Bennett rejects 'hypocrite' claims

By Amelia Romanos

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said 2012 was a much different time to 25 years ago when she was receiving the benefit. Photo / Janna Dixon
Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said 2012 was a much different time to 25 years ago when she was receiving the benefit. Photo / Janna Dixon

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett has defended herself against claims she is a hypocrite for stripping away the rights of beneficiaries that she herself had as a sole parent.

Ms Bennett, who received the domestic purposes benefit after giving birth to her daughter at age 17, yesterday announced the first stages of the Government's welfare system overhaul, which aims to move people off benefits and into work.

Among the first changes to the system is part-time work testing for sole parents of children aged five years and older and full-time work testing for sole parents of children aged 14 years and over.

In a statement today, Mana Party leader Hone Harawira called Ms Bennett a "bloody hypocrite", saying she was taking away from others the state assistance that had helped her.

"Paula Bennett basically set herself up in life with direct assistance from the state, but now she's the Minister of Social Development, she's gonna make sure nobody else can ever get that kind of help," Mr Harawira said.

In an interview with the New Zealand Herald in 2008, Ms Bennett said she worked two part-time jobs each day but was driven back on to the benefit.

"I pretty much fell apart because I was exhausted. I went back on the DPB," she said.

Mr Harawira jumped on the Government's plans to put sole parents into work, saying Ms Bennett got to "stay on the DPB to raise her daughter, but she's making sure that young women won't have that privilege any more".

He also referred to the Government's decision in 2009 to cut the Training Incentive Allowance for sole parents, which allowed Ms Bennett to get a paid tertiary education.

Ms Bennett said 2012 was a much different time to 25 years ago when she was receiving the benefit, and she was living in "modern New Zealand and trying to set up a system that works for that".

"They actually get more services and more support now than I certainly got back in that time," she said.

"They get substantially more, as far as even a CPI [Consumer Price Index] increase, and everything else that goes into benefits. They certainly get more in childcare assistance, and that helps them with that study. They have access to interest-free loans."

The Government has long signalled plans to reform the welfare system and yesterday confirmed what the first stages of the programme would be.

Along with new rules for sole parents that come into force in October, young beneficiaries, or those believed to be on the road to becoming beneficiaries, are to be targeted in the reform.

From the end of July, young people receiving benefits will subjected to a managed system of payments for essential costs such as rent and power, and will receive a payment card for living costs.

The Government also announced that those teenagers would also receive an allowance of up to $50 a week, but could have that increased by $10 a week for a good attendance record at school, or for completing budgeting or parenting courses.

- APNZ

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