Welfare reform 'beneficiary bashing'

By NZ Herald, APNZ

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett, left, and Hone Harawira. Photos / NZ Herald
Social Development Minister Paula Bennett, left, and Hone Harawira. Photos / NZ Herald

Mana Party leader Hone Harawira has accused the Government of "beneficiary bashing'' for its sweeping changes to the welfare system.

Under the reforms, teenagers who have dropped out of school, work or training will be able to earn an extra $30 a week from the Government for going back to class or taking budgeting courses; and solo mums who find work before they are work-tested will be able to keep their benefit for longer.

Mr Harawira told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report this morning that the Government was trying to force people off the benefit when there were no jobs for them.

"I'm not saying there shouldn't be serious focus on training and skills, what I'm saying is stop just whacking people and actually lay down the training programmes; stop just hitting the unemployed and create jobs; stop hitting solo mums and create and environment where young mothers are keen to go to work and have the money to pay for their children to go to decent facilities.

"I just don't think it's going to work at all except to take money from beneficiaries and to put money back into the hands of government so that they can give it to their rich mates.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said Harawira's comments were "a load of nonsense''.

"If anyone's beneficiary bashing I would say that it would be him if he thinks that all people are worth is a lifetime on benefit and perhaps that the government can manufacture some job to make people feel worthwhile, which is really quite belittling for people who are trying to do their best and need government support.

"This package is about upskilling those people, getting them the right training and I just love that it's got that incentive element to it so ... instead of being punitive and sanctioning, we're actually saying they can get up to $30 a week extra and I think that is really rewarding and what is needed.''

Ms Bennett said if people could legitimately not find work then the state would not cut cut their benefit.

Yesterday, Prime Minister John Key announced that legislation would be introduced next month for the first stage of the overhaul of the welfare system, which he says is economically unsustainable.

From July, up to 14,000 teenagers aged 16 and 17 who are not in education, work or training and teen parents aged 16 to 18 will be coupled with a private provider to help them with budgeting courses, parenting courses, training or job-hunting.

Their basic costs such as rent and power will be paid by the state, and they will have a payment card for living costs that can be monitored to ensure they do not buy alcohol or cigarettes.

They will receive an allowance of up to $50 a week, but this can increase by $10 a week for a good attendance record at school or for completing a budgeting or parenting course.

Likewise, providers will receive extra funding, but Ms Bennett said payments to them would be based on the results they achieved what she called "real outcomes''.

From October, the 30,000 people on the domestic purposes, widow's or woman-alone benefits will have to be work-tested for part-time employment once their youngest child turns 5, and for full-time roles when their youngest child turns 14.

Having an extra child while on a benefit will bring only a 12-month reprieve from these obligations _ a disincentive to having more children.

Mr Key said last year, 4300 children were born to mothers on a benefit and 220,000 children lived in benefit-dependent homes, "trapping them into a life of limited choices, poverty and poor health''.

The Labour Party's social development spokeswoman, Jacinda Ardern, called the financial sweeteners a bribe that would do little to address the issue of creating jobs.

Greens' co-leader Metiria Turei said the changes would result in solo mothers spending less time with their children during their most crucial development years.

But Mr Key defended the moves, saying the current welfare system cost $8 billion a year to pay benefits to 351,000 people _ 13 per cent of the working population.

"It's costing taxpayers a lot of money but it's also not delivering good outcomes for those who are on it.''

A second stage of welfare reforms - affecting the unemployment, sickness and invalids benefits - will take effect in July next year.

EXTRA INCENTIVES

* For 14,000 parents aged 16 to 18 and for 16- and 17-year-olds not in education, employment or training: $10 a week for attending budgeting courses, parenting courses, or having good attendance at school.

* For 30,000 people on the domestic purposes, widow's or woman-alone benefit: Finding a job before you are work-tested allows you to retain the benefit while it reduces at $100 a week.

- NZ Herald

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