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Marc My Words: 2 September 2004 - Youth Benefits

2 Sept 2004

Marc My Words- by Marc Alexander MP

Labour persists in underdog legislation no matter how much of a dog it is

Recently I have been prompted by a spate of angry parents complaining that the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) has been paying kids to split from their families. I'm referring to the Independent Youth Benefit. Since 2001 MSD has spent $109.6 million of tax-payers' money ($25 million in just the last year) separating children from their parents without adequate vetting procedures. In the first six months of this year there were 328 applications for the IYB, of which 205 have been granted.

It is a sad reflection on our society that indeed some young people do need to be protected from their families, but it appears that the MSD doesn't bother to check the truth of the kids' allegations before handing over the money. In the cases I see, good mums and dads are being penalised for wanting to set responsible guidelines and, rather than helping parents to parent, the government is paying these kids to opt out.

In one example it was all about a 17 year old girl not being allowed to have her boyfriend sleep over in her room, and also failing to keep set times to be home, that encouraged her to seek a teacher's help to apply for the IYB. Nobody knows the allegations (and the evidence for them) that she made to get the benefit. Not only were the parents not checked for the truth of them, but they were not allowed to know what they were, the officials concerned citing privacy issues! ...

And if it had been that bad why then is the girl showing up at home for meals, laundry and get-to-gethers? It sounds more like a case of getting all the creature comforts of home with no responsibilities attached to being a family member...and that lack of responsibility paid for by the unwitting tax-payer. The MSD admitted that they do not collect any information on how many applicants for the IYB were declined or cancelled due to false information, nor of any prosecutions as a result of false information.

The Independent Youth Benefit is meant to be paid to a single young person aged 16 or 17 without dependent children who is not living at home as a result of a breakdown in their family (and, as a consequence, not financially supported by their parents). It is supposed to be work-tested, or for those unemployed but enrolled in a full-time course of secondary instruction, or where full-time work has been limited by sickness, injury or disability. The particular provision that is tearing families apart is where there is a supposed breakdown in the young person's relationship with their parents. Trouble is, no-one checks!

The regulations for unmarried applicants includes the requirement that Work and Income 'has to determine if there has been a breakdown between the child and their parents'. Actionworks - which oversees the provision of the IYB - has admitted that they do not establish the veracity of the allegations made that a breakdown in relationship and communication has actually occurred. As illustrated in the experience of the family above, the parents in most cases are never told what the allegations consist of, citing privacy provisions.

They don't even have a chance to set the record straight! In the cases I see before me, the 16 or 17 year olds make allegations that satisfy Work and Income, so they are eligible for a taxpayer funded lifestyle which avoids their being parented! In one case the girl was able go back three times to Work and Income to concoct a better allegation in order to get the benefit!

And the two refusals are double counted so that it doesn't look like officials are handing out the lifestyle money too easily - who are they trying to fool? One girl who got the IYB wrote a letter stating "I now know a lot of young girls who know about the Independent Youth Benefit and talk about applying for it just to get away from their parents because it does have a reputation of being easy to get."

One girl left home on 28 May 2004. She was asked by a psychologist from Group Special Education (GSE), a few days later whether she wanted to go home or accept the IYB. She chose the IYB. Why? Because she didn't want to abide by the normal responsibilities that go with being a member of a family.

And WINZ gave her that option without checking the facts as to whether or not her story was true - and at taxpayers' expense. Work and Income handed over the money and never checked where she was living and under what circumstances . never checked to see if she went to school or was truant . and never checked out what the taxpayers' money went towards.

Now if any of these allegations that led to the IYB were true then why have none of these allegedly offending parents been charged? Not one has! Work and Income is not only irresponsible with taxpayers' money - given on the belief of wrongdoing - and has not pursued any criminal action, yet has enabled children the ability to choose to opt out of being parented.

All the Minister Rick Barker seems intent to do when trying to answer my questions about these things is wave his jaw and jowls like a surrender flag at Iwo Jima! The real question is this: how is it that at a time when we talk so much about parental responsibility this government has removed the ability of parents to be responsible - and with no accountability at all in the way it is done. The IYB is ripping families apart pure and simple.


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