Social Welfare, Explained

There’s been a lot of talk lately about social welfare. Now, speaking as someone who has seen better times and nowadays mostly operates by being really annoying and humiliating to deal with, I have some fellow feeling with the current system, so I’ll take this chance to set a few things straight.

New Zealand’s particular welfare system famously promised ‘cradle to grave’ coverage. I should say, that doesn’t mean if the grave gets closer to the cradle you’ve made the business more efficient. An understandable and it seems common mistake, and one hopefully laid to rest now.

As to how it works these days, some of you might be visual learners so what I’ve done, in this pit in front of me, what I’ve done is I’ve had Nigel from Work and Income set up a sort of interactive metaphor.

So how does this work, then, Nigel? Oh I see, I’m about to get shoved into the pit. I’d tell you not to try this at home but looking at the drop I can’t think anyone would deliberately…

Well here we are, inside a pit. That was unexpected and fair to say I didn’t dress for the dark and cold. But there is this safety net.

If you’re familiar with circus history you’ll know the idea of a safety net is instead of definitely dying you end up with serious abrasions from the rope and a high chance of breaking your arms or still maybe getting killed.

How high you place your safety net depends on what you’re try to protect people from. For example: from dying, or from dying before they can get a job, or from not having enough resources to live and participate in society. The first two, technically speaking, involve a certain amount of wastage of human capital. Being alive is more expensive than you’d think and it turns out it’s easier to find useful work if you’ve got enough resources to live and participate in society. Also, if you give poor people more money they spend it on stuff they need. I know. The faculty were a bit rocked by that discovery.

For a safety net with the highest net safety, a height of just around the level people are falling from would be ideal. Something more in the nature of a social welfare bouncy castle. Those of you familiar with public policy will spot the problem with that one: poor people are not allowed to have fun.

So what we actually have is a safety net that’s been sliding down the slippery slope at the bottom of the cliff.

Now. As you can see, over there, at the other end of the pit, is my breakfast. And in between here – where I am – and breakfast – over these – is a series of hoops, through which I have to jump in order to prove I, not having had my breakfast, am eligible for breakfast.

It’s important we do that on account of bludgers. You see, bludging is when someone prefers inadequate state support to having a job and being paid. This is obviously a real thing which is also significant enough to base your entire policy on. The fact the supply of bludgers seems to dry up when there are lots of jobs about is just one of the mysterious natural mysteries like how bees fly or why a benevolent God allows “ironic” fascism.

Hence all these hoops. Fair enough. Could be tricky for me just now because I haven’t had breakfast yet. I can see where someone with less acrobatic training than myself might have real problems.

Now another thing you might have noticed about the… hup… about the safety net is, looks as if somebody’s… hup… been cutting holes in this one with the idea of letting people they didn’t like… aaand HYupppah… fall through.

Very well handled, ten points to Hufflepuff. I did lose my boots in the mud there on the second hurdle but I can’t very well get new ones at this point, so on we go.

Let’s see then. Looks like I still have to walk this tightrope. I’m beginning to think they don’t want me to have breakfast at all.

So the tightrope is to do with reciprocal reasonable responsibilities.The idea is, having proved I don’t have breakfast, I now have to do some extra stuff to prove I deserve it. Let’s unpeel this idea. Like an egg. I really want breakfast now.

You might know the Victorian idea of the ‘deserving poor’. This wasn’t a belief that poor people deserve to be poor, although we still think that, too. This was the innovative thought some poor people didn’t deserve to be poor. Prior to that single-parent families, for example, traditionally live in shoes.

The deservingness lark is embraced to this day and explains the holes in the net we spotted earlier. It’s especially popular among people who are otherwise all about keeping the government out of people’s lives and people knowing how to spend their own money. The way those people suddenly get dead keen on controlling every aspect of someone’s existence once they get their claws in is one of nature’s mysterious natural mysteries, like why the trout get so big in seasons when there’s a lot of rats about.

By the way, this bit’s easier if you make a point of acting properly grateful. Walking a tightrope while tugging your forelock is a bit of a knack though.

Oh hang on, there are some birds eating my breakfast now. Can I have more? No. Right very good, Sir, thank you, Sir.

Gobbling it up with their nasty little beaks. A few unexpected bills show up and now I don’t get to eat.

Suppose I just walk around the tightrope and we say I went over it? And you guys won’t tell?

Oh, of course you will.

What’s that, Nigel?

So, ladies and gentlemen, I’m just getting word that, what with chatting to you all, I’ve timed out on the course and I’m going to have to go all the way round again if I want to get breakfast. What? Ah. If I want to get breakfast tomorrow.


There we go.

Well I hope that was educational for everyone.

In summary, the welfare system of New Zealand, while perhaps far from perfect…

Hang on, there was supposed to be a ladder here.

How am I supposed to get out of this pit if some bastard’s taken away the ladder?

I remember one time a couple of buggers did that were using it as a prop, “look, I used this ladder to climb out of the pit what’s your excuse” you just pulled it up after yourself mate.

It’s damp down here. I think I’m getting a cold.

Not that I’m complaining. Wouldn’t bloody dare.

Maybe I could try growing some cake.


Well all like a laugh, don’t we?

Eh, Nigel?