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Welfare reforms pass first reading

By Kate Shuttleworth

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett says a new Bill will reduce the number of benefit categories and make benefits more work-focused. File photo / NZPA
Social Development Minister Paula Bennett says a new Bill will reduce the number of benefit categories and make benefits more work-focused. File photo / NZPA

The bill pushing ahead with the Government's second wave of welfare reforms passed its first reading in Parliament today.

The Social Security (Benefit Categories and Work Focus) Amendment Bill passed by 69 votes to 50.

National, New Zealand First, Act and United Future voted in favour; while the Labour, Green, Maori and Mana parties voted against.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said the "investment approach" will target resources to those she believed were likely to end up being welfare dependent.

"Too many New Zealanders have been stuck in a system that provides little incentive to get out, for too long. This bill will change that.

"This new bill represents the largest structural change of the Social Security Act in decades," she said.

Ms Bennett said her reforms were ambitious, and she would do all she could to propel people toward work.

"There is a compelling case for investing upfront - we already spend around $8 billion a year on welfare - but we're seeing inter-generational dependence."

She said by investing in people sooner, the cycle could be broken.

"Every time the Opposition cries 'beneficiary bashing', I simply just see people who are ignorant of the effects of the welfare trap. It's not enough to feel sorry for people trapped on welfare and do nothing."

Labour's social development spokeswoman Jacinda Ardern lashed out at the reforms, saying it was time to stand up against the offensive characterisations of people who need welfare.

"National uses this area as as political football.

"In the public's mind, what are the reforms they know about? They know about drug testing, they know about seeking people who have warrants for arrest while on welfare, they know about fraud and stand-down periods, for saying 'no' to taking up jobs.

"Those are the messages the National Party sends out about those who are using social security."

The new wave of social obligations for people on benefits were included in this bill, and would see people having to send their children to early childhood care and enrolling with a doctor.

THE BILL

Three new benefits will be created - the jobseekers support, sole parent support and the supported living payment - to replace the current seven categories of the main benefit.

* Jobseekers brings together the people on the unemployment, sickness, women alone, widows and sole parents with children benefits. People on these benefits will be expected to be available to work, and looking for work.

Ms Bennett said sickness beneficiaries had been brought into the jobseeker category in a move to support them to get back to work quickly.

* Sole parent support replaces the domestic purposes benefit and widow's benefits for parents.

* The supported living payment merges the invalids benefit and the domestic purposes benefit for those who care for the sick or infirm.

Eligibility for these will not change.

- NZ Herald

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