A Whangarei solo mum has resorted to stealing to feed her children, while another gets more money on the benefit than any job she can get in the region, a beneficiary support worker says.
Carol Peters, from Whangarei advocacy group One Double Five Community Law, said stigma, lack of jobs and training were among the difficulties Northland's long-term beneficiaries faced in getting off state dependency.
The comments come after the Ministry of Social Development revealed that Northland's five longest-serving beneficiaries have been receiving a state allowance for between 28 and 32 years, with all getting a domestic purposes-related benefit.
An Official Information Act request revealed that the ministry is working closely to support the five beneficiaries' return to employment. All are women with children.
Work and Income deputy chief executive Debbie Power said the five were all in receipt of DPB-related allowances, including sole parents, care of sick or infirm, women alone and emergency maintenance allowance.
However, Carol Peters said July's welfare reforms would hit DPB recipients particularly hard, with many already struggling on the benefit, which starts at $293 a week then increases for each additional child.
"We know of one woman on the DPB who has had to resort to stealing to feed her children. It's not stealing luxuries, it's food for her and her children because the DPB doesn't provide enough to do so after she's paid her rent and other incidentals," Mrs Peters said.
"She's under a budgeter and after paying the bills [rent, power etc] she has about $100 a week for food, medical and school expenses and clothes, etc, that's not a lot when you've got five kids. It's not that she's spending her benefit on cigarettes or alcohol or any luxuries. And she's the second one we've seen in a week who's had to steal to make ends meet."
She said another solo mum the group works with recently applied for a minimum wage job.
There were a handful of positions, but more than 300 people applied, many with experience in the field.
"If she gets it, by the time she's paid transport and other costs [associated with the job] she'll be earning less than on the DPB," Mrs Peters said. "These are low-paid, minimum wage jobs and people on the DPB do not receive vast amounts of money as some people seem to think.''
Ms Power said the clients faced many challenges which present barriers to their ability to secure full-time employment.
"Four of these clients have a child or children under the age of 14 years in their care. One is caring for a child with severe special needs," she said.
"Work and Income is working closely with these clients to support them into employment. Two recently completed training courses through external education providers and are currently undertaking volunteer work with local community organisations.
"This experience will help them find paid work opportunities with welfare reform changes are implemented in July."
Mrs Peters said with Northland having an unemployment rate of around 10 per cent, the highest in the country, she challenged the Government to show her where all the jobs were for the women it was going to "force" off the DPB and other benefits with its welfare reforms.
for more articles from this region, go to NORTHERN ADVOCATE