Welfare reform law discriminatory - Human Rights Commission

By Amelia Romanos

David Rutherford of the Human Rights Commission. Photo / NZ Herald
David Rutherford of the Human Rights Commission. Photo / NZ Herald

New welfare laws to tighten up the rules for youth benefits and require parents to look for work are unjustifiably discriminatory, the Human Rights Commission says.

Speaking to Parliament's social services committee this morning, Chief Human Rights Commissioner David Rutherford said provisions in the Social Security (Youth Support and Work Focus) Amendment Bill discriminated against people on the grounds of age, family status, and employment status.

The bill introduces a raft of welfare changes, including a more managed system for teenage beneficiaries, with direct payments for costs such as rent, and a payment card for living costs.

It will also require sole parents on the domestic purposes benefit to look for part-time work when their children are five or older, and for fulltime work once their children are 14. If a parent had another child while receiving a benefit they would have to look for work after one year.

In his submission to the committee, Mr Rutherford said he disagreed with the Ministry of Justice's advice that the discrimination was justifiable.

"While discrimination can be justified, the threshold should be very high," Mr Rutherford said.

"The commission considers that insufficient evidence has been provided to demonstrate a rationale connection that compulsory income management services work and are needed, or that the proposal's proportionate given its blanket application."

He recommended the committee make a number of amendments to the legislation to better meet the justification threshold, including making the income management provision optional, with compulsory management only used as a last resort.

Mr Rutherford joined a number of other submitters in criticising the time that had been given for people to make submissions on the bill, saying the constrained timeframe of just 11 working days undermined the principles of democracy.

Submissions from the Law Society, The Council of Trade Unions, the Children's Commissioner and a number of others have slammed the shortened submissions period, saying at least six weeks should have been given for such significant legislation.

Labour MP Jacinda Ardern yesterday called for Social Welfare Minister Paula Bennett to reopen submissions, saying the "overwhelming message" was for the process to slow down.

- APNZ

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