Some welfare reforms do breach rights, says Bennett

By Audrey Young

Paula Bennett.
Paula Bennett.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett admits that part of her welfare reforms breach the Bill of Rights Act but says it would not bother most people.

"I think that is a discrimination that most New Zealanders will see as being fair and reasonable."

And Attorney-General Chris Finlayson denies he deliberately withheld his report advising that part of the Government's welfare plans breach the Bill of Rights Act.

He puts the delay in its presentation to Parliament as an "administrative error".

Details of the Government's plans to crack down on beneficiaries were outlined on Tuesday by Prime Minister John Key and Paula Bennett.

Among its measures will be a requirement for domestic purposes beneficiaries to accept part-time work when their youngest child turns 6, or risk having their benefit halved.

Widows on the widow's benefit caring for the same aged children will not face a work test, and nor will older women alone receiving the domestic purposes benefit.

But men who have been widowed and are caring for children will have a work-test.

Mr Finlayson says the proposed law discriminates on three prohibited grounds under the Bill of Rights Act: sex, marital status and family status.

The legislation to enact the policy, the Social Assistance (Future Focus) Bill, was introduced to Parliament the same day, which is the stage at which Bill of Rights Act vet reports are usually tabled.

The report was tabled yesterday. The Attorney-General is required to draw Parliament's attention to breaches but Governments are not obliged to act on them and routinely ignore breaches.

Labour deputy leader Annette King questioned Paula Bennett about the policy and accused the Government of a "cover-up".

Paula Bennett accused Labour of wanting to impose a work-test on widows - to great protestation from Labour.

She told reporters earlier that despite having talked to the Attorney-General about the breach of the Bill of Rights, National was following its election manifesto promises.

Mr Finlayson said through a spokesman that it was "a bit rich" of Annette King to make a fuss about the Bill of Rights in light of the Electoral Finance Act which she took through the House - National claimed it breached the bill although Crown Law gave it a clean check.

Mr Finlayson's report on the welfare bill said the plan to impose a work-test on sole parents receiving the domestic purposes benefit (whose youngest child is aged over 6) but not on those receiving the widow's benefit or women alone aged over 50 receiving the domestic purposes benefit, discriminates on the basis of family status - having the care of children.

He also pointed to the benefit and work-test policy discriminating against men. Widows caring for dependent children may receive the widow's benefit and not be subject to the work-test.

But widowers caring for dependent children are not entitled to the widow's benefit but may qualify for the domestic purposes benefit for sole parents.

He also said that the work-test for those on the domestic purposes benefit meant those people who had been single or lost partners through divorce or separation were subject to additional obligations and sanctions - discrimination on the basis of marital status.

WHO BENEFITS?

* Domestic purposes beneficiaries will be required to accept part-time work when their youngest child turns 6, or risk having their benefit halved.
* Widows on the widow's benefit caring for the same aged children will not face a work test.
* Neither will older women alone receiving the domestic purposes benefit.
* Men who have been widowed and are caring for children will have a work-test.
* Paula Bennett admits that parts of the welfare reforms breach the Bill of Rights Act.

- NZ Herald

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