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Chris Ford: That Al Nisbet cartoon - "That's what they're all thinking!" - British-style welfare bashing is here!

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Chris Ford
Chris Ford

 "That's what they're all thinking! That cartoonist guy is saying what people are afraid to say openly!"

That's how my regular friendly mobility taxi driver saw Al Nisbet's cartoon yesterday. Yes, that cartoon showing Maori and Polynesian poor people and their kids supposedly off to play the pokies, buy smokes, and get some booze off the supposed savings from their kids getting free breakfast in schools.

Essentially, a picture can paint a thousand words and this one was akin to a Don Brash speech - this time one about Maori, Pasifika and the poor. You couldn't beat it for pure dog whistle value!

I'm just beginning to wonder whether the New Zealand media (beginning with some of the Fairfax papers) has decided to engage in some pre-welfare reform beneficiary bashing?

It wouldn't surprise me to say the least if they have!

After all, if they have, they might have taken their cue from sections of the British tabloid media who have been engaged in a nearly four year "skivers versus scroungers" war on sick, disabled and unemployed Britons. And this in a country where unemployment is many times higher than in New Zealand and where the growth rate is negligible to say the least.

The British tabloid media campaign against welfare has been, sadly, successful in changing public perceptions of social security claimants. This has been due to the British Government (through its own version of WINZ, the Department of Work and Pensions) having been engaged in an extensive briefing campaign with selected friendly journalists and columnists that has generated countless stories about welfare fraud. In fact, there have been more stories about welfare fraud in Britain than there have been actual cases as the British rate is similar to that recorded in New Zealand, namely, 0.3% of all benefit claimants. 

I have noticed an uptick in the number of stories regarding beneficiary fraud in the supposedly more respectable New Zealand media too in recent months. Our upcoming welfare reforms will echo those introduced in Britain and will see hundreds of thousands of people work tested (including sick and disabled people as well as the unemployed and single parents) starting from day one.

That's why I'm wondering - is Al Nisbet's cartoon the start of a more aggressive media war on welfare beneficiaries? Have the Beehive and Ministry of Social Development started briefing friendly journos, commentators, and (perhaps even) cartoonists to complement the government's upcoming assault on welfare?

If the British experience is anything to go by, then I would place bets on this process having started already!

In this event, I will no doubt be hearing more of the same refrain from taxi drivers after July 15! And with added disablist and racist commentary to boot!

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