Bennett preaches 'tough love' to youth on benefit

By Kate Shuttleworth

Minister for Social Development, Paula Bennett, says changes could save the Government $1 billion. Photo / Natalie Slade
Minister for Social Development, Paula Bennett, says changes could save the Government $1 billion. Photo / Natalie Slade

Minister of Social Development Paula Bennett has reinforced her tough love approach to stopping the flow of young people getting the unemployment benefit after dropping out of school.

In Parliament today, while speaking during the second reading of the Social Security (Youth Support and Work Focus) Amendment Bill, Ms Bennett said "major reforms would stop an inter-generational cycle of dependence."

She said the changes could save the Government $1 billion.

The bill would focus on 14,000 16 and 17-year-olds who were considered to not be in employment, education or training, 90 per cent of whom Minister Bennett said would go on a benefit by the time they are adults.

"We're actively targeting these young people because we believe that with the right support, they can get the education and training they need to work, keeping them out of the welfare system and stopping that cycle of dependence."

This group would be targeted to stop them turning to the benefit, and Ms Bennett's answer to keeping them off the unemployment benefit was to provide budgeting and parenting courses and free childcare.

"We have to stop that flow," she said.

Ms Bennett also addressed the Social Services Select Committee today defending the welfare reforms that target youth.

"We make no apology for targeting those 16 and 17-year-olds. When you're seeing 10,000 of them going on to benefits when they turn 18 when you know they are the group that are going to stay there the longest, have a poorer education, work opportunities, income levels later on in life, it makes sense to put real focus on them," she said.

The bill will allow the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) to share information about school leavers, so that the MSD can identify youth before they sign up for a benefit.

"As Minister of Social Development I will continue to push, cajole, incentivise, obligate and at the end of the day put all my belief in those people on welfare," she said.

Ms Bennett pointed the finger at Labour, saying teenagers got nothing but a weekly lump sum of cash under its government.

"These are teenagers and they need help to learn the skills to be good parents, to manage a budget, pay the bills and live well. They also need someone to believe in them and help them see a brighter future than the one they'll get on welfare. This government will do that," she said.

Labour spokesperson for welfare Jacinda Ardern said welfare reforms may cost more than the Government said they would save.

She said the Minister had said the reforms would save $49.6 million and cost $287m, but Ms Ardern said that was at best, a guess.

The Minister had not provided information on where, or when so-called savings would be made, she said.

"The Minister also failed to demonstrate the evidence behind her claims that these reforms will save $1 billion. She refuted numbers in her own department's Budget documents, which show that by 2015/16 there will be more people on the DPB than before her reforms were implemented.

- APNZ

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