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Data mining and welfare

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We know that our personal data is being collected by various agencies and companies, and of course the government.  The welfare system in Australia is following suite on what New Zealand has implemented 2 years ago, with some clear indications that the most vulnerable in society are not being helped.



The New Zealand government believes that increasing use of predictive modelling techniques based on personal data from beneficiaries (incorporating data from child, youth and family payments, work and income, and the criminal justice system) will help it identify the most vulnerable in society and intervene at an earlier stage so they do not become long-term or lifetime beneficiaries.  Sounds fair enough, but what is the reality of this?


“Any of these data modelling tools – trying to predict the future – they are notoriously wrong,” said Louise Humpage, a senior lecturer in sociology and criminology at the University of Auckland.  “And they are hugely dehumanising as well – people become a statistic and not an individual.”

New Zealand's welfare system ... treats beneficiaries as a threat to society, to be policed and managed

Darrin Hodgetts, professor at Massey University

Experts agree that increasingly New Zealand’s most desperate citizens are “opting out” of the state welfare system due to its complex administration requirements and hardline approach.  “The quest for more data seems to be spreading like wildfire, and it really concerns me, not least because it is a cold, hard method for a government agency that should be built on empathy,” Humpage said.


“By using future liability as its measure, strictly speaking the government don’t care what happens to the people who go away – who give up on trying to get what they deserve from the state. They’re not included in the data. And that’s the cracker.  “Welfare should be underpinned by a caring, facilitating approach. This is emphatically not.”


I work for such a government department, and see this day in day out.  Like all of us, I yearn so much for Jehovah's new world where all his citizens are treated equal with no 'social security' departments.

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