Kim Fulton is a NZME. News Service regional reporter

Few beneficiaries hit by drug testing

A security guard outside the Wanganui Work and Income office. Photo / File
A security guard outside the Wanganui Work and Income office. Photo / File

Few beneficiaries had benefits cut for taking drugs last year.

Beneficiaries with work obligations are now required to take and pass a drug test when asked to as part of a job application, with sanctions applied to their benefits for failing the tests.

Last year, there were 31,791 referrals for drug testable positions nationwide and just 55 sanctions for failing a drug test, according to Ministry of Social Development (MSD) figures.

Whangarei Citizens Advice Bureau co-ordinator Moea Armstrong said the low number of beneficiaries failing drug tests proved most people were "really desperately keen" for a job and not doing drugs.

She thought most people led drug-free lifestyles and beneficiaries couldn't afford to do drugs anyway.

"There's not enough even for ciggies these days, let alone anything else."

She said the country had nearly full employment in the 1970s.

"To me, that shows that when there is work available, people want to work," she said. "It's the system that is not providing the jobs because it suits people to have a whole pile of unemployed people to keep the wages down."

Gary Reid, of Whanganui People's Centre Advocacy Service, agreed a lack of jobs was the main thing keeping people from working.

"The big problem we have in Whanganui is there just isn't enough work and a lot of it's casual or seasonal."

He said workplace drug tests should be up to employers and he didn't see why the Government needed to be involved in the process. Mr Reid said beneficiaries were under enough pressure without the threat of having their benefits cuts for failing drug tests.

He also believed more funding into drug and alcohol services was necessary for those who needed the help.

Bay of Plenty-based Te Tuinga Whanau support service executive director Tommy Wilson said he believed the drug testing policy was working.

"I know first hand that it's working because we have a lot of people within our organisation that come from past drug use and are doing better because they have that put on them," he said. "I am encouraged that people are being more responsible, realising how important work is and what it can do for the mana of a family to have a parent working."

The downside of the policy was that many people were now switching from traditional drugs to synthetic drugs. Those drugs were hard to test for because they changed so often, he said.

Mr Wilson also said 82 per cent of the clients he dealt with had issues with alcohol.

Rotorua District Councillor and community advocate Merepeka Raukawa-Tait said the low number of failed tests was a positive thing.

However, drugs featured in the lives of a number of beneficiaries she knew.

"I think if people are serious about wanting a job then they have to understand that this might be the adjustment that they have to make in their lives, to become drug-free," she said.

MSD deputy chief executive, service delivery, Ruth Bound said the drug policy aimed to identify clients prevented from taking up suitable jobs due to drug use or who refused to apply for drug tested jobs.

It aimed to get them back to a position where they could apply for a full range of jobs.

Beneficiaries diagnosed with drug dependency would not be sanctioned under the policy, but would receive the support they needed to deal with their addiction, she said.

There were differing levels of financial sanction depending on how many times a beneficiary failed to meet their obligations, said Ms Bound.

NZME kf er

- NZ Herald

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