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Gangs: We get what we pay for

In 2016 the government provided you, the public, with a valuable insight into what gangs are costing us.


When I went searching for an update on the 2014 data, there was none. And that rather highlights that this Labour government doesn’t see gangs through the same lens as the last National government.


The absurdly mis-named Ministry of Social Development described gangs thus:


“The harm inflicted by gangs is a serious issue in New Zealand. We have a complex gang problem that spans social, economic and justice issues.”


In 2014 there were 3,960 adult gang members known to police.


Last year, in 2021, it was reported:


“As of June 30, there were 8,061 gang members on the list curated by police, up from 5,343 at the end of 2017.”


Burgeoning numbers?


Some would argue the toss.


Jarrod Gilbert, sociologist and gangs expert says there is a methodological issue:


"It's incredibly easy to get on the [gang] list because the police identify someone wearing a patch and so their name goes onto this database. But if people leave the gangs - and so many people are - it's very, very hard for police on the street to identify when someone's left."


That’s the first I’ve heard that it is easy to leave a gang. Two anecdotal cases spring to mind.


A friend told me how she had to smuggle money into a prison to pay a gang boss to let her partner leave.


Another friend told how he got “stabbed up” on his doorstep when other members got wind of his impending desertion.


It is notoriously difficult to extricate from gang life. There is no ‘unsubscribe’ button.


In something of a contradiction Gilbert is also on record as saying leaving gangs could be difficult, especially because of the physical marks members carried such as facial tattoos. Although getting a tattoo wasn’t compulsory, there was a “pressure” for young people to get one.


Gangs are not ‘friendly societies.’ It is grasping at straws to draw analogies between Rotary and Black Power to justify non-application of association laws. But people do it anyway. I expect one can safely resign from Rotary though I have no evidence to back that up.


Anyway, back to 2016.


You, Dear Taxpayer, working in jobs you hate or love, but always contributing to the wellbeing of your fellow man, furnish much of the gangs’ budget.


Over an examined twenty-one year period 92 percent of gang members received a benefit at some point with the average duration of receipt at 8.9 years.


You contributed to their rent through the accommodation supplement and their food, through hardship grants. Not to forget income-related rents and repairs to Kainga Ora (whose reputation has recently spiralled into a black hole.)


You also paid their ‘partners’ single parent benefits and child tax credits. Their weekly ‘package’ sometimes amasses to more than $1,000.


Gang members do not itch to attach themselves to clever, educated, and independent wahine. Gang women are often themselves the female offspring of gang parents and learn their parenting in situ.


According to MSD, in 2014:


The alleged perpetrator of abuse or neglect of gang member’s children was more often recorded as the child’s mother than the gang member father.


So how much abuse or neglect are we talking about?


A total of 3,516 children of gang members were recorded as being the victims of abuse or neglect that had been substantiated on investigation by Child, Youth and Family. This is 60 percent of the total 5,890 known children of gang members.


Children growing up in gang families are more likely to be abused and neglected than not.


Authorities officially acknowledge:


There are in the order of 6,000 to 7,000 children known to be associated with gang members who are growing up in welfare recipient families, and are subject to high rates of abuse and neglect.


It is bad enough that the situation is allowed to continue, or even deteriorate based on the numbers.


But it is abominable that those who decry the misery visited on these children are simultaneously compelled to pay for it through the tax system.


Imagine an excel sheet recording the allocation of the taxes you paid last week. Make sure you head up a column with ‘Financial incentives for gang procreation.’


It is important to gang members to father children, and they do it more frequently than non-gang members. According to MSD 2,337 gang members had benefit spells that included 7,075 dependent children. But this is only part of the story. Many gang female partners or ex-partners would be receiving their own benefit to which children will be attached.


A portrait of Kawerau in 2010 explains this proclivity:


A gang rules the bedroom in many of the homes in New Zealand's DPB capital - Kawerau.


"We have one gang in our town, the Mongrel Mob," said a community leader who asked not to be named for fear of the Mob.


"Every Mongrel Mob man creates a line - that is the number of children they can produce. So they will have a couple of girlfriends and they might have a wife, and they will have mistresses, and they will be in on-and-off relationships," he said.


"When you are born and raised with that mentality, and we have second and third generations raised like that in this town, what that turns out is sole parents."


At that time, in a town of 7,000 there were 661 DPB recipients and 624 unemployment and sickness benefit claimants. At September 2021, since benefit name changes, only 300 parents are receiving the sole parent support benefit BUT 1,008 people are dependent on job seeker support (which will include a number of sole parents.) Not much appears to have changed in Kawerau. A vignette from early 2021:


“Kawerau Mongrel Mob leader Frank Milosevic, 52, has been sentenced to 17.5 years imprisonment after being found guilty on 16 drug and money laundering related charges. He has received a minimum non parole period of eight years and nine months.


Slobodan Milosevic, 30, was sentenced to 16 years and nine months imprisonment with a non-parole period of seven years and 10 months…


After Slobodan received his sentence, people in the public gallery began barking and jeering.


Slobodan is the father of three children, and his partner is due to have a fourth child later this year.” (my emphasis)


No doubt with an incarcerated partner (and serving an associated home detention sentence herself) the expectant mother of three will now be dependent on the generosity of the taxpayer.


As only one of thousands of gang mothers receiving benefit income in their bank accounts each pay-day, we shouldn’t be so hard on her. Afterall it’s a lifestyle government after government has condoned by financing it.


She will be able to access the Prime Minister’s Best Start payment for her new-born intended to ensure the child is well-nourished, safe and thriving. Of course, breast milk, tactile care and attention would achieve the same and come without a price tag. As Coco Chanel apparently said, “The best things in life are free.”


Unfortunately, the father is not and whether his absence in the child’s life is a curse or a blessing will always be an unknown factor. He is though the son of a gang member himself. The abiding presence of his father did not have a happy outcome.


You should now add another column to that excel sheet headed ‘Prisons’. Between them the father and son will be requiring around a quarter of a million dollars annually in upkeep and ‘rehab’. Or a cool cumulative $4m if they both serve their minimum sentences.


There’s been a great deal of bally-hooing over the deported 501s and their contribution to escalating gang and gun violence. But isn’t that a mere smokescreen? New Zealand does very well in amplifying its homegrown problem through strong welfare incentives and weak child protection services. While both are heading in the wrong direction, we are destined to keep getting what we pay for.




Lindsay Mitchell has been researching and commenting on welfare since 2001. She has authored numerous reports for Family First and the NZBR, and had articles published in the New Zealand Herald, Dominion Post, the Listener and various other publications.

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