The Bible tells us in several places that the poor will always be with us. It’s doubtful whether Jesus or any of the others who used that phrase ever imagined the numbers would be on today’s scale. Poorhouses, workhouses and charitable aid existed from early times. And then along came the welfare state with Dick Seddon then Mickey Savage pledging to guarantee better lives for the poor. What was on offer was a hand-up, not a hand-out. Walter Nash, Labour’s Finance minister to Savage and Peter Fraser made it clear that work was required from everyone if they were to improve their lives. Unemployment benefits weren’t designed to be permanent income for anyone except for the severely handicapped. There were to be no free lunches. As late as 1966 there were only 133 people in the whole of the country receiving an Unemployment Benefit, and 5,000 on Sickness Benefits.

Things started to change in the late 1960s. Maori had come to town and were separated from the extended families that traditionally assisted with child rearing; religion was fading, taking with it taboos on carefree sex; the number of babies born out of wedlock or long-term relationships crept up, despite the easy availability of contraception, notably the pill. In 1970 Keith Holyoake’s government established a Royal Commission into Social Security. Amongst other changes, it recommended what became the Domestic Purposes Benefit (DPB) that came into effect in 1974. With National’s agreement, the Third Labour government’s legislation meant that a single mother with a baby could receive a cash benefit. But she was expected to identify the father of her child so that he contributed to the care of his progeny. Debates on these matters were full of sentimental claptrap about how lives would be transformed by more tender loving care from the taxpayer. As I re-read the debates, they sound like an early version of Jacinda Ardern’s meaningless prattle.


It was bullswool, of course. Human behaviour always follows incentives, and in 1974 they pointed towards climbing onto the gravy train of “free” money from the taxpayer. The number of recipients of DPBs rose from 4,000 in 1974 to 56,500 in 1985, to 113,000 in 1998. By the turn of the century, Unemployment Benefits were being paid to 154,000, Sickness Benefits to 33,000, and Invalids’ Benefits to another 50,000. According to one estimate, about 20% of New Zealand’s people of working age were now on a Social Welfare benefit of some kind. A whole industry has formed up around welfare led by the likes of the Child Poverty Action Group and its membership of hopeful social workers and wonky economists. The cost of it all to the taxpayer is through the roof, while the bleats for yet more assistance are deafening. The homilies preached by Savage, Nash and Sir Apirana Ngata about the need to work in order to receive payments had long been forgotten. More and more partners of single women receiving the DPB fell behind with their payments towards the care of their children. The government kidded itself that receipt of money under the name of an Unemployment Benefit was not a permanent state of affairs, and renamed it the Jobseekers’ Benefit, which it no longer was.

All sorts of additional social problems followed the easy money gravy train for what was becoming a rapidly ballooning underclass. A Women’s Refuge Movement got underway with 50% of the users being Maori women. Male partners made up more than 70% of their abusers. Mum’s new de facto was too frequently a threat to her children. With nobody working in many households, children grew up in environments without role models except the occasional gang thug. School attendance became spasmodic for many children, meaning that educational achievement levels amongst the mushrooming underclass steadily fell away.


Much of this is obvious to anyone thinking seriously about New Zealand’s future. But who is promising to do anything meaningful to turn things around? After half a century of pouring easy money over beneficiaries we are faced with “homes” where children are not only hungry but terrified much of the time. There are declining numbers in prisons, many more gangs, rampant ram raiding, and lower achievement levels at every level of the educational system. This Labour government displays no alternative but to pour good money after bad. Carmel Sepuloni seems totally without understanding or empathy for the children being born into this serpents’ den. She has pushed up basic benefits to levels that mean no one in today’s underclass can improve their incomes by working. Having another baby is more lucrative. And she abolished the requirement for a DPB recipient to name the father of her children. That won’t make much difference anyway. As it is around 34,000 fathers pay less than $3 a day to support their children (probably from their own benefit). Amongst the underclass a tomcat’s licence has been in force for many years.


