Welfare minister Paula Bennett has sounded half-hearted in defending her decision to release the state's weekly welfare bill paid to two critics of Government cuts to a training allowance, Jennifer Johnston of Invercargill, and Natasha Fuller, of Cambridge.

Perhaps she has been advised not to sound anything like the bully she and the Government are now accused of being.

Or may be she is genuinely horrified at the avalanche of vitriol that has since been unleashed against the women.

What is clear is that despite the supposedly newer, softer, gentler face of National on welfare, nothing can mask the seething resentment that remains skin-deep among the public against beneficiaries.

It was less obvious in the period of near full-employment that accompanied sustained economic growth of recent years.

But it remains almost as palpably ugly as it was in the 90s when Bennett was on a benefit - and the sense of insecurity engendered by the today's economic recession appears to have fuelled it.

There are two possible positive outcomes from this saga: one that the Government might make it easier for women such as Johnston to train as a nurse and secondly that there is a rethink about how ministers can use normally confidential information for political purpose.

On her way to the House today, Bennett said she had just talked to Johnston on the phone.

Johnston is not asking for handouts. She is happy to take an interest-free student loan like others to train as a nurse but she is limited in what she can borrow for, and she wants to borrow to cover her costs.

Bennett said Johnston had had presented a 'compelling argument' to her.

Perhaps that will translate to policy action by Bennett to help women like these two who have already shown by past actions that they want to help themselves.

Bennett was also confronted in Parliament by questions about where the information had come from. It appears from her answers to Annette King that Bennett has a computer in her office from which her welfare officials can access beneficiary files.

That is how she got the information - without going through the chief executive of the ministry of social development, Peter Hughes.

Labour is suggesting that Hughes, one of the public service's leading CE's, is furious about it. That may or may not be true but at the every least he should have been consulted about such a sensitive matter.

- Audrey Young