Next phase of welfare changes introduced

The next major phase of the Government's welfare changes comes into effect on Monday. They include new health and education obligations for parents and drug testing for job seekers. Seven existing benefit categories will be merged into three.

Paula Bennett.

Paula Bennett.

Photo: NATIONAL PARTY

  • Those in the new Job Seeker category will be expected to be available for work.
  • If a job requires a drug test and an applicant fails it, they will get 25 working days to resit. If they fail again and have dependent children, their benefit will be halved for 13 weeks. If they have no children, it will be stopped.
  • Parents will have to enrol their children in Well Child checks with a GP and also in early education, or face reductions to their benefits.
  • People with outstanding warrants for arrest and who do not clear the matter up also risk having their benefits stopped.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said on Monday the aim of the changes is to improve children's welfare.

Mrs Bennett said expecting children to be in some form of early childhood education is reasonable and requiring school age children to be at school is also logical.

However, Labour's social development spokesperson Jacinda Ardern said the changes do not target the right people.

"The way the minister has created these tests, she's going to be capturing a group of people who, for instance, have different drug using habits and they may be incentivised to call themselves a full time drug taker in order to change the benefit category they are on."

Ms Ardern says it's a perverse incentive.

Greens co-leader Metiria Turei said the new obligations would have the opposite effect of what is intended. She said making support services the enforcers for income support work obligations undermines relationships with the vulnerable people who most need these services.

Bullying and a punishment - beneficiary group

The Beneficiary Advocacy Federation believes the welfare changes are bullying and punishment for beneficiaries in a tough employment market.

Spokesperson Kay Brereton said on Monday the reforms are discriminatory and deprive people of their human rights. She said the changes reinforce the misconception that beneficiaries are bad parents, lazy, work-shy, drug users and probably on the run from the law.

Ms Brereton said the result of the reforms is likely to be increasing numbers of families on reduced rates of benefit for a series of minor failures, such as not turning up to an appointment.

She believed it would be better to offer incentives rather than cutting people's benefits if they failed to fulfil the new requirements.

Dunedin beneficiary advocate Olive Mcrae said the changes discriminate against people on welfare and also believes they are a breach of human rights.

Ms Mcrae said reducing benefits would result in vulnerable families having to cut essentials such as food or electricity. She said it is alarming that children would be forced into fulltime day care from the age of one year old, when the World Health Organisation recommends that children should be breast-fed until at least two years old.

More intervention needed - councillor

A Flaxmere community leader says the welfare system is not working and more intervention is needed in the home to help young people gain the confidence to seek employment.

Hastings District Councillor Henare O'Keefe says fixing problems in the community need to start in the home. He said good parenting or bad parenting is at the heart of many of New Zealand's social problems and that's where the focus should be.

Mr O'Keefe said there is nothing wrong with forcing beneficiaries to look after the wellbeing of their children, but it is unfortunate the state has to do this, and more community-based initiatives are needed to get into the homes of people who are struggling and help them.

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