Matthew Backhouse

Matthew Backhouse is a NZME. News Service journalist based in Auckland.

Welfare reforms to crack down on drugs

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

New welfare reforms will address the "major" issue of beneficiaries being unable to pass drug tests to get a job, Social Development Minister Paula Bennett says.

The latest round of reforms, passed into law last night, will require job seekers to be drug-free, with sanctions in place if they are not.

The reforms also broaden the sanctions, in the form of temporary or permanent benefit payment cuts, which apply to beneficiaries who do not meet the requirements.

Ms Bennett told Newstalk ZB today that beneficiaries being unable to pass workplace drug tests was a "major" issue.

A Work and Income case manager in Christchurch had recently told her they had a job lined up, but four young people said they could not pass a drug test, so they were unable to be put forward for the role.

"And I've got to tell you, I hear it repeatedly. I have employers stopping me in the street and saying, 'I'd take more of your people if they would only pass the drug test.'

"And it's in the forestry industry, it's in construction - we're just seeing over 40 per cent of jobs that come in require people to be able to pass a clean drug test."

Ms Bennett said she did not know if there was an increase in drug taking.

"I think what has changed, if you like, in the last 10 years, is that employers have started drug testing. So that wasn't around 15 years ago," she said.

"Employers have an expectation now around health and safety, and as a consequence we have a portion of society who can't actually reach that obligation."

Sanctions will also extend to beneficiaries who miss court appearances or are subject to an arrest warrant.

The latest welfare reforms also change the benefit categories.

All but the seriously disabled and long-term sickness beneficiaries will fall into one category, under which they will be required to look for work as soon as they are able to and must reapply for the benefit on a regular basis.

The reforms will also require parents to get health checks and early childhood education for their children or risk benefit cuts.

- APNZ

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