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«Te Oranga o te Iwi Maori: A Study of Maori Economic and Social Progress Maori and Welfare Lindsay Mitchell N E W Z E A L A N D B U S I N E S S R O U ...»

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Eligibility for the Old Age Pension was means-tested. Lack of assets improved eligibility, but proving title to Maori land (or non-title as the case may be) was particularly difficult. It was also suspected that entire communities would have an interest in undervaluing land so that more pension payments would flow into the district. In addition, sharing of the payment with younger family members 26 New Zealand Official Yearbook 1994, Te whanau, p 134.

27 New Zealand Official Yearbook 1994, Maori welfare, p 149.

28 Margaret Tennant, The Fabric of Welfare: Voluntary Organisations, Government and Welfare in New Zealand 1940–2005, Bridget Williams Books, Wellington, 2007, p 60.

29 New Zealand Official Yearbook 1995, European and Maori: 1840–90, p 27, p 28.

30 New Zealand Official Yearbook 1995, Maori society: 1890–1935, p 33.

31 Bronwyn Dalley, Family Matters, p 24.

12 MAORI AND WELFARE was seen as proof that the pension was either too high or not needed.32 As it became apparent that Maori were not a dying race at all, governments’ reluctance to pay pensions further increased, and the rigorous granting and supervision of them intensified.

In 1920, the Pensions Department, in an attempt to monitor and control how the money was spent, encouraged payment of pensions to an agent, often a local store owner.33 The potential for a conflict of interest and abuse was obvious.

Relatives could draw on a pensioner’s account to buy goods that were in the storekeeper’s interest to sell. Delays in finding and appointing agents meant pensioners went without or became indebted. Alternative Maori agents could not be found. It was the view of the Auckland registrar of pensions that Maori were themselves just as liable to dupe their elders.

At the mercy of the local magistrate’s discretion, Maori continued to experience discrimination in the payment of pensions. In 1937, 2,213 of the 2,389 Maori receiving pensions were getting a rate one-fifth lower than Pakeha.34 Maori widows generally received a lower benefit rate also. Elderly Maori were caught in a Catch 22 paradox – their overall standard of living was lower, so it was considered that their financial needs were fewer. In order to qualify for full pension rates, they had to present proof that they did not hold legal title to land, but this proof was rarely attainable.35 Also, it was usually impossible to present proof of age.

During the Depression, 40 percent of the male Maori workforce was unemployed whereas the Pakeha unemployment rate was only 12 percent.36 According to

Tipene O’Regan (Ngai Tahu):

In the 1930s, Maori were denied the dole on a belief that they could look after themselves better than Pakeha by living off the land.37 Other sources claim, however, that ‘unemployment’ benefits were available to Maori but were paid at a much lower rate and were harder to obtain.38 At least one relief scheme paid a single Maori man nine shillings and sixpence per week whereas his Pakeha counterpart was paid between twelve and seventeen shillings and sixpence depending on whether he lived rurally or in a main centre.

32 Margaret McClure, A Civilised Community: A History of Social Security in New Zealand 1898–1998, Auckland University Press in association with the Department of Internal Affairs, Auckland, 1998, p 27.

33 Margaret McClure, A Civilised Community, p 43.

34 Margaret McClure, A Civilised Community, p 79.

35 Margaret McClure, A Civilised Community, p 44.

36 New Zealand Official Yearbook 1995, Maori society: 1890–1935, p 34.

37 Tipene O’Regan and Api Mahuika, Modern day developments within Maori society, Social Policy Journal of New Zealand, November 1993, www.msd.govt.nz/about-msd-andour-work/publications-resources/journals-and-magazines/social-policy-journal/spj01/01modern-day-developments.html (last accessed April 2009).

38 Michael King, Nga Iwi o te Motu, p 78.


The Labour government theorised about equality for Maori and Pakeha and acted to abolish unequal benefit rates in 1935,39 but there is evidence that, in practice, discrimination persisted.40 Official papers state that where Maori shared in social security provision, benefits were paid at lower rates.41 The practice of paying Maori less, because they lived communally and shared living expenses, persisted. The sharing of benefit payments was seen as a misuse, much as it is today when beneficiaries do not declare their living arrangements. For Maori, the assumption that they shared was tacit. In order to receive a European level of benefit, Maori had to live like Europeans.

