Kirsty Wynn

Kirsty Wynn is a senior reporter at the Herald on Sunday.

Records reveal Bennett's 'dirty little secret': Ardern

More people on benefits as Govt fiddles with job requirements

Steph Gray has applied for 20 jobs in the past two months. Photo / Hagen Hopkins
Steph Gray has applied for 20 jobs in the past two months. Photo / Hagen Hopkins

Paula Bennett's reputation for being tough on beneficiaries is in jeopardy as figures reveal record high numbers on state financial support.

Labour spokeswoman for social development Jacinda Ardern said the highest unemployment numbers were at around 10 per cent in the early 1990s but support for solo parents and invalids have hit record highs during Bennett's reign as Social Development Minister.

"When it comes to the worst DPB, sickness, and invalid benefit numbers, these have all been since 2010 and under Paula Bennett," Ardern said. "Interestingly, the two highest figures for the DPB were both after the introduction of Bennett's welfare reforms, which mostly targeted DPB recipients by increasing their work obligations."

Ardern provided the Herald on Sunday with figures which showed:

* Between January 2009 and January 2012, the number of people on the DPB rose by 13.2 per cent.

* During the same period, the number of people on the unemployment benefit rose by 82 per cent.

"The Government seems to be clamping down on DPB mums in an effort to show 'action' to mask their 'inaction' in employment and job creation," Ardern said. "But neither figure will budge unless the core issue of job availability is first addressed."

Ardern says that Bennett's "welfare reforms will change benefit categories so we will no longer be able to compare her record to past years. That means she will go down in history as having presided over historic highs.

"That is her dirty little secret. It's a failure no one should be proud of."

Contraception for female beneficiaries has been taken up by fewer than 40 people since it was announced.

Bennett launched stage one of the National-led Government's comprehensive welfare reforms this month. She said the programme would put an emphasis on work availability - addressing the fact that 13 per cent of the country's working-age population were currently on a benefit, with 220,000 children in benefit-dependent homes.

The first bill would be introduced this month, with changes to youth entitlements to take effect from the end of July. Other initiatives on work obligations would start in October.

A second bill, overhauling benefit categories and clamping down on fraud, would be introduced in July.

Ardern said a projection for savings of $1 billion over four years had been offset by a Treasury admission it would depend on "economic conditions". "These stats are soon to become Bennett's dirty little secret. Once her new welfare reforms go through, the benefit categories we have now will be reduced down to just three: supported living, job seeker, and sole-parent support. This will essentially make it impossible to compare the impact of the welfare reforms."

A spokeswoman for Bennett said the numbers looked high because they included two categories. "You are looking at the figures for DPB-related benefits which include both sole parents on the DPB (DPB-SP) and those caring for the sick and infirm on the DPB (DPB-CSI)."

Jobs? What jobs?

Steph Gray firmly believes there is no job to fit her circumstances.

The Wainuiomata mum of one has applied for 20 jobs in the past two months and has had no luck. She's registered with Winz but no opportunities have come from there either.

Gray has been solo with her son Malachi since her marriage collapsed three years ago.

"My son was 5 at the time and the marriage broke up just as my son started school."

Malachi was diagnosed with epilepsy two years ago.

"I get $530 a week and that covers rent, power, phone, food, doctors, insurance, school fees - and petrol. When you have a child with epilepsy, a car is not a luxury, it is a necessity."

It costs $36 every time her boy goes to the doctor and medication costs about $6 a day.

Gray gets her benefit each week and has weekly costs of $440. She budgets for $90 to cover food and petrol.

"There have been weeks I haven't been able to eat. I go without and my son eats."

She said she would prefer work hours around school times.

"John Key says there are jobs out there but I want to know where they are."

Minister for Social Development Paula Bennett said she did not know the individual circumstances but she believed persistence would pay off eventually.

"I'm backing sole parents 100 per cent to get into work because I can see more for our mums and dads than a life on welfare, but I absolutely acknowledge it's not easy."

- Herald on Sunday

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