Make work-for-dole mandatory to break habit, says Sharples

By John Armstrong, Ruth Berry

It should be compulsory for all unemployed beneficiaries to be placed on work-for-the-dole or training schemes, Maori Party co-leaders say.

They believe that sort of action is needed to attack entrenched attitudes of state dependency.

Their stance is much tougher than National's, which only requires people to be "available" for such schemes.

Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples said: "It is hardline but this is a serious situation and it's our people trapped in that whole benefit package idea. If we are going to break it, then that's how we do it.

"We're tired of our people being tied to the benefit strings, it leads nowhere, it gives no hope, it becomes a way of life instead of a stop-gap measure and that's what we're fighting against.

"We would be looking to work with the other parties to break this benefit dependency in the first place, except in the emergency situations."

The party was particularly concerned about young people.

The Government's goal, set several years ago, was to ensure no 16 to 19-year-olds were on an unemployment benefit by this year.

Although it has reduced the numbers significantly - down 15,000 from 2000 - there are still 2900 in that age group collecting the dole.

Of those, Work and Income said yesterday 992 were on some type of training scheme.

"We are getting near full employment and it seems ridiculous that people can leave school and get on a benefit right away," Dr Sharples said.

"If you are going to give benefits out, let the people start using the skills of working and supporting something in order to get their benefit. If they are physically and mentally able then let them serve their society."

Co-leader Tariana Turia said this week her party was "very keen to have a look at the whole benefit system. We don't like our people being on a benefit ... we don't think it's healthy for them to be beneficiaries of the state."

They have "got to have a hand up certainly, but we'd prefer that they worked for it. We're quite keen to push that too".

Asked if he wanted compulsory work or training for all people on the unemployment benefit, Dr Sharples said: "I'm talking about all people, it has to be all people."

"There are programmes out there for adults and school leavers which are very good at building skills."

Unfortunately many of them had "ridiculous requirements where you've got to have something dysfunctional in your family or your social circumstances before you can get on the damn things".

Dr Sharples said he was not promoting a crackdown on the domestic purpose benefit, for "we have a culture of accepting solo parents, [and] we have to take care of them".

Social Development and Employment Minister David Benson-Pope said if the Maori Party co-leaders were advocating work programmes "that would merely be a repetition of National's failed work-for-the-dole scheme.

"An evaluation of that scheme showed that people were more likely to move into paid work if they were not trapped on make-work schemes. Labour is interested in real jobs for real money."

The success of a raft of employment initiatives was reflected in the huge drop in unemployment numbers since Labour had come into office.

How the Maori Party could "blatantly ignore these positive outcomes and instead regurgitate a demonstrably failed policy from the past is hard to fathom".


Beneficiaries

* 286,641 on the main benefits, down from 356,492 in 2001 (Dec).
* 38,000 on the unemployment benefit (Dec).
* Maori account for about 31.5 per cent of all beneficiaries and 36.5 per cent of those on the unemployment benefit (Sept).


Maori cab looks better placed and is revving up

Tariana Turia doubts Labour still considers the Maori Party "the last cab off the rank" and is looking forward to a better working relationship.

The former Labour MP and Helen Clark had a bitter falling out over the foreshore issue, which led to the Maori Party's formation.

But with the Maori Party set to be a pivotal player in the next election, the main parties will not want to alienate it.

Asked about Labour's "last cab off the rank" remarks heading into the last election, Mrs Turia said this week: "I think the placement of cars has changed rapidly.

"We're looking forward to a much better relationship - after all they are the Government, there are issues that are confronting our people, we have to work with them."

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