Mana in Mahi isn’t your average work-for-the-dole scheme
Translated to “strength in work,” Labour’s Mana in Mahi scheme shows real potential to make a difference in the lives of many New Zealanders. Moving young people from reliance on a benefit to real work that pays is a means of instilling hope and dignity in people struggling to make a life for themselves.
Youth unemployment is a huge issue for New Zealand. Over the past decade, the employment participation rate for 15-24 year olds has taken a dive relative to other age groups. Evidence suggests that people who receive a benefit early in life are much more likely to remain a benefit long-term, meaning that breaking the cycle early makes good social and economic sense.
Moving young people from reliance on a benefit to real work that pays is a means of instilling hope and dignity
This policy is more than just another working for the dole scheme, it’s a sensible, well-designed initiative that offers a second chance for young people facing serious challenges. Alongside funding for one-on-one support, the Government will pay participating employers who take on apprentices the equivalent of the benefit to the young person, and employers will top it up to at least the minimum wage. There is also a focus on gaining industry qualifications.
We’ve seen plenty of work for the dole-like schemes mooted in recent years, but none have progressed further than talk. In 2016, then-Labour leader Andrew Little proposed a policy called Ready for Work, seeking to place young people into community work like planting trees or working for City Missions for the minimum wage. Shane Jones also announced his own Working for Your Country scheme last year. Jones’ pitch was certainly more stick than carrot, saying “it’s about time our ne’er-do-well nephs get a wakeup call,” to “get off the couch” and into work. Unsurprisingly, Jones’ plan also involved planting trees.
Mana in Mahi is better than these ideas for three reasons. Firstly, the name and kaupapa is more inspiring, focussing on the dignity of work and promoting sustainability—careers, not just jobs, are the goal. Sanctions will still exist, but this policy offers an aspirational path. Secondly, it collaborates with businesses rather than promoting whatever-random-work-bureaucrats-comes-up-with, and has a better chance at filling skills shortages. Thirdly, it is relational and acknowledges the additional support many of these young people need.
The name and kaupapa is more inspiring, focussing on the dignity of work and promoting sustainability
“They are not going to turn up to plant trees just because you ask them to,” reasoned former Prime Minister English, “these young people have chaotic lives, a lot of them are avoiding the system, they need pretty much one-to-one support to get them to a point where they are going to regularly turn up to work.” This is why pastoral care—which can be as simple as someone checking in on someone who doesn’t turn up to work—is a core part of the package.
Wisely, Mana in Mahi is a small pilot for now, giving the Government the chance to see whether it works. I think it will, because it’s about more than just getting young people off the couch—it shows them a better, hope-filled way, and walks alongside them on the journey.