Hosking: Paula Bennett nails Govt's insidious approach to benefits

Mike Hosking,
Publish Date
Wednesday, 6 March 2019, 10:43a.m.
Paula Bennett, a year after gastric bypass surgery helped her to shed 50kg. And right, a year pior to surgery in August 2017. Photo / supplied

Paula Bennett has put together a sterling piece for the Herald, in which she appears to respond to a person, who appears to have had a crack at her over her weight and weight loss.

Now I say appears because I didn’t see the original, and given this isn't actually about the original, I don’t need to go seeking it. For the cleverness in the Bennett response is that isn't actually about the original. It's a party political piece snuck in under cover of a response to the original.

And, to be frank, the original appears from what Bennett suggests, to be a petty, nasty little bit of work that attacks the person not the ball. I have no time for such behaviour.

Bennett begins by saying she sucks up a lot, ignores most of it, the cost of her weight loss operation was nothing like the figure quoted, the dress in the photo was, in fact cheap, and that as the Spokesperson for Women for National she's proud of her role.

But then the genius starts, it goes from a response to an election pitch, and notably what her and her party have done for women generally, and the country as a whole. Part of the overall pitch is a nugget of gold so bright Byron would have been proud.

She talks of the 11,000 more New Zealanders this current government has let on the jobseeker benefit, something we have raised a number of times.

The criteria for the benefit is you are able to work, yet can't find any. Now, that immediately to most of us is absurd, because this country for the past several years has been in the depths of a crisis in industry after industry looking for labour, and not being able to find it.

So why the 11,000 more? The answer Bennett tells us, the government changed the rules. It doesn't sanction people who repeatedly don’t turn up for appointments and has no expectation that those on jobseeker support can find work, or can earn a living. This, says Bennett is cruel, and she is right.

Then the nugget of gold. It comes from new MP Agnes Loheni, who in her maiden speech said the soft bigotry of low expectation that rips hope from our children, destroys faith in their ability to overcome life's obstacles, creates jealousy, and envy in our kids is wrong.

What a brilliant way of putting it. "The soft bigotry of low expectation." And that is the aspiration of this government, isn't it? You don’t want to turn up for a work interview? No problem.

They’ve done the same with state housing. They temporarily got rid of tenancy reviews. You can pay your way with your new income, or changed circumstances. No rush, stay as long as you like while the queue of genuine cases grows to the record 10,000 we heard about last week.

The soft bigotry of low expectation. They milk that from those who don't want better for themselves.

The encouragement is replaced by the handout, with the long term hope the handout pays for the vote. The more entrapped you make people, the more beholden they are to the state, the more likely they are to vote for you.

It's an insidious and dangerous attitude and approach, but we are watching it in action. And it took a person calling Paula Bennett out for it to be encapsulated so well in her response.

Look it up if only to re-read the line, "the soft bigotry of low expectation."

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