How to solve all this? First is to turn off the tap. Every applicant for a DPB has to be informed that the benefit is strictly time-limited, and there will be no pay increase for a second or third child. At the initial point of registration for a benefit, free contraceptives should be provided. There will be accidents, of course, and this might lead to a temporary spike in the number of abortions. But the message will sink in. Secondly, how to deal with the huge and growing underclass already in existence. Bill English pioneered a rather laborious way of dealing with individual families, one at a time. It showed signs of working, but Jacinda Ardern arrogantly flicked it away. Young people will need to be provided with discipline, education and job training. Experience in the Army worked during the Great Depression in the United States and has done much for some Maori youth here. It can be financed by the money saved from current lavish welfare top-ups. Conservation projects could also use assistance and give the participants some pride in their achievements.


I make no claim to be a policy expert, but I’m willing to give alternatives a go. Half a century of shallow thinking and carelessness has delivered us a mountainous problem which must be climbed. Doing nothing but encourage it to grow yet higher isn’t a long-term solution. Which political party has the intestinal fortitude to face up to this issue?


So we go full circle. Hand-outs create anarchy/dependency. It is bloody obvious. But this is the objective of so-called Labour / Communist / Socialist purists. It is no coincidence that education levels are dropping so the future generation cannot tell this truth apart. There is no free lunch people. There has never been, and there will never, ever be. Not even in an “universal income” utopia. After all, money does not grow on tress. And if it did, you would have to employ someone to pick it up…

To answer the question: ACT is the political party willing and able to change all this. A package of measures which will make a difference is a lady in their to-do list and more will follow.

This reads as Horrifying! But the fact is, it’s true! I’ve seen it happen and done my bit – I married a solo Mum and have been living with an angel ever since. But, our grand-kids have had problems and despite us being the solid role models, it doesn’t really work from the grand-parent position, and our place has just ended up being the safe haven for family in troubled times. You can only do what you can, at the time. I find it is appreciated by them later in life. Seeing this history written down factually like that makes me realise that I’ve been too distracted by life and the living of it, to pay much attention until now, 70, and just wakening up to it all! Your last question – only one party is showing any guts to deal with the problem. Others need to stand up, show a united front and deal with this, no matter who gets in.

MB is on the money (no pun intended). An interesting comparison in numbers… Lets say a round figure of 250,000 depending on tax funded welfare benefits for the bulk of their income. Plus a further 25,000 administering these.
This is roughly the same number of people that work at the global giant PWC. There are only 20 or so firms in the USA that employ more people. Successive governments have built a gigantic corporation out of benefits with an accompanying “Its mine by right” attitude.
Yet-or probably because-many employers will tell you they are short staffed.

    I beleiev your numbers are a little light. Recent estimates have half the entire workforce dependant on the state for the bulk of their disposable income taking into account direct benefits, WFF, Superannuation and Public Servants, a misnomer if ever I saw one.

    What should be of concern is that during the quarter ended March 2023 there were 658,626 hardship assistance payments, worth $247.7 million. That’s a billion buck a year.

We certainly do not live in an ideal World.What about the eye watering amounts of tax payer dollars spent trying to eliminate Mycoplasma Bovid, Bovine TB, and so on.They are handouts too. Then we have the subsidies paid to Business during the COVID emergency.I will not argue the rights and wrongs of these payments, but merely make a point.

I see Bassett references the army as an uplifting experience for people at the bottom. While it may be true, and Christine Rankin has said similar things about the ‘boot camp’ experiment in NZ. Just remember that the military is a non-productive service, that it, it is little better than social welfare from a financial point of view. Bonded training along the lines of the old Teachers Colleges and Nursing Schools which had a degree of responsibility for students seems more productive, to me at least.

    And yet in recent years I have had an electrician and a plumber work on my home and both are ex army trained and used their skills both in New Zealand and on overseas deployment.

