28 Aug 2012

Government accused of beneficiary bashing

10:14 pm on 28 August 2012

The Government is being attacked for what opposition parties say is beneficiary bashing following confirmation of a new drug-testing regime for unemployed beneficiaries.

At present, a person receiving the unemployment benefit can turn a job down on the grounds they would not pass the drug test.

The Government released details of its plans on Tuesday ahead of legislation being introduced to Parliament in September. If passed, the new drug testing requirements will come into effect in July 2013.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett says benefits will be cut to those who reject jobs because they would have to be drug tested, or if they fail a test.

Ms Bennett says illegal drug use should not get in the way of getting a job. People will be given a warning and a period of time to stop using drugs. After that, they could have their benefit reduced or cancelled if they fail a drug test.

The minister believes the changes, which include treatment for beneficiaries with addiction, will cost about $3 million a year but will save up to $10.5 million because beneficiaries will be more employable if they are drug-free.

Those who fail a drugs test will have to repay the cost out of their benefit.

Ms Bennett says about 40% of jobs listed with Work and Income require pre-employment drug testing.

Mana Party leader Hone Harawira says the Government is discriminating against beneficiaries.

"Every intelligent person in the world would say it's discriminatory. That people can come to this House drunk, jacked off their face or peed to the eyeballs if they want to and get away with it - and have done in the past and probably are gonna do it in the future.

"But beneficiaries - dare they do it, they're gonna get whacked."

Mr Harawira says it is a scary thought that beneficiaries could lose their benefits, putting the lives of their families or children at risk.

Greens co-leader Metiria Turei says there is no evidence to prove that the policy is necessary.

"Persecuting beneficiaries as a class simply undermines families' right to get the proper support that they need to get the work to take care of their families."

Ms Turei says the Government should be more focused on creating jobs for beneficiaries.