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Time For Truth On Sickness Benefit

Time For Truth On Sickness Benefit

Monday 26 Jul 2004

Dr Muriel Newman - Press Releases - Social Welfare

Any Minister who can make sickness beneficiary numbers grow more in four years than they did in four decades should be looking for a new job, ACT New Zealand Deputy Leader and Social Welfare Spokesman Dr Muriel Newman said today.

"Answers to my written Parliamentary Questions have revealed that, as of the end of June 2004, as many as 44,128 people were in receipt of a Sickness benefit - an increase of 11,260 since Labour took office," Dr Newman said.

"This is astounding. Especially when you consider the fact that in 1980, around 40 years after the Sickness Benefit's creation, there were only 7,500 recipients - almost half the number that Labour has managed to sign up in only four years.

"Labour inherited a welfare system where, for the first time, sickness beneficiary numbers had begun to drop. By absorbing the Sickness Benefit into the work-tested Community Wage, the previous National Government had cut the numbers from 36,400 in 1998 to 32,600 at the end of November 1999.

"Social Services and Employment Minister Steve Maharey had different ideas, however. A puppet of the Beneficiary Unions, he reinstated the Sickness Benefit as a standalone benefit upon taking office and, once again, the numbers began to rise.

"The Sickness Benefit, however, is not a priority for the Minister. His focus appears to be more on finding ways to keep unemployment figures down - which is why, by turning a blind eye to able-bodied beneficiaries signing up to the Sickness Benefit, he is condoning this practice.

"But I have news for Mr Maharey: low unemployment figures mean nothing if they're matched by high Sickness Benefit numbers. Given the courageous outcry by doctors who are being placed in an impossible situation, I am calling on the Minister to undertake an urgent inquiry into the growth of Sickness Benefit numbers. Excusing it on the back of international trends simply doesn't wash," Dr Newman said.

ENDS

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