Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Sticking it to sole parents

I've just had my say on Paula Bennett's latest set of sticks to beat sole parents with - have a look at my latest Letter from Elsewhere on Scoop.  But to get a real feel for what's happening, have a look at the manual for MSD staff who have to administer the new rules. See if you can make sense of them. Then see if you think you could make them work fairly.

There seems to be very little emphasis on (a) helping sole parents actually find suitable jobs or (b) finding out what's actually going on in their lives that might lead to them failing their work test - and losing half their benefit. Knowing what precarious circumstances many sole parents live in, I can all too easily imagine you being judged guilty because you've had to find somewhere new to live, or your child has had an accident, or your car has broken down completely and there's no public transport...

Paula Bennett makes great play with the fact that she's been a sole parent. Yet she seems to have absolutely no idea of the real-life situations people at the bottom of the heap have to grapple with every day.

As for John Key - oh no, wait. His mother was a widow. So even if he was a child again now, she would come into the one category of sole parent who doesn't have to face the new Work Test.

Losing your partner by death is a tragedy. But having seen the many ways in which women (and a few men) can suddenly find themselves a sole parent, I simply do not understand why this distinction is still being made.

What is there about being deserted by your partner, or being beaten up and having to run away from your partner (and your home), that automatically makes you completely unable to act sensibly and responsibly (as I have no doubt John Key's mother did) and decide for yourself when you and your child/ren are ready and able to add paid work to your existing workload of parenting alone? (If you can find any, that is.)

Friday, March 12, 2010

Losing it with Peter Singer

Some days, everything goes wrong. I was getting ready to go to some Writers and Readers sessions when I discovered my wallet wasn't in my bag. Frantic searching failed to unearth it. So I had to borrow the EFTPOS card for Harvey's account to get some bus money from the machine up the road. When I tried to get the cash, it said "Your card has expired, we have retained it." Rushed back home and found Harvey did have a replacement card, he just hadn't got around to cutting up the old one. The new one worked, so I got money.

Then I realised I would need to call Harvey during the day, but my mobile phone had almost no cash left on it, and I couldn't use my own credit card to top it up because I'd just cancelled it, hadn't I. Yet another borrowing, this time of Harvey's Visa, followed by a long session on the phone as I (a) mucked up the business of putting the card number in for the automatic top-up, (b) did it all again and got the number right, only to have the autovoice tell me, at the very end, that the automated top-up system had failed and I was being put through to an operator instead, and (c) spent another ten minutes attempting to complete the process with someone in, I think, the Philippines, who kept getting the card number wrong (but never once asked me for the card-holder's name, which was lucky, as it saved me explaining that this man with the completely different surname was my husband). I lost it only at the very end when, while waiting for the top-up to finally go through, he started telling me how I could do it online instead (thereby, presumably, doing him out of a job, but I didn't like to mention that).

Making it down to Writers and Readers at last, I got through two sessions (Margo Lanagan with Eirlys Hunter, fantastic, and Bill Manhire with Steve Braunias, both impressive and heartwarming) before I tried to phone Harvey to tell him the wallet wasn't at the Embassy. But my phone told me there was a text, so I thought I'd better try to read it. Don't laugh, but I've never received a text before, let alone sent one. "I'm so sorry you've had such a bad morning, Anne", it said. "I have"

and then it stopped. I stared at the phone for a while before I figured out that maybe I could read the rest if I used the downward scroll button. It worked, and the next page said "found your wallet in the car." It was from my lovely niece Jenny, who is staying with us, and when she couldn't raise me on the phone (of course I had dutifully turned it off for the sessions) she decided it was high time I learnt to read texts. She was right, and she made my day.

So then I went to hear Peter Singer, who thinks it's wrong to kill and eat chickens regardless of how well they are treated (actually the said chickens would not, of course, exist at all if they weren't destined to be food, though he didn't discuss that), but probably not wrong to end the lives of severely intellectually disabled people, whose life (unlike the life of chickens) he apparently cannot imagine himself into, any more than he can imagine himself into the life of a cabbage (which he is therefore happy to eat). Does that mean it would be okay to eat severely intellectually disabled people? Probably not, eh.