In a departure, however, family allowances, introduced in 1926, were granted to Maori at the full rate. Although small, and not available for first and second children, the allowance gradually grew in generosity and availability. By 1946, at ten shillings per child per week, for a mother of six the payment amounted to the same as a woman’s minimum wage.42 The substantial increase in income this brought to typically large Maori families provoked suspicion that men were reducing paid work and thereby undermining community cohesion.

Margaret McClure, who reviewed the Department of Social Welfare’s files of correspondence, wrote that during the 1940s Family Benefit for Maori was the most controversial aspect of the department’s work. Rather than supplementing hard work, the benefit demoralised Maori communities already vulnerable to drinking and gambling excesses. The men could spend their wages as they wished, regarding the benefit as covering family needs.

The New Zealand Financial Times called social security the ‘chief industry’ of the East Coast and blamed the government for ‘debauching the Maori with easy money’. Police at Ruatoria reported that the position was ‘chaotic’. The child welfare officer noted that parents were no longer urging young adolescents into the workforce and 25 boys were on trial for crimes.43

Concern about Family Benefit persisted throughout its life:

Certain areas in Wellington are holding housie evenings on the same day as “family benefit” comes out and the Wellington District Maori Council is concerned that the choice of date is designed specifically to catch the money which should be directed to the homes.44 39 Michael King, Nga Iwi o te Motu, p 94.

40 Claudia Orange, A kind of equality: Labour and the Maori people 1935–49, MA thesis, University of Auckland, 1977.

41 New Zealand Official Yearbook 1995, Maori society: 1935–72, p 39.

42 Margaret McClure, A badge of poverty or a symbol of citizenship? Needs, rights and social security, 1935–2000, in Past Judgement: Social Policy in New Zealand History, eds Bronwyn Dalley and Margaret Tennant, Otago University Press, Dunedin, 2004, p 144.

43 Margaret McClure, A Civilised Community, p 117.

44 Evening Post, 12 September 1972, p 2.


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When Sir Apirana Ngata (Ngati Porou), the East Coast MP, warned about the destructive effect of welfare on Maori, this benefit was one he had mind. If he could read about present-day Ruatoria, his worst fears would be confirmed. The subject is worth a quick diversion.

In 2006, journalist Martin van Beynen penned a cutting series on poverty in New Zealand, including a close look at Ruatoria. In Ruatoria, he was told, 90 percent of the households rely on a benefit.45 Ruatoria has one of the highest ratios of one-parent families. In 2001, they numbered the same as two-parent families.

Apparently, there were 87 one-parent families, yet Domestic Purposes Benefit (DPB) claimants registered at the Ruatoria Work and Income Office in 2004 numbered 216.46 With the local population trending down, the discrepancy is probably explained by fraudulent claims and a number of recipients living in the outlying regions.

Speaking to Michael Laws during a radio interview in 2004 then prime minister,

Helen Clark, described towns like Ruatoria in this way:

In some parts of our country, whether it’s the Far North or East Coast, you’ve got kids who have never seen Mum or Dad, or even Granddad or Grandma, go to work and you get long term demoralisation set in in those communities and that’s where crime’s rife, the drug take is rife, alcoholism’s rife, the ill health-overweight’s rife and you have trouble just getting people off their backsides and into a job because of the problems.47 She was describing why a ‘no-go zone’ policy was being applied to unemployed beneficiaries but refused to concede it should include single parents who wished to raise their families in or move to such places.

Some may be tempted to turn a blind eye so long as the troubles in such towns remain localised. There is another closely related problem, however. The East Coast has the highest fertility rate in New Zealand. We cannot keep on ignoring this. Thirty-six percent of Ruatoria’s residents are under 15 years old compared 45 Martin van Beynen, Of poverty and priorities, Dominion Post, 6 September 2006, p A6.

