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Tired rerun of benefit plan announced twice before

Katherine Rich MP National Party Welfare Spokeswoman

28 April 2004

Tired re-run of benefit plan announced twice before

"The spin-obsessed Government is clearly running out of good news stories to tell after being forced to trot out a 'new' plan today that was widely reported in December, then again in February," says National's Welfare spokeswoman Katherine Rich.

She is commenting on Steve Maharey's 'new' approach to help sickness and invalids' beneficiaries back to work.

"A tactical 'leak' of the material in December provided the New Zealand Herald with much of the detail that has been 're-announced' today. The Minister had a second bite of the cherry with the Sunday Star Times in February.

"The National Party welcomes any effort to curb the explosive growth in the sickness and invalids' benefit that has occurred under Labour.

"The proof of the pudding will be in the eating. We will be watching with great interest to see whether Steve Maharey's 'new' approach has any real, long-term effect on the numbers receiving sickness and invalids' benefits.

"March figures show New Zealand has 71, 201 invalids' beneficiaries and 41, 048 sickness beneficiaries. Both categories were up by about 4000 on the same time the previous year.

"Back in 1999, when Labour took office, there were only 31, 262 people on the sickness benefit and 52, 679 collecting the invalids' benefit.

"It is also worth noting that from December 1997 to June 1999, under the previous National Government, the number of community wage (sickness) beneficiaries was decreasing.

"It's scandalous that after more than four years of explosive growth in these benefits the Minister finally decides to look like he's doing something about it.

"That makes it particularly hard not to laugh at his suggestion that 'it is a wakeup call to other political parties', when the Opposition has been trying to get the Minister to wake up to the problem for years," says Mrs Rich.

Key Points on Sickness and Invalids' Announcement

* "Enhanced case management" and "holistic approaches" sound very fancy but there is little difference to what Work and Income was already doing.
* The new programme is voluntary. So if a person is on the sickness benefit with a medical problem easily fixed through treatment, this new programme will not take that person any closer to working and being independent.
* The two-year pilot appears to be very slow. By the time this Government is ready to do something nationally the numbers on the sickness and invalids' benefits will be close to double what they were when Labour entered office.
* "Work is fundamental to people's self worth and independence" - Mr Maharey rubbished statements like this when National released its welfare paper. Driven by polls, it's clear Labour's starting to change its language.
* Lowering caseloads - this was already being done. Last time I asked MSD what the caseloads were for sickness and invalids' I was told it was about 160 - 180 clients to a case manager anyway. 300 is an exaggeration.
* "Historically, W & I has focused on providing this client group with benefit support, " - no, this is only since Labour came into office and wiped work or capacity testing for the sickness benefits.


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