Hard News by Russell Brown

Hail the New Victorians

National's new employment policy is out. And it is … put thousands more people on the public payroll! Judith Collins is promising that the last National government's unsuccessful work-for-the-dole programme would be revived as a matter of urgency under a National-New Zealand First coalition.

Let's be straight here: the imperative behind such a scheme is moral rather than practical. Work and Income's own assessment of the 1996 to 1999 scheme found that those forced into the scheme were less likely to find real jobs than those who were not. A Treasury analysis estimated that for every four makework jobs created under the scheme, one genuine private sector job would be lost. A Colmar Brunton survey in 1998 suggested that employers had little faith in the scheme's ability to deliver motivated employees.

Community groups are, of course, often happy enough to take free labour at the taxpayer's expense - and this is the basis of the Australian scheme that Collins says provides a model for National. But if there's a public good in a community getting a new swimming pool built, or having graffiti cleaned up, isn't it better that such work be properly contracted, and that genuine jobs, with holiday pay and employment contracts, be generated?

More worryingly, a study commissioned (and subsequently suppressed) by the Australian government concluded that participation in the Australian scheme measurably damaged the prospects of those involved moving on to real-world jobs:

The main conclusion from the study is that there appear to be quite large significant adverse effects of participation in WfD. For example, for the group of matched WfD participants it is found that the difference in fortnights on NSA payments between WfD participants and non-participants in the first 6 months after start of spell on WfD is 0.99 fortnights. More detailed analysis of exit from payments suggests that there is an adverse effect of WfD on exit from payments associated directly with the period of participation in WfD, but that there is partial catch-up by WfD participants after the conclusion of WfD.

What might explain negative effects of WFD participation on exit from unemployment payments? There appear to be three main potential explanations: (i) Stigma effects; (ii) Effect on job search activity – Participation in WfD may allow participants to reduce their job search activity, and may adversely affect the type of job search activity undertaken; and (iii) Scale of intervention – The WfD program represents a relatively minimalist intervention. Of these explanations, the potential ‘chilling’ effect of WfD on job search activity, seems to be most supported by international evidence, and to be consistent with the time-series pattern of WfD effects (that is, increasingly adverse during the six-month phase of participation in WfD, but then reversing to some extent after that time). However, stigma effects may also have played a role; and the minimal scale of intervention through the WfD is a reason why positive effects from the program would be unlikely.

Although the official Australian unemployment rate remains higher than ours (despite the fact that that rate doesn't count work for the dole participants), there are signs that the system there has become somewhat addicted to work-for-the-dole, with the CDEP scheme, which targets aboriginal communities, being asked to provide ever more jobs - some agencies' job targets have been tripled this year.

Okay, now compare that with a different approach to the welfare-to-work pathway - Work and Income's "Pacific Wave" scheme in Auckland. It was recently announced that that scheme had halved unemployment among Pacific Islanders in Auckland in two years. Unemployment among Pacific Islanders under 25 fell by nearly two thirds. And those people have real jobs. (And, by the way, total benefit numbers have fallen again. There are now more than 70,000 fewer beneficiaries than there were when Labour took office.)

Labour has been accused - sometimes fairly - of being prey to ideology in policy formation. But it seems to me that National has subjugated practical merit to ideological sizzle in a whole range of the policies - employment, education, the Treaty and law and order - that it will take into this election. Dunno about you, but it gives me the creeps.

On the other hand, New Zealand First goes a step further: promising "military-style discipline" for work for the dole participants deemed "at risk". You and I might think there are some civil rights issues there, but you know Winston's never been big on that sort of thing.

Elsewhere, The Fundy Post offers some insight on the bizarre background of the American activist Tammy Bruce, recently hailed by the Weekend Herald's unusual columnist Sandra Paterson.

And finally, Victoria University media studies student Amie Mills is conducting some work on blogging - and specifically, the people who respond to them. You are invited to respond directly to her at , or go to the blog-about-blogging here.