Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Final reform expected to bring more benefit cuts

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Social Development Minister Paula Bennett. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The number of beneficiaries who have had their income cut after failing to meet work-testing requirements has doubled under National and is set to rise further after the final stage of reforms passed into law last night.

Figures provided by the Ministry of Social Development show that on average 4654 beneficiaries a month have had at least half of their weekly benefit payments suspended or cancelled in the past six months.

That is more than double the 2195 beneficiaries a month who were sanctioned under Labour in the last six months of 2008.

The increase was largely because of National's reforms, which have required an extra 68,000 solo parents and sickness beneficiaries to look for work, opening them up to sanctions if they fail to attend a job interview or Work and Income meeting.

Last night, Social Development Minister Paula Bennett's final tranche of reforms passed into law, meaning those who fail or refuse to take drug tests can also have their benefits cut as well as parents who do not enrol their children in early childhood education or take them for health checks.

Beneficiaries with a warrant for their arrest will also have benefits cut unless they give themselves up.

Benefits are cut by 50 per cent initially and, for those with no children, rise to 100 per cent if the person continues to duck their obligations.

Labour's Jacinda Ardern said she was concerned about the growth in sanctions.

"A huge part of the reforms has been increasing the use of the sanctions. The question is how successful is that in moving people into work? We used sanctions less, but we had more success in terms of the employment rate and benefit numbers," she said.

The reforms mean the end of separate benefits such as sickness, invalids' and domestic purposes benefits and people will instead be categorised according to their ability to work.

Only those who are seriously ill or disabled will not have to undergo work assessments.

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- NZ Herald

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