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Advocates Applaud Benefit Changes

MEDIA STATEMENT

For immediate release 25 May 2000

ADVOCATES APPLAUD BENEFIT CHANGES

Beneficiary advocacy groups have applauded the changes to the Department of Work and Income benefit regime released by Social Services Minister Steve Maharey today. The changes include the scrapping of the hated work-for-the dole programme. The “Community Wage” will go and benefits will return to being called unemployment benefits and sickness benefits.

The announcement was made by Steve Maharey at the regular three monthly meeting of beneficiary advocacy groups and officials from the Department of Work and Income, Ministry of Social Policy and Department of Labour.

“These meetings have given beneficiary advocates the opportunity to present the concerns of beneficiaries to Ministers and officials,” said Robert Reid, spokesperson for the groups. “After a huge amount of work over the last five months we are pleased to see that the Government has started to take up some of our suggestions.

“In addition to the scrapping of the ill fated “community wage” concept, we are pleased to see the end to the $5 a week deduction from the Special Benefit and the ability for more people to qualify for the benefit. We are also pleased to see the additional seven hours per week available for child-care for beneficiaries entering the work force, Robert Reid said. “Small debts will be written off, all debts over $5,000 will be re-examined.

There are many changes to the culture of the Department of Work and Income in the Government announcement that we fully support,” said Robert Reid. “DWI now considers itself a public service agency and not a “business”. Beneficiaries are to be considered as clients, job seekers or superannuitants and not “customers”. DWI will have programmes and not “products”. The Benefit Crime Unit will be renamed the Benefit Control Unit.

“While today’s changes could be seen as a scatter-gun approach, this was inevitable as the Government moved to work on those issues that the beneficiary advocates had raised that had little or no cost and could be changed quickly.

“The changes announced by Steve Maharey in combination with the income related rents policy of the Government announced two days ago will bring significant increases in income to many families that rely on a benefit, Robert Reid said.

“However a majority of beneficiaries will not be better off until there is a significant across-the-board increase in benefits. Unfortunately we believe this will be unlikely in this budget round. We will continue to push for major increases to benefits for the 2001 year,” Robert Reid concluded.


For further information contact: Robert Reid, tel: (04) 237 5062 (w), (04) 389 5399 (h)

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