46 Official Information Act request, 15 July 2004.

47 Prime Minister, Helen Clark, speaking to Michael Laws, Radio Live, 5 March 2004.


with 23 percent for the rest of New Zealand. Ruatoria is just one of many similar towns or suburbs that appear to have survived only through welfare and whose residents are reproducing faster than the general population. For many young people, a baby becomes a source of income.

As van Beynen wrote:

Ron Hedley, owner of the local sawmill, confirms he has vacancies … The work ethic and pride in independence have been lost, he says. “A culture has been established with the Government keeping everyone afloat with handout money, and why work if you’ve got someone who is going to support you?” Joe Parata, who runs the Ruatoria Hotel, echoes Mr Hedley.

“There’s only one way out of it and that is to end welfare. Everyone’s too gutless to do anything about it”.48 Certainly there is nobody with Ngata’s fortitude and determination devising and implementing the types of practical self-sufficiency measures the East Coast saw in the 1920s with his land schemes and alcohol prohibition.

Getting back on chronological track, in 1945 the Department of Social Security’s discrimination was formally ended by the Maori Social and Economic Advancement Act, but authorities still sought to control what Maori could spend their Family Benefit money on. Tribal Committees were established to this end, and they had some success. However, there continued to be a mix of semiaffluent and very poor communities. The latter were plagued by widespread drinking and gambling. Some families lived in tin shacks with bare earth floors and sack windows, and tuberculosis was still common.49 Bronwyn Labrum, who reviewed child welfare files from the 1950s and 1960s, described how Maori needs differed.

Pakeha officers struggled to understand Maori attitudes to and practices of fostering and adoption and family formation that took little cognisance of Pakeha law. These ‘problems’ demonstrate that Maori were not defining their needs in the ways that Pakeha were, and that the welfare state could not function in the Maori community in the way that it did for Pakeha … As with Pakeha however, domestic conflict contributed to a sizeable number of cases, and appears to have intensified, or become more visible, under pressures of urbanisation, relocation and living in a nuclear family style.

Money troubles and the commonly accepted rates of Maori drinking only made matters worse. In 1958 the Secretary of Maori Affairs informed the minister that welfare officers were constantly being called upon to mediate in “domestic disputes” and needed “tact and diplomacy plus a fair share of good fortune” to solve such cases. The reports from the districts suggested excessive drinking, unequal distribution of family income, unfaithfulness, and bad living conditions, among other things, as reasons.50

–  –  –

unemployment benefits were in force at 30 June 1970. By 1984 that figure had swollen to over 50,000.54 As well as unemployment rates being higher among Maori, they were higher among young people. By the mid-1980s, children who had been the product of a welfare upbringing from birth were reaching young adulthood, some with no learned work ethic.55 An Evening Post headline from 1983 read “Jobless Maoris not taking up Hutt work help”. Representatives of a job-finding programme, Rapu Mahi, said they had all met at least one school leaver who was happy to be on the dole and did not want a job.56 In contrast, a story from the same period, entitled “Proud men seek work trust”, described how a group of older Maori who were mainly family men had formed a work trust to avoid going back on the dole.57 The high unemployment of the late 1980s and early 1990s was partly exacerbated by the economic reforms associated with Roger Douglas, finance minister from 1984 to 1988, but other countries, notably our leading trading partners, had similar high rates. In 1992, Australia was slightly higher at 10.7 percent, and the United Kingdom was slightly lower at 10.0 percent.58 Many argued that ‘Rogernomics’ disproportionately influenced Maori unemployment, but the ratio of Maori to Pakeha unemployment has been reasonably constant. Interestingly, in the early 1990s, when unemployment peaked, the Pacific rate was higher than the Maori rate.59 Today, it is lower, indicating a better economic recovery or unwillingness to remain on a benefit.

Indeed, the Pacific share of the Unemployment Benefit, at 9.2 percent of claimants, much more closely matches their proportion of the population than do Maori at 38.1 percent of claimants.60 Given that many Pacific people also belonged to the group of manual, unskilled workers affected by deregulation and privatisation, their adjustment to changing labour markets has been stronger.

As well as driving Maori on to Unemployment Benefits, a lack of work drove Maori females onto the DPB, which was introduced in 1974 as a statutory entitlement for sole parents, regardless of the reasons for their single parenthood.

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