Welfare reforms put kids at risk says lobby groups

By Derek Cheng

Salvation Army policy analyst Alan Johnson said the bill discriminated against certain solo parents. Photo / The Aucklander
Salvation Army policy analyst Alan Johnson said the bill discriminated against certain solo parents. Photo / The Aucklander

Government social welfare reforms will do nothing to lift the well-being of beneficiaries and will see the children of those households at greater risk of neglect, a select committee has heard.

And Child Action Poverty Group researcher Donna Wynd further questioned the targeting of those who have spent many years on the benefit, saying it would be cheaper to leave them where they were.

She later clarified that she was referring to long-term beneficiaries who probably suffered from substance addiction and mental health problems, and who needed intensive - and expensive - wrap-around support.

"If you're not prepared to do that, you might as well leave them where they are because no one is going to give them a job, and if they do, they're not going to be able to keep it."

Ms Wynd had earlier told the social services select committee that the reforms "coerced" solo parents into work and had no regard for the 220,000 children living in beneficiary households.

Under the bill solo parents would need to seek part-time work when their youngest child turns 6, or their benefit will be halved. The abatement level would increase from $80 to $100, but the income gains when the benefit cut comes in are very small.

"The bill appears to have been drafted in a separate universe from that in which Working For Families operates," she said. "Why is someone who works 15 hours a week subject to higher abatement rates that make an extra hour's work worth about $1, while someone who works an extra five hours per week is showered with tax credits and a minimum family income?"

She did not think work was a way out of poverty for those on welfare unless they could get stable well-paid jobs, but most could only find low-paid, often temporary jobs.

Salvation Army policy analyst Alan Johnson said the bill discriminated against certain solo parents.

Attorney-General Chris Finlayson has highlighted discrimination regarding the work-tests for solo parents, which do not apply to widows on the widow's benefit caring for children, or to older women on the domestic purposes benefit.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said it was discrimination that most New Zealanders would see as fair and reasonable.

But Mr Jonnson said, "Surely you must be thinking that this is something of a joke, that it is fine to apply a sanction against a parent whose relationship has broken down, but it's not appropriate to apply one to a solo parent whose spouse has died. There's very much of a Victorian sense of the deserving and the undeserving."

Leonie Morris, Auckland Women's Centre manager, said it was "tragic" that the Government had cut the Training Incentive Allowance because the best way for beneficiaries to attain decent jobs was through education.

Greens co-leader Metiria Turei, who undertook training while on the domestic purposes benefit, said education was the key to breaking poverty's chains.

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a4 at 13 Jul 2014 14:26:03 Processing Time: 407ms