During the times of the Inquisition those who subjected people to torture would tell their victims that they inflicted pain for the good of their subject’s soul. All that was needed was for the sinner to confess all and find God’s forgiveness.
This forgiveness often came in the form of a hideous death by fire.
We live in more enlightened times, and we are thankful that the people who torture others in the name of faith generally live in distant lands. But the spirit of the Inquisition has not entirely deserted us.
It is evident in the work of welfare crusader Lindsay Mitchell. The ACT member is regularly quoted by people on the right who push for welfare reform, and her published articles and blog posts are devoted to saving those who have fallen into the sin of welfare. Like a Grand Inquisitor, she offers salvation and a release from sin, but only if the poor souls in her care are prepared to suffer.
These lost souls, welfare recipients, are morally deficient, and only tough treatment, the removal of benefits, will bring them back into decent society.
Seeing as it was Christmas, a time when many on benefits would have been feeling at their lowest ebb, it was entirely appropriate that our modern day Grand Inquisitor should have taken the opportunity to stoke the fires, branding welfare recipients as child abusers. In an opinion piece in the Herald on Monday (not actually Christmas, but the Christmas Day public holiday nonetheless), she claimed that welfare was a cause of child abuse.
While by no stretch of the imagination wholly explaining the incidence of abuse, the more that 'poor' families are paid to look after their children, the more abuse has occurred or, at least, has been notified and substantiated. More money certainly isn't curing the problem. So perhaps it is time to ask if more money is exacerbating it?
Mitchell didn’t have any actual evidence of causation, but then when have blind faith and evidence ever been comfortable companions? Her answer appears to be to cut benefits and hope that that will do the job. Because we know that welfare is, like, really bad. Child abuse is bad too. So put the two together and it’s obvious isn’t it?
There may well be evidence that children living in beneficiary homes have a higher probability of being abused than those raised in non-welfare environments. I don’t know if studies exist to show that, but even if they do they would only tend to show correlation, not causation.
If anything causes child abuse it’s probably the thing that causes just about every other social problem in this country: poverty. I don’t offer excuses for some of the despicable things people do to kids under their care, but the strain and trauma of living on or under the breadline can make people do things the rest of us consider abhorrent.
Mitchell’s answer appears to be that if we take benefits away from people they will suddenly emerge from the chains of dependency like cleaned-up former junkies, and become more valuable members of society. Why this should be so, and why they should not end up being even poorer and more troubled, is not explained. Underwriting this entire argument is also the belief that a large number of people on benefits are simply milking the system. Paula Bennett called it “living the dream”, but Mitchell describes the phenomenon as creating “meal ticket children”.
Why does child abuse and neglect occur? Because the child is 'wanted' at one level, but not at another.Sometimes they are wanted for the benefits that dependent children bring; priority for housing, extra income, and parental amnesty from being self-supporting.They are not wanted in the usual sense; loved more than can be expressed or explained. The way children should be loved by their parents and grandparents.Sometimes the parent's own mental or physical health problems get in the way of unqualified care, but that is another issue.One that, from a government point of view, needs addressing through the Ministry of Health. But the issue identified here - children as meal-tickets - is a matter for the Minister who assures us she will do anything in her power to prevent the sort of abuse that makes grown-ups cry, if they allow the grim reality to break through their own defence mechanisms.Meal-ticket children are hostages to their parent's or caregiver's lifestyles.
Terms like “meal ticket” and “lifestyle” make it sound as if being on the DPB is living on Easy Street. But where is the evidence of “lifestyle” beneficiaries? If you listen to enough talkback radio or read enough Kiwiblog then it might, I suppose, become one of those self-evident things where actual evidence isn’t needed because, well, everyone knows it is true, right?
If you repeat a lie enough times it can become a truth – at least to many.
Not content to simply attack beneficiaries, Mitchell then brings race into the equation.
Children have been a source of income in New Zealand for 80 years or more. Unlike the Old Age Pension, Maori were easily able to access the Family Benefit which, with their typically large families, accrued a tidy sum by the 1940s. Enough in some rural communities for the menfolk to knock off work and spend their days drinking and gambling. Which in turn set up the right conditions for domestic disharmony and childhood misery.
It is hard to read the words “typically large families” without concluding that Mitchell’s real problem with Maori (other than the fact that they are lazy) is that they only breed for money, and don’t love their children as much as us whiteys do. There’s an “ism” one could use to label an attitude such as Mitchell’s, but I won’t use it.
Blaming the Family Benefit on the poverty and social problems experienced by Maori is missing the point entirely. If you strip a people of their economic base, destroy much of their societal structure and pursue assimilationist policies towards them over decades, then it’s entirely possible that the mess you end up creating might be of your own making.
It is no surprise that Mitchell cannot see how the very policies she and her ACT colleagues advocate may in fact make rates of abuse worse. How can stripping the poor of money, taking away what little dignity they have, and telling them again and again how worthless they are end well? If you treat someone like an animal and kick them repeatedly, don’t be surprised if they behave like an animal.
But none of this will be of any importance to Mitchell and other welfare reform zealots. The Grand Inquisitor whose faith is unquestioning understands that only through the infliction of pain will the sinner be brought back to God.
Let their souls be saved, and then we’ll burn them.
In the meantime let Mitchell be added to my Hall of Shame.
In the meantime let Mitchell be added to my Hall of Shame.