Welfare overhaul sees benefits fall

By James Fuller, Sandra Conchie

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From this week, thousands of people are expected to be cut from welfare benefits as sweeping changes to the social security system take effect. However, anti-poverty campaigners have slammed the reforms, labelling them a brutal crackdown on the country's most disadvantaged.

Changes to the welfare system will affect nearly 29,000 Bay of Plenty residents and those with outstanding arrest warrants will have their benefits halved.

Nationwide, 8000 beneficiaries with arrest warrants outstanding for offences such as unpaid fines will have their benefits halved unless they clear warrants within 38 days. Those without children will lose their benefits altogether.

Drug-testing of job-seekers is also expected to cut benefits for a further 5800 people.

Mike Bryant, Ministry of Social Development Regional Commissioner for Bay of Plenty, said all 29,000 Bay beneficiaries affected by the changes had been advised in writing.

"Welfare reform brings changes to many clients, but we have the people, training programmes and support to help get them back into the workplace," he said.

Mr Bryant said the reforms were aimed at supporting more people into work. The payment rates were not changing, he added, but the range of people who will be given extra support to find work is widening.

"People are better off when they're in work and people are moving into jobs on a daily basis," Mr Bryant said .

The welfare system overhaul has already seen sickness beneficiaries, sole parents and widows with no children under 14 face the same requirements to find work as other jobless people.

Since October 2012, single parents have been required to work part-time when their youngest child turns 5 and full-time when they turn 14.

Those with children under 5 have been required to take reasonable steps to prepare for employment such as training and work experience.

Tauranga's Budget Advisory Service co-ordinator Diane Bruin said while she applauded the reforms she has concerns about the effect on her organisation. "The changes will definitely impact on our service and I'm sure we will see a lot more people coming forward seeking our help," she said.

Mrs Bruin said in her view the changes would help to introduce a more level playing field when it comes to beneficiaries and low-income wage earners. "In the end I think we will see better outcomes for beneficiaries and ordinary wage earners who will be treated a bit more equally," she said.

Auckland Action Against Poverty spokeswoman Sarah Thompson predicted the reforms would have a "brutal" effect on hundreds of thousands of children and adults who depended on the state for survival. "This is not about getting people into decent work, it's not about job creation. It's about cutting costs by pushing vulnerable people off the books."

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said the new approach would offer people more individualised support, especially targeting those at risk of long-term dependence.

New work obligations for single parents were an opportunity for beneficiaries to get back into the working world, she said.

"Like most New Zealanders, I think that's absolutely reasonable and more importantly, it's making a difference to sole parents and their children as already 9000 sole parents have gone off welfare into work."

The reforms represent the biggest upheaval in the welfare state since the Social Security Act was passed by the first Labour government in 1938.


New categories



  • Main benefit categories such as Unemployment Benefit; Domestic Purposes Benefit; Invalids Benefit; Sickness Benefit and Widows Benefit have been replaced with three new benefit types (from yesterday):


  • Jobseeker Support for those actively seeking and available for work.


  • Sole Parent Support for sole parents with children under 14 years.


  • Supported Living payment for people significantly restricted by sickness, injury or disability. - Work and Income NZ

Expectations:



  • New expectations for people receiving a benefit (from yesterday) include:


  • Clearing outstanding arrest warrants.


  • Telling Work and Income before leaving New Zealand as their benefit will be stopped automatically. This ensures the appropriate benefits continue to be paid.


  • Parents accessing health and education services for their children.


  • If they have work obligations, being able to pass a drug test if it's required by a prospective employer.

- Work and Income NZ

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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