Does it do good or does it feel good?


In a continuation of the article about the differences between the left and the right’s worldview, let’s analyse a 2007 political policy decision by asking these questions:

Does it do good?

Does it feel good?

In 2007 the Labour government changed the law so that the intellectually disabled would be paid the minimum wage. This was a feel good policy and they ignored the many families (including my own) that begged them to reconsider. We told them it would hurt intellectually disabled men and women who needed a lot of supervision and staff support in order to be able to work. If they forced sheltered workshops to the pay minimum wage then they would have to close. Businesses who previously were happy to take on a disabled person would shut their doors because an intellectually disabled person needs support to do their job, unlike an able-bodied person.

The Labour government, under Helen Clark, ignored the pleas of families all over New Zealand because, to them, this was a policy that looked great on paper and made people ignorant of the truth feel good.

OPINION: The American economist Milton Friedman once said it’s a great mistake to judge things by their intentions rather than by their results.

Unfortunately, it’s a mistake repeatedly made by agenda-driven reformers on a mission to create the perfect society. A Radio New Zealand Spectrum programme brought one such instance to public attention earlier this month.

Until 2007, intellectually disabled people in New Zealand were exempted from minimum wage laws. This meant they could be employed doing menial work in facilities known as sheltered workshops.

It was a system whereby hundreds, possibly thousands, of New Zealanders who were incapable of holding down proper jobs were nonetheless able to occupy themselves each day doing simple, repetitive work.

They were paid only a token sum, but the money wasn’t important. What really mattered was the companionship they enjoyed in the workplace and the satisfaction they got from having a job to go to each day.

It was an arrangement long supported by the IHC and by parents with working-age disabled children. The IHC itself was the country’s biggest operator of sheltered workshops.

Then ideology intervened. Disability became politicised.

Sheltered workshops may have admirably met the needs of those working in them, but ideologically driven reformers looked at them and saw only exploitation.

Where others saw contented workplaces, activists saw a vulnerable minority being deprived of their rights to be paid a proper wage and join unions.

Pumped up with reformist zeal, the Labour Government in 2007 repealed the legislation which since 1960 had allowed disabled workers to be paid less than the legal minimum.

A system was adopted whereby everyone working in sheltered workshops was individually assessed to see whether they were capable of mainstream employment at normal pay rates. Those who were judged incapable were given a continuing exemption from the minimum wage law.

The IHC applauded. It too had been ideologically captured. Over opposition from many of its bewildered members, the IHC seized the opportunity to shut down 76 workshops and “business units”.

Part of the problem was that the IHC itself had changed radically. From an organisation run largely by parents and volunteers, it had evolved into a government-funded Wellington bureaucracy led by disability-sector careerists.

The reforms had predictable consequences. True, a minority of the more “able” disabled found paying work. But the closure of those sheltered workshops deprived hundreds of intellectually disabled people of the satisfaction of going to work each day and enjoying the camaraderie of others.

Despite extravagant promises, no satisfactory form of alternative activity was found for most of those tipped out of work. In many cases, idleness caused their behaviour to deteriorate.

Parents and caregivers were left bitter and disenchanted. Many felt betrayed by the IHC, the very organisation they looked to for support.

Of course, none of this directly affected the well-paid ideologues, politicians and bureaucrats in Wellington, who were safely insulated from the consequences of their policies.

Now it seems the reformers aren’t satisfied with the damage already done in the name of bogus “inclusiveness”. AsSpectrum reported, the exemption permits issued to more than 800 disabled workers nationwide are now under threat of cancellation.

This is presumably Phase II of the project commenced in 2007 ? the final solution, if you like.

Let’s give the reformers the benefit of the doubt and assume they want to create an ideal world in which no-one is disadvantaged.

The problem is, they’re willing to make vulnerable people suffer for it to happen.

Spectrum focused on Southland Disability Enterprises in Invercargill, one of a small number of independent sheltered workshop operators that continued to function after IHC abandoned the field.

The 80 disabled people working at SDE have exemption permits which the Government now wants to cancel. If that happens, SDE will cease to be viable and the people who happily work there will be out of jobs. This is madness.

The Wellington bureaucrat driving the change explained that exempting disabled people from the minimum wage law was “out of step with modern thinking”.

She went on to pronounce that people with disabilities mustn’t be treated differently from others. Problem is, they are different. Or perhaps she hasn’t noticed.

And what’s being offered in return? Nothing at all, if you unpicked the bureaucrat’s vague and non-committal reference to possible subsidies, employment supports and training schemes.

I was reminded of the far-fetched promises made in 2007, when the reformers cruelly misled intellectually disabled people with phantasmic visions of the fulfilling new life that awaited them.

I wonder what National’s Invercargill MP Sarah Dowie (no, I hadn’t heard of her either) is doing to save the jobs of the SDE workers. This is her Government, after all. Or do politicians find it too hard to resist agenda-driven public servants?

I started this column with a quotation, so I’ll finish with another ? this time from the writer CS Lewis, who memorably said: “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive.”


When we lived in Mellon’s Bay in Howick Cam and I paid a group of IHC men to mow our lawn. Including the staff member, the van that turned up at our home every fortnight held at least 5 men. They had two lawnmowers going at the same time and two guys who took care of the lawn clippings. One guy was on the weed wacker. They were a happy and proud group of men who loved their job. When the minimum wage law was changed they all lost their jobs and their work van and mowing equipment was all sold. Instead of a productive work day out in the fresh air doing physical work they were condemned to 5 days a week of going on outings! It broke my heart because my brother was condemned to the same fate. Previously, he was in a workshop making wooden toys. His job was to sand the wood. The law change was a feel good policy that hurt people. It is one of the many reasons that I will never support a left-wing government.

It is well past time that the National government repealed this damaging law change. How about it John Key? It may not make you popular but it is the right thing to do.

To learn more about what happened you can read a Listener article here.