Bennett gets tough with outspoken solo mums

By Claire Trevett

Paula Bennett has been attacked for changing the rules for an allowance she used to receive. Photo / Herald on Sunday
Paula Bennett has been attacked for changing the rules for an allowance she used to receive. Photo / Herald on Sunday

Details of state benefits received by two solo mothers have been made public by the Government after the pair criticised cutbacks to a training allowance.

Staff from Social Development Minister Paula Bennett's office gave the Herald a tally of each woman's weekly income from the state - including benefits and other allowances - after the women spoke out in the Herald on Sunday and Labour used their stories in Parliament last week.

The details were handed over without the knowledge of the mothers, Jennifer Johnston and Natasha Fuller.

Ms Bennett said she had a right to release information on individuals if they left out relevant details when publicising their situations.

"If someone is deciding they're happy to use their case to speak about or against something we are doing, I think it's fair the full story be told."

Ms Fuller said she did not believe she had left out any relevant information and was "astonished" her details could be released without either her knowledge or permission.

Ms Johnston said she was "flabbergasted" but said it would not put her off speaking out about cutting the training incentive allowance.

They had claimed it would affect their hopes of doing nursing and early childhood education degrees next year.

The information provided by Ms Bennett's office shows Ms Fuller receives $715 net a week and Ms Johnston $554. Both are getting the allowance for pre-degree study. Ms Fuller gets $28 a week. She also got the allowance from 2004 to 2006, and in 2006-07 was given $9560 under an Enterprise Allowance to start a cleaning business. She said yesterday this had since closed because she had ongoing illness problems.

Ms Bennett said anyone had "a perfect right" to object to government policy - but releasing the amounts given to the two women showed they already received significant state support and had been given "a fair go".

"We ask all other students to invest in their own future if they're going into tertiary study because it generally means they will make a higher income. Why are those on a benefit any different?

"They're already getting a huge amount of support from the Government. We're asking them to back themselves a little bit and invest a bit of their own money."

The minister said she did not intend a "blanket" practice of releasing private information on all those who spoke out.

However, she would do so again if people misrepresented their situation or "put themselves out there with their 'full story' but put a full stop where it suits them".

Ms Bennett has come under repeated attack for changing the rules for the tertiary allowance. Labour has accused her of double standards because she got it while a solo mother studying at university in the 1990s.

Yesterday, she said allowances for childcare were now far more generous and student loans were interest-free, making them a more viable option for solo parents.

Ms Bennett's decision to release the details on the two women follows the controversy surrounding the case of redundant worker Bruce Burgess. The Labour Party helped him to go public with concerns about losing his lifestyle block because his wife's $21,000 income meant he could not claim an unemployment benefit.

Labour did not reveal he also had investment properties.

* The cutback

From May this year, the Training Incentive Allowance was restricted to study at NCEA Level 3 or under - such as basic foundation courses and training certificates.

The change is expected to affect about 4500 people on the DPB or invalids' benefit.

Those now studying for a degree or diploma will continue to get the allowance through to the end of their study or the end of 2011.

Under it, solo parents and those on invalids' benefits could claim up to $3862 for travel and course costs.

- NZ Herald

Your views

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2017, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf05 at 27 Feb 2017 11:12:23 Processing Time: 546ms