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Right Talk: National Pledges Welfare Reform

Right Talk 14 March 2003

Right Talk


March 14, 2003

National Pledges Welfare Reform

Labour has just made the DPB a lifetime choice for young women with few prospects, given its move to abolish work testing for people on the benefit.

If you have no qualifications and no expectations, you have been handed an 18-year opportunity to opt out, more if you have more children.

Even if only 5% of DPB recipients take the opportunity, that's over 5000 young women.

At the start of this year, National nominated welfare reform as one of the top four issues for a future government because we believe there's a problem.

In 1975 there were 37,300 people on benefits. Today there are about 350,000 on the same benefits.

Labour's had the opportunity of a generation - to reduce welfare dependency when jobs are plentiful. Instead, they encouraged dependency.

That's why John Tamihere says Government policy is stupid.

For a brief moment, he had the courage of his convictions, before he was made to apologise for them.

He talked about killing people with kindness, about how the Government clears its conscience by paying out more money.

He's right. But, John, I have a message for you too. If you're serious about helping the people you say you represent, you are in the wrong party. Labour likes them how they are, dependent, grateful, reliable voters.

However, John Tamihere doesn't have a monopoly on concern about the lost potential and low hopes for hundreds of thousands of our citizens.

National is there too and we believe that work matters.

Work restores pride and self-esteem that dependency destroys. Children respond positively when their parents, their role models, feel good about themselves.

Now, more than ever, New Zealand needs workers. Unemployment is at its lowest level since the late 1980s. Beneficiaries now have the best opportunity in a generation to move into work.

But while unemployment numbers are at a low level, the Government's own forecasts show that the numbers on sickness and invalids benefits will rise sharply over the next few years.

Why?

Welfare is not a lifestyle choice or entitlement, but temporary assistance on the way back to independence.

So now, National is looking at a range of measures.

We make no apologies for advocating work for the dole. We go further. We will penalise those who do not actively seek work, or deliberately flunk work interviews.

Nor should the DPB be considered a career choice.

We'll reinstate the work test so that those on the DPB are required to consider part-time work once the youngest child is six, with the intention of preparing them for full-time work once the child is 14, unless there are special circumstances, sole parents should return to full-time work.

Schools for young mothers work and they should be expanded.

Young mums who leave school early also need to finish their education if the expectation is that they find employment once their child is at school. We should therefore promote ongoing education as a requirement for receipt of the DPB.

A recent study from Science magazine shows positive links between sole parents returning to work and the way their children performed and felt about themselves. It found:

* Anxiety went down for children between the ages of 10 and 14 when their mothers were working - even for as little as an hour a day

* Adolescents' reading skills and mental outlook improved, and

* Their reliance on drugs and alcohol waned, but increased when their mothers left jobs and went back on welfare.

But right now, our welfare system's failing everyone.

We should be shifting the focus from entitlement to eligibility, to establish a gap so no family is better off on welfare than in work.

For the full text of Bill English's welfare speech go to : http://www.scoop.co.nz/mason/stories/PA0303/S00201.htm

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