I have a textbook to write. So my publisher tells me. In truth, I have been working on it for quite some time, in fits and starts (mainly research and some disorganised writing), but today is day zero for actually beginning to haul the creature out of the shadows and into the light. The book is to be a text on social security law in New Zealand. I feel as though I have in front of me an almost insurmountable mountain to climb. So naturally, the best thing would for me to blog about the process! There are a couple of reasons for commencing a series of dedicated posts about the writing of this book. One reason is to have some degree of accountability for doing what I say I’m going to do. The world is full of unrealised promises and book publishers prompting recalcitrant authors like me to get their sh*t together and ‘FINISH THE BOOK’. By writing to you, dear (solitary?) reader, about writing the book, I hope I will have something to report, and something to show for it all at the end. The second reason is that these posts might actually end up being useful. I have never written a textbook. I have written chapters and articles, theses and other kinds of writing, but never a textbook. So perhaps my experience might be useful for others as they contemplate their own textbook projects. Even if only to have a chance to laugh maniacally at my misbegotten efforts.
I don’t want to wallow. This series of posts is not intended to be therapeutic, it is intended to be mildly journalistic as well as reflective. Social security law (you might call it the ‘law of benefits’) can be, by nature, controversial. Every political ideologue has, apparently, a grasp of the truth on welfare. That ‘truth’ must be upheld by the right laws. Despite the fact I teach social security law at a New Zealand university (Victoria) does not, in my view, makes me an expert. There are real experts out there, many of them in benefit rights services, and in the legal services division of the Ministry of Social Development. I have neither practiced social security law, nor written any of it. But several years of teaching it have given me a level of experience that I’d like to reflect in this text.
It would be easy enough to turn this text into a polemic. I don’t want to do that. I am not one to overly romanticise the original social security scheme
Here is the link to a fairly critical speech I delivered at the public seminar celebrating the 75th anniversary of the 1938 Social Security Act 1938 run by the Child Poverty Act. http://www.cpag.org.nz/assets/Presentations/131120%20SSA1938%20Mamari%20Stephens%20Speech.pdf.
My own politics are centrist. I believe a society must look after its citizens who fall on hard times and those who cannot support themselves. The State is best placed to deliver this support. I also think people should look after themselves. We should be self reliant first and foremost. Encouraging self reliance and engagement in work and education is fine by me, but I think community and iwi/hapū organisations and whānau can do a better job than the government in effecting that engagement. I favour a more universalist approach to welfare primarily because of the difficulties and intrusiveness of the bureaucracy required to maintain a highly targeted welfare system. On the other hand I absolutely recognise that NZ is a low wage and low tax economy. Universalism is usually the preserve of high wage/high tax economies. The fact we have any degree of universalism at all (largely by way of Superannuation) is something to be proud of. I also consider that the social security system has no place in the bedrooms of New Zealanders. It angers me that some men and women will lie/evade and manipulate information in order to retain eligibility to benefit. The answer to that problem is not cracking down on ALL beneficiaries and posting caseworkers under every bed. Prohibition is clearly futile. I would favour a system that enables people to pool their resources to look after children. People do it, and the system should reflect this.
So in short, I favour a system we don’t really have. Oh well. This book is to be about the law of the system we do have.
My plan here is to post regularly to chart the progress of writing this text. Some of those posts will include my reflections on aspects of the system and its law as I grapple with them. I’m expecting most posts to be relatively short.