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GP speaks out about plight of young beneficiaries

Christchurch GP speaks out about plight of young beneficiaries

Call for government to review current methods of assessing poverty

Young single beneficiaries using a youth health service in Christchurch have an average of $20.00-$30.00 each week to buy food after paying for housing costs, according to a Christchurch GP and Public Health Association spokesperson.

Dr Sue Bagshaw from the 198 Youth Health Service says many of the young people she sees are sickness beneficiaries, and a significant number suffer from mental illnesses which prevent them working.

"How can I give advice about the advantages of good nutrition and eating well when young people are trying to feed themselves on $20.00? We want these young people to get well but their benefit levels do not allow them to eat healthy food."

Dr Bagshaw says sickness benefit levels fail to recognise the additional costs facing beneficiaries seeking treatment. This problem is compounded by the nationwide lack of access to mental health services, she says.

The New Zealand government needs to review current methods of assessing poverty, Dr Bagshaw says. This follows a similar call in the United Kingdom by 66 organisations, including the British Medical Association, for government to consider real costs when setting benefit levels. A report in the British Medical Journal says the organizations are calling on the United Kingdom government to introduce minimum income standards as measures of poverty, in line with some other countries such as Norway, Sweden, Germany and Canada.

Benefit levels in New Zealand also fail to give adequate weight to the price of goods and services people have to buy, Dr Bagshaw says.

"From what I see in general practice, benefit levels do not allow people to live healthily."

She supports the British idea of a commission on minimum income standards to be set up to take forward that government's work on poverty.

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