Grandparents hit by benefit slashes

By Celeste Gorrell Anstiss

Paula Bennett. Photo / APN
Paula Bennett. Photo / APN

People who have taken in their neglected grandchildren are among the $2000-a-week beneficiaries who will be returning to work under welfare reforms, passed through Parliament this week.

The Ministry of Social Development has opened the case files of the New Zealanders collecting support of between$1300 and $2190 a week.

The document, titled Top 50 Highest Paid Clients, was released under the Official Information Act, with identifying details blacked out to protect privacy.

In the list were 20 grandparents raising children who would otherwise be wards of the state.

It included a 60-year-old East Coast grandparent, the second highest paid, with nine grandchildren - several of whom have disabilities. Their partner works full-time so the couple do not receive any unemployment benefits.

The grandparent receives $1822 each week in Unsupported Child Benefit, for people caring for children who are not their own. They have received this for 10 years.

The case notes state the family is living in crowded conditions and Housing New Zealand is looking for a larger house. It also states: "All children are in school and doing well."

The third highest was an Aucklander, 53, with eight grandchildren and a partner who receives an invalid's benefit. According to the case notes, this person takes care of the entire family but will have part-time work from October.

At number seven on the list is a 55-year-old woman raising three children, alongside five grandchildren. One of the children is eligible for a disability allowance for a serious disability. The extra $45.34 a week will be reviewed in September.

The woman receives $1682 a week in benefits but the "Future Focus" programme requires her to seek part-time work.

Number 10 is another single parent/grandparent. The family - one adult, their child and six grandchildren - live in the Waikato on $1610 a week. She has full-time work obligations and is due to start an introduction course for nursing next week.

Expectations will soon get tougher after this first phase was passed.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett's staff have indicated case managers will be able to apply exemptions on compassionate grounds but the changes do away with the Domestic Purposes Benefit.

The Government has forecast the reforms will cost $130 million a year though will save $1 billion over four years.

Grandparents Raising Grandchildren chief executive Geoff Lawson said many grandparents already struggled to receive assistance and the organisation expected its advocacy service to be stretched by the reforms.

"It's shameful. Ask any reasonable person whether a grandmother looking after six grandchildren should go find work. It's an indictment on our society," said Lawson.

Final decisions were yet to be made on the second phase of reform, focused on moving sickness beneficiaries into the new Jobseeker category.

Rotorua People's Advocacy Centre spokesman Paul Blair said he believed the reforms would lead to a "searching the garbage" level of poverty.

"The [reforms] are ugly. It reads like the Crimes Act. The people who are on it are treated like criminals.

"What's so sad about it is there's a lot of people egging Paula Bennett on. There's going to be people living on the streets going through rubbish to feed their kids," said Blair.

"These are the future All Blacks, doctors and lawyers of New Zealand and she wants to starve them."

Last week's first article on this subject stated mother-of-nine Catherine was entitled to an accommodation supplement. This was incorrect, as she lives in a Housing NZ house. We apologise for the error.

- Herald on Sunday

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