    I was a bonded teacher 48 years ago but I was a motivated individual. The die-hard beneficiaries are not of that ilk so an army boot up the backside is the best motivation.

SB. Dr Michael Bassets brilliant essay should be compulsory reading for all New Zealanders.
Complete unpopular truth.
Social entitlement, propagated by clever delusional naive idealists.

“Which political party has the intestinal fortitude to face up to this issue?”

Will the voters of New Zealand support a political Party that is prepared to carryout these changes to all this Gross Welfare.

Just thinking of the stupid voting last Election where the electorate climbed over each other to vote for Labour and that airhead Ardern.

Is our modern army up to it, though? Not gone soft and woke like the rest of our institutions?

I think it’s wonderful that you are turning your mind to questions about poverty and inequality. The current situation is not sustainable and we must look at past policies to understand the mistakes that we have made, so that we avoid repeating those same mistakes.
We need new ideas that set the foundations for a better future and I suggest we first look at our own attitudes. Do we behave contemptuously and dismissively towards “the underclass “ or do we rephrase our language in a way that reflects the greatest of all human qualities such as love, support, kindness and compassion.
That does not mean handouts.
If human behavior always follows incentives, then let’s incentivize the good qualities that all humans possess.
I’m currently watching the jaw dropping Netflix series called Painkiller.
In short the despicable Purdue Pharma tried to avoid responsibility for their behavior by describing their clients as “drug abusers” to redirect blame from the core issue, which is their behavior that placed profit before care for others. It seems fictional but sadly it is reality.
It is systemic across many areas of society and we clearly see it in politics.
As a collective we have become increasingly divisive and this is because we so often elect dysfunctional leaders.
I think we are at an important turning point in history and we will eventually look back with regret at the types of human behavior we once admired.

I largely agree with your summary, and possible solutions.

I also understand why the elite in this country dont want to pay their fair share, as its been largely wasted by gutless politicians who are largely interested in their own self importance…

It would seems most governments are now banking (pun intended) on mass immigration to deliver growth; whether its real or not…And with the debt we have clocked up; and sale of strategic assets to foreign investors, there now appears to be no choice…Certainly, more numbers will spread the fixed costs; as long as infrastructure is up to it…

It is very difficult to attract the right people into parliament, and would suggest the only way of accomplishing this is for the self made wealth local elite band together to make it happen; otherwise we will continue to be sucked dry by overseas parasites and beneficiaries. Look after your local community, and they will look after you…

The best thing that could happen is our currency being moved back to the gold standard, which will then require governments and their citizens to live within their means; rather than the current ponzi fiat scheme used as a means of control, and hide poor governance…BRICS might just be a better future??

So sad and wasteful.
Perfect example is the article by criminal barrister Emma Priest in the Herald on 9 December 2022: seven children, multiple fathers, 4 of the children in prison and you assume another is about to follow his brothers to prison. According to the article, society caused the situation.

What MB has detailed in his article should provide a huge wake-up call for every New Zealand voter, However to turn the social welfare “ship of abuse” around will take a very courageous Government . A political party declaring an election manifesto intention to undertake a complete review of our social welfare schemes and stop the abuse will be an almost impossible situation to achieve support for as many thousands now receiving benefits will selfishly cast their votes elsewhere. The management of social benefit handouts since the 1960s has shown successive Governments have never grasped the nettle but have preferred to play political games around the edges introducing largely unsuccessful schemes which generations of families have queued up for. There is no sign of the doors to Social Welfare offices being closed and that queue gets longer everyday. This is what the “Great Welfare State” concept born in the 1930s has now become and it’s seriously undermining our future. So sad that politically it remains too hot to handle.

When we lived in NZ in the 1972-9 my young daughters, aged between about 8 and 13, reported that girls they knew would discuss what they were going to do when they left school, as would not be unusual, but, BUT, a few at least said they were going to have babies so they could go on ‘welfare’ and not have to go to work. This from pubescent and adolescent girls!!!

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