Speed of welfare changes slammed

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The Government has been blasted for the lack of time it gave for public feedback on a proposed welfare reform law, with a Hawke's Bay Justice of the Peace leading the charge.

Wednesday was the first day of hearings for public submissions on the Social Security (Youth Support and Work Focus) Amendment Bill, which will introduce a raft of welfare changes, including requiring parents to look for work and new rules for young beneficiaries.

Yesterday Robin Gwynn spoke out against the short period for public feedback, calling it "utterly unreasonable".

"There was no opportunity for local discussion, and frankly this kind of timeframe can only produce the legislative equivalent of the leaky house syndrome," he told the committee.

Job creation was another major issue raised during yesterday's submissions, and Mr Gwynn said the legislation was putting the "cart before the horse".

"The bill reads as something punitive, and without jobs being available - and they are not - it's profoundly unhelpful," Mr Gwynn said.

"Having people work instead of just accept money is an excellent idea, it won't succeed, however, unless there are jobs for them to work at."

The Law Society was among a number of submitters who said not enough time had been given for public consideration of the bill, which had its first reading in Parliament on March 27. Submissions closed on April 13.

National MP Tim Macindoe disagreed there had been insufficient time, noting a long process, including consultation, was undertaken by the welfare working group before the bill was drawn up.

"This is not something that has just happened in the last five minutes, this is something that has been going on, very much in the public domain, for the best part of two years if not longer," Mr Macindoe said.

However, law reform committee member Andrew Butler told the committee that, although he was aware of the earlier work, there was a big difference between consultation on proposals and consultation once a law was drafted.

Caritas, a Catholic social justice group, said the timeframe allowed was "unrealistic", and children were being endangered by the speed of legislative change, just as children were put at risk by excessive speed on the roads.

Auckland Action Against Poverty spokeswoman Anita Lacey also criticised the bill, saying it would not alleviate poverty. "It does not address the causes of poverty, such as the shortage of employment, low wages, or low beneficiary rates," Dr Lacey said.

"The bill wrongly suggests that paid employment should be the goal of all beneficiaries, regardless of the reasons people are on different categories of benefits."

Under the new law, sole parents on the domestic purposes benefit would have to look for part-time work when their children are 5 or older, and would have to look for fulltime work once their children are 14 years old. If a parent had another child while receiving a benefit they would have to look for work after one year. The legislation would also introduce a more managed system for teenage beneficiaries, including direct payments for costs such as rent, and a payment card for living costs. APNZ

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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