also appears determined to re-introduce a National Harmony Bill that will allow detention without trial, ostensibly to reduce racial conflict.

All these reasons more than justify the State Department’s negative “Tier 3” rating of Malaysia. But can such trifling matters – 139 mass graves, human trafficking, state censorship, detention without trial – be allowed to jeopardise the TPP and its corporate goodies? Of course not. Instead of using the lure of the TPP to pressure the government of Malaysia to improve its human rights record, the US has done the exact opposite. Kerry and the State Department have just decided to upgrade Malaysia’s human rights status, to “tier 2”. It is rewarding Malaysia, in the absence of any sign of improvement in the country’s human rights record.

In vain, nineteen of the Democratic senators who voted for FTA have sent a ‘please explain’ letter to Secretary of State John Kerry to explain his decision. Here’s how the Senators fussed and fumed in their letter to Kerry :

“Fighting human trafficking is one of the great moral challenges of our time,” the senators wrote. “It is therefore with grave concern that we now hear Malaysia may be upgraded in this year’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report based on developments that occurred after the end of the review period. A premature upgrade of Malaysia would undermine the integrity of the TIP report process and compromise our international efforts to fight human trafficking.”

Golly gosh, so it would. But as Techdirt’s Mike Masnick says, that’s not a majorly pressing concern for the US just right now:

But, really, to this administration is the integrity of a program on things like human trafficking really that important when compared to getting the TPP agreement and its bundle of gifts to corporations moving forward again? In the grand political calculus, migrant workers in Malaysia get screwed over again.

Yep, the TPP sure is a quality 21st century trade deal.

US and Cuba Bury The Hatchet

Amid all of this terrible stuff, there has been at least one good news story in the last few weeks. Namely, the restoration of trade and diplomatic links between Cuba and the US. Finally, the Cuban economy might get a chance to breathe again, after being strangled for 50 years by the US trade embargo. In years past, the US routinely used to cite Cuba as evidence see, that socialism doesn’t work. Well, given a trade embargo, any small country practicing even naked capitalism would have had a hard job in, you know…trading. Under such conditions, Cuba’s mere survival has been a triumph.

To celebrate, here are a couple of tracks by the great 1960s Cuban group Los Zafiros. First, here’s their signature hit “Bossa Cubana”

and also their haunting “He Venido” track – a song that later came to be featured in Breaking Bad, season three….

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