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Isaac Davison

Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

Benefit tests only for the most at risk

Paula Bennett conceded that under the tough new welfare only those most at-risk would be tested due to limited resources. Photo / Natalie Slade
Paula Bennett conceded that under the tough new welfare only those most at-risk would be tested due to limited resources. Photo / Natalie Slade

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett has admitted the Government does not have the resources to test all beneficiaries under tough new welfare reforms, and it will target only the most at-risk families.

The minister also conceded yesterday that some parents do not need to enrol their children in early childhood education, despite the fact her welfare reforms will force beneficiaries to do just that.

A bill before Parliament will cut parents' welfare by half if they fail to take "all reasonable steps" to enrol their 3- and 4-year olds in early childhood education. Beneficiaries will also have to enrol their children with a GP to avoid sanctions.

There are 220,000 children whose parents receive welfare. Around 31,500 of the youngsters are 3 or 4.

Ms Bennett said the Government did not have the means to monitor all those children and the new test would apply only to those the Social Development Ministry classed as "vulnerable".

"We don't have the resources; in fact, some of them will comply without us checking them and we don't need to, so we take a subset," she told TVNZ's Q + A programme yesterday

Ms Bennett said the tests would apply only to 20,000 to 25,000 children each year.

Asked whether this would stigmatise the worst-off beneficiaries, she said: "At the end of the day, my focus is really, really firmly on those children. And I look at it and I go, 'If you know what we know, so we know the benefits of early-childhood education, we know that getting enrolled with a GP, having those well-child checks, is hugely beneficial for those children who are struggling most."

Ms Bennett also confirmed that not every child needed to attend a preschool. "I don't think every child actually needs to be in early childhood education, but I do think it benefits those that are most vulnerable so much. That's why I'm doing this."

Labour Party social development spokeswoman Jacinda Ardern said: "You either believe this works for every child or you don't ... I think she's changing her goalposts."

- NZ Herald

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