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Sickness Benefit In Need Of Urgent Treatment

Sickness Benefit In Need Of Urgent Treatment

ACT New Zealand Social Welfare Spokesman Dr Muriel Newman today revealed damning evidence that the Labour Government's soft-on-welfare policy reversals are failing working age sickness beneficiaries.

"Answers to my written Parliamentary Questions show that - since Labour became Government in 1999 - the number of sickness beneficiaries has risen 17 percent, from 33,020 to 38,610. This is a dramatic rise in a benefit that had been trending down," Dr Newman said.

"The Sickness Benefit had originally experienced unchecked growth, year after year, since its creation. From 1998 to 2000, however, under the previous Government, it was absorbed into the Community Wage and sickness beneficiaries were exposed to job-focussed WINZ staff in their `one-stop welfare shop'. For the first time ever, the relentless climb in numbers was not only halted, but reduced - from 36,000 at the beginning of 1998, to 31,000 in April 2000.

"However, the 1999 election of the Labour Government saw social policy being driven by the demands of the Beneficiaries Unions. Social Services and Employment Minister Steve Maharey has been enthusiastically implementing their more than 100 demands, with re-establishing the Sickness Benefit as an independent benefit high on the priority list.

"As predicted, this move has caused the number of sickness beneficiaries to escalate once again. The Sickness Benefit is in urgent need of review; in spite of increased healthcare, New Zealanders appear to be getting sicker.

Although it is a temporary benefit, some have claimed it for more than 10 years and - in spite of being too sick to work - a quick reading of the court pages of any daily newspaper will reveal a large proportion of sickness beneficiaries are healthy enough to commit crimes.

"Taxpayers deserve to know that those on the Sickness Benefit are genuinely sick, that those whose conditions are permanent are moved to the Invalids Benefit, and that those who claim to be sick - to avoid the need to find a job - are jettisoned.

The Sickness Benefit must be re-instated, along with the Community Wage, so that the needs of taxpayers and genuinely sick people are given the priority, rather than the demands of the beneficiary unions," Dr Newman said.

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