Lesley Soper is the Labour candidate for Invercargill
Read with fascination the Southland Times Report (Aug 15, p.2) on John Key’s great National Party Conference announcement of the start of welfare system overhaul. 16 & 17 year-olds first it seems. They won’t complain too much, and rednecks will think they deserve a bit of ‘nanny state’ overseeing. Food Stamps don’t equal opportunity or jobs BUT IT WILL LOOK AS IF WE ARE DOING SOMETHING, WHICH WILL HELP DISGUISE OUR UTTER FAILURE TO DO ANYTHING TO DEAL WITH THE WORSE NZ YOUTH UNEMPLOYMENT SINCE THE GREAT DEPRESSION.
Food Stamps can also be the thin edge of the wedge, & extended to others when we ‘have a Mandate’.
Under this new Policy schools will have to tell authorities when 16 and 17 year-olds leave during the year, and the young people will be attached to a “responsible adult”.
Quotes from the PM included : “the first problem that has to be addressed is finding out who the disengaged young people are … we simply don’t know, because we lose track of them when they leave school. … that has to change … and for the first time we will be able to find out who they are, what their circumstances are, what problems they had …”.
But Wait! The photographic memory clicks in from my years as an MP. This has to be nonsense. Didn’t I make more than one visit to a great Youth Transition Service ‘Work’n it Out’ which operates a Call Centre and extended services from Invercargill [readers will know from my earlier blog on proposed IRD cuts in Invercargill that we run excellent ‘virtual’ operations down here]; and operates under an MSD Contract? Yes, I did, and it still exists. Been operating for more than 5 years. Reports performance and outcomes to MSD every month. You can look it up online at www.wio.co.nz. The Social Development Minister & PM could read the reports. They probably have, but perhaps have ‘forgotten’.
What does this service do? [and what has it been doing for more than 5 years?] Well, strangely enough it has been working with 50 Secondary Schools from Timaru South to track every school-leaver at any point through the year, from ages 16-20. There are also some self or family referrals, and referrals from other govt departments, but by & large this is a major project to track and assist school-leavers with the rest of their lives. And it has been working incredibly well!
We are not talking small numbers here. This is thousands of young people added to the database every year. They are systematically contacted by the callcentre; they are asked about their plans for further education, training or employment. They are offered support and assistance, often on a one-to-one customised support basis. They are tracked from that first call or contact on a regular basis till age 20. Few of them are non-contactable; very few reject the contact.
Report Data is comprehensive. We know who these young people are; where they have come from; where they have gone or are going; which industries they are working in; how many are in which other forms of education and training courses; how many return to school; how many head into apprenticeships, full-or-part-time work.
So if this is all already happening, on a large scale, covering quarter of the country geographically [& there are other Youth Transition Services too], and in areas where there are National MP’s [including English, Roy & Dean], and data exists; why the announcement of a ‘First Ever New Policy’; ‘Never Before Tried’ ; ‘Revolutionary First’ as a ‘Key Plank’ of the National Party Conference?
Could it be that some Political Spin was required to distract from the failure of the National Government to actually address Youth Unemployment and to create jobs? Could it be a ‘Key Con’ to pretend to be doing something to distract from actual cuts National has made to apprenticeships and skills training? Could it be a ‘Big Vision’ like ‘The Cycleway’ or the Budget ‘promise’ of 170,000 jobs - with absolutely no substance? Could it be sheer ignorance of what is already in place? Or could it be that no-one in Auckland pays any attention to successful initiatives in Invercargill unless they involve Shadbolt or snow? Take your pick.
Another ‘Key Con’ when what is really needed is a real economic plan that means young people get real jobs. Remember the statistic - when National came in there were roughly 200 under 24 year-olds who had been on UEB for more than a year. The number now?