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Wake up call for welfare critics

Wake up call for welfare critics

Claims by National, Act and other welfare critics that beneficiary numbers are out of control shows that not even the facts can stand in the way of their desperate grab for a headline, Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment Rick Barker said

“Contrary to recent claims that welfare dependency is out of control, a quick reality check of the facts shows that the total number of working age people, including spouses and partners, receiving benefits dropped by 14.2 per cent (478,028 to 409,937) between November 1999 and March 2003.

“National MP Simon Power recently stated in a newspaper column that welfare dependency was growing at an ‘alarming rate’ and was destined to worsen.

“He’s absolutely wrong and Work and Income’s declining beneficiary register supports that. Couple the register with 11 consecutive quarterly increases in job growth and I think it’s fair to say that this government is making some positive headway.

“I’m sure Simon and National’s welfare spokesperson Katherine Rich, architect of the illuminating Saving the Next Generation from Welfare Dependency discussion paper, will be equally delighted to know that Treasury estimates declining overall benefit numbers have saved the taxpayer $937 million in projected spending on benefit payments.

“Unfortunately, the reality is that all this good news will go right over the heads of all the beneficiary-bashing critics whose selective hearing and on-going rhetoric continues to muddy what everyone else can clearly see. After all, welfare critics would never let the facts get in the way of a ‘bad’ story.

“For obvious reasons, what the critics also fail to acknowledge is that the level of beneficiaries faced by this government is the legacy of nine years of welfare neglect and social chaos created by National.

“This government knows welfare costs are high, but taxpayers need to know we are totally committed to assisting all beneficiaries and their families towards an independent and financially secure future.

“In the past three-and-a-half-years, New Zealand’s unemployment rate has fallen to 5.0 per cent, while core unemployment numbers dropped by almost 58,000 from 172, 918 to 115,185 between November 1999 and March this year.

“This suggests to me that the government is on the right track regarding welfare and that’s something which can’t be ignored, except if you are in opposition and keep turning your back on reality.

“Such good news is clearly bad for an already depressed, gloomy and despondent opposition, who would prefer to take us back to the welfare dark ages if they got half the chance,” Mr Barker said.

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