Govt axe destroys dreams

By Leah Haines

Natasha Fuller now has to stay on the benefit. Photo / Janna Dixon
Natasha Fuller now has to stay on the benefit. Photo / Janna Dixon

Hundreds of mums and dads expecting to become teachers, nurses and other professionals have had their dreams dashed after the Government axed an allowance for sole parent beneficiaries going to university.

Domestic purposes beneficiaries have begun turning up to enrol at universities and polytechnics to find themselves locked out of their prospective careers.

In a double blow, most appear to have been heading for careers in education and nursing - where staff shortages in some regions have reached crisis point.

Some had passed pre-entry courses or been accepted into specific degrees. Several had moved their children to new schools so they could study for courses they could no longer attend.

Many had been working with Work and Income for months and been promised help with their study plans.

"I'm going to continue to be stuck on the DPB for a much longer time as there is nothing that I can do that is going to support my children," said one single mum.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett announced in May's budget that the Training Incentive Allowance (TIA) - a key stepping stone off welfare for DPB and invalid beneficiaries since the late 1980s - would apply only to high school level or lower courses.

But universities and polytechnics knew nothing of the changes until students tried to enrol in the past few days.

Work and Income figures show at least 4500 beneficiaries a year are likely be affected. The change denies the allowance to anyone enrolled in courses at level 4 or above after May 28.

Parents are shocked that Bennett, who gained a social work degree while on the DPB in the 1990s, was the minster to make the cuts.

She once said education was her escape from the horror of living on the DPB and hoped other solo mums would be inspired by the same "sort of ambition and goals".

Hamilton single mum Natasha Fuller said it seemed she wanted them to aspire to a supermarket job, which didn't pay enough to support a family.

A ministry evaluation of the allowance in 2003 showed beneficiaries who received it spent less time on the benefit.

The move is expected to affect mums at New Zealand's 20 teen parenting units who used the allowance for fees, course costs, transport and childcare. "It will prevent them going on to further study after secondary school. It's a real barrier to them getting off welfare," said Association of Teen Parent Educator's chairwoman Debbie Whiteley.

Labour's social development spokeswoman Annette King said the minister seemed more intent on trapping people on welfare, which "she was not prepared to accept for herself".

Bennett said the changes treated everyone studying at higher level in a fairer way. "We will still support beneficiaries to get to those higher levels of study, it's about helping people get to a level where they can help themselves."

Cuts cripple mum's study

Natasha Fuller has dreams of becoming an early childhood teacher.

But after leaving school on her 16th birthday with no qualifications, and with three children to raise - including two with high medical needs - it's been an uphill battle.

After breaking up with the father of her eldest two children, she went back to school, using the Training Incentive Allowance to get her NCEA levels 1 and 2.

When her baby's father left this year, she was alone and back on the benefit.

Though devastated, Natasha began a Teachers Aid Certificate and volunteered two days a week at her children's school.

Last month she was accepted into Massey University's prestigious Bachelor of Education degree. But within days of her acceptance, Work and Income told her the allowance had been cancelled.

Natasha was devastated.

"If got a job at New World or something, which seems to be where (the Government) wants us to work, it's not enough to get by with three kids. I would have to stay on the benefit," she said.

"It's bizarre. Daycare centres need people with qualifications or they'll close down. Why not help people get into that area? You get judged a lot as a solo mum. But I was proving I could do something with my life. And now I feel I have done all of that for nothing."

'Utterly dismayed'

Mother-of-three Jennifer Johnston's marriage broke up two years ago.

After years of being a stay-at-home mum, the 39-year-old decided to gain new skills to re-enter the workforce.

With Work and Income help, she chose to train as a nurse. The Training Incentive Allowance (TIA) has funded three papers at Southland Institute of Technology to prepare her for more intense study.

Jennifer is passing with an A-average and was expecting to embark on the nursing degree next year.

But with the allowance discontinued and childcare, course materials, uniforms, transport and other costs not covered by a student loan, Jennifer has no idea if she can continue.

"The DPB is a living, for which my children and I have been very grateful. But it does not afford an ability to save for these sorts of extra expenses. I was utterly dismayed to find out that the TIA had been canned."

- Herald on Sunday

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