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Ladder Award: Gareth Morgan for refreshing insights on welfare reform

A Ladder is awarded to economist Gareth Morgan for expressing thoughtful and constructive insights on welfare reform.

Gareth Morgan was a guest on Jim Mora’s afternoon programme on Radio New Zealand.  The issue for discussion was welfare reform. The government has set up a task force to examine the welfare system and come up with recommendations.  The task force was set up because of the government’s concern about what it saw as “large” numbers of people receiving welfare benefits in New Zealand.

In about ten minutes, Gareth Morgan provided a critique of what he saw as a very “narrow” task force agenda and offered refreshingly innovative alternatives.

Specifically, he was concerned that the task force were too constrained in what they were allowed to look at. For example, they were not allowed to look at benefit levels, steep benefit abatement levels as people began to earn income and importantly, non-monetary production (looking after children, the aged, voluntary work etc).

Gareth Morgan felt that with this narrowing of the agenda, the outcome was likely to be a beneficiary-bashing witch-hunt.

The task force argue too much money is going on welfare benefits and people need to be in paid work.

However, as is pointed out, there are not enough jobs for everyone. Gareth Morgan says that over the last twenty or so years New Zealand, like others in the Western World, invested in housing for capital gain, instead of things that would generate livelihoods for people and communities.

So what does Gareth Morgan suggest?

First, he critiqued targeted benefits as too costly to administer. Too much bureaucracy is involved with more checking of more people more often to ensure that they qualified for welfare, and continued to qualify according to certain criteria.

Gareth Morgan advocates a reform of the system, where work such as caring for children and the elderly and the local environment is valued, as Marilyn Waring has proposed. He advocates a universal basic income for all, a solution that would involve less bureaucracy and much more freedom to innovate.

When asked about the over-representation of Maori and Pacific people on welfare (and suffering negative health etc) he argues, not for more targeting, but more advocates. He says “we don’t have strong advocates working for them, both to get them into the system and get them through the system” and “that there really is this clash of cultures.”

When asked if he would support work schemes for people on welfare benefits, such as in the great depression, Gareth Morgan replied, “no, I would rather see people equipped for work, equipped for innovation.” He notes that we see a lot of innovation in New Zealand but it’s not all in the money sector.

Refreshingly, Gareth Morgan points to what he sees as an obsession with the cash income, quoting John Key as saying “it’s really important to get solo parents into paid work.” Gareth Morgan says, “Well, I’m sorry but I disagree with this. I think it more important to have proper parenting.”

This is the second Ladder Award given to Gareth Morgan – both for what we consider to be his forward thinking that cuts to the nub of problems and relevant solutions.

What do you think? Would his proposals work? Would they be an improvement on the present regime or what the government seems to want?

Your comments and your own nominations for Awards (Ladder or Shovel) most welcome

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