Protester fails to win minister's sympathy

By Peter de Graaf

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Social Development Minister Paula Bennett says she's always willing to look at ways of improving policy - but thinks the rule hunger striker Sam Kuha is protesting over is "about right".

Mr Kuha, who lives between Kaikohe and Okaihau, says he has not eaten since September 14 on his hunger strike.

It's a protest about having to join a two-week waiting list to see a budgeter when he requested a special needs grant because he had run out of food.

Work and Income policy stipulates that beneficiaries undertake budgeting activity after every three grants before they get another.

Kaitaia GP Lance O'Sullivan, who is supporting the 59-year-old, said helping beneficiaries learn budgeting skills and financial literacy was a good idea - but budgeting services in the Far North were overworked and under-resourced, so people who had run out of food ended up having to wait as long as three weeks.

Ms Bennett, however, said the Government had already significantly boosted funding for budgeting groups to make up for increased demand. She also backed Work and Income's policy of requiring people who kept requesting extra help to get budgeting help.

"I'm always willing to look at ways to improve policy where needed.

"However, I think we have this about right - when someone frequently requires extra hardship assistance, it triggers a budgeting activity which can alleviate the situation and may or may not include seeing an adviser," she said.

"We've also increased funding for community groups providing budgeting services from $4.3 million in 2008 to $13 million this year, which included a one-off funding boost of $589,000 in recognition that these services are coping with increased demand."

A ministry spokesman told the Advocate that emergency budgeting advice was available for people in Mr Kuha's situation, so if they had run out of food but were required to see a budgeter before getting a special needs grant they did not have to wait.

- NORTHERN ADVOCATE

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