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Brash Responds To Maharey

Don Brash
National Party Leader
30 January 2005

Brash responds to Maharey

This is a response to comments by Social Development and Employment Minister Steve Maharey on aspects of Don Brash's speech at Orewa on January 25.

DPB

Orewa speech: Women who refuse to name the father of their children will face a financial penalty.

Maharey: Already done. The present penalty is $22 a week and in a bill before the House, is to increase to $28 a week from July 1. There is a current programme of home visits to discuss penalty and support of naming of father. This programme works - since it began six months ago, the number of clients with penalty has decreased 12 percent. Child support is now being claimed from fathers named.

Brash responds: Fiddling around with the penalty by $6 is irrelevant - especially given the rise in income for those on the DPB due to the Working for Families package. Clearly, a much larger deterrent is required to ensure that fathers are named. There are over 18,000 DPB recipients who have refused to name the other partner.

What is more concerning is that in 1 in 5 of those 18,000 cases, Work and Income actually have the information regarding who the father is - but they cannot act on that information. Labour promised to deal with this problem nearly two years ago - yet we are still waiting.

Orewa speech: Those on the DPB will be required to undertake part-time employment, retraining or community service from the time that their youngest child reaches school-age.

Maharey: We've done it better. The Government passed legislation in 2002 so that all DPB recipients receive enhanced case management and must complete a personal development and employment plan that is reviewed every year. This matches their personal and family circumstances to employment opportunities. This is far superior to National's inflexible approach where they might only get to meet their case manager when the child turns 5 and 14.

Brash responds: Where National and Labour differ is that Labour does not require DPB recipients to be available to work. Work and Income's desk manual explicitly states that "clients receiving the Domestic Purposes Benefit cannot be pressured into taking up or accepting employment." [1] National will expect sole-parents to be available to work, at least part-time, when their youngest child starts school.

Mr Maharey's assertion that clients might only get to meet their case manager when the child turns 5 and 14 is wrong. The previous National Government's work-testing requirements expected clients on the DPB to look for part-time work when their youngest child was between 6 and 13 years of age. Those whose youngest child was 14 were expected to look for full time work. They were also required to attend a yearly planning interview with Work and Income, a requirement that was subsequently retained by the Labour Government. National will ensure that there is intensive case-management by Work and Income to assist sole parents back into the full-time workforce.

Unemployment benefit

Orewa speech: A 90-day trial period will apply after beneficiaries have found work, during which the parties can agree that employment can be ended without penalty.

Maharey: We've done it better. A probationary arrangement is possible under current legislation but must be a contractual arrangement. This Government supports the employment rights of all workers being maintained.

Brash responds: Section 67 of the Employment Relations Act currently states that you may specify a probationary period in an employment agreement, but the ordinary rules for personal grievances apply. You cannot end the employment relationship if it doesn't work out. Once you hire someone, you are stuck with them unless they do something so bad it justifies them being sacked. This means employers will not take a chance with certain groups in our benefit system - the very young, the older worker, the single parent and the immigrant.

The OECD pointed this out in its country survey on New Zealand in 2003, and noted that New Zealand was extremely unusual in not having a personal grievance free period. In fact, New Zealand was the only country out of 27 listed by the OECD that specifically did not allow any personal grievance free probationary period for new employees. The OECD noted that the opportunities for certain groups to gain employment were limited by this.

Orewa speech: After applicants have completed a set period of seeking work, the unemployment benefit will be conditional on some form of community work or approved training.

Maharey: It didn't work. Current policies focus on real jobs and not "make work" programmes. National's 1990s work-for-the-dole scheme was so unsuccessful that evaluation found that participants' chances of getting a real job were less than if they hadn't been part of the scheme at all. An Australian study had a similar result.

Brash responds: Wrong again. The scheme in Australia, and elsewhere in the world, has worked. A study of the Australian scheme once it was in full swing showed that one-third of those referred to the scheme didn't actually begin it - they left the benefit. This "compliance effect" has been noted by the OECD in such programmes worldwide. The Australian scheme also noted that work-for-the-dole participants were significantly more likely to leave the benefit than similar beneficiaries who had not recently participated in the programme.

Mr Maharey should also probably mention that the Australian study he refers to only covered the pilot programme. The study I have referred to was of the full programme.

Sickness and invalids benefit

Orewa speech: Beneficiaries will face a more thorough medical evaluation. National will work with doctors' groups to ensure consistency in the way those applying for benefits are evaluated.

Maharey: Already done. The Government has been working with doctors for the past 10 months to support them and improve the certification process. The government has announced a trial to commence next month which will allow GPs to seek a second opinion in situations where they have some doubt.

Brash responds: About time. The numbers of people on sickness and invalids' benefits have increased by nearly 40 percent since Labour became government and by over 500 percent since 1975. Questions have to be asked why Labour allowed the number to spiral out of control since becoming Government.

All working age benefits

Orewa speech: Those receiving a working age benefit must ensure that their children have the appropriate vaccinations, health and dental checks, and that they attend school.

Maharey: We've done it better. This Government has a national vaccination programme. There is free healthcare for under 6 year olds and we have introduced Primary Health Organisations bringing accessible healthcare to all. Dr Brash's proposal is a return to the ideas of National's code of social and family responsibility. If parents don't comply, their benefit will be cut. So children will be hungry and cold as well as not vaccinated and truant.

Brash responds: Maharey's response is typical of the politically correct Labour Government. The facts are that New Zealand has a terrible immunisation completion rate and consequently many Kiwi kids suffer from preventable diseases. National makes no apology for requiring parents to meet their obligations to ensure that their children are immunised, attend medical/dental checks or attend school, and we will use whatever mechanisms we have at our disposal to ensure that this happens. The threat of benefit sanctions may just be the incentive for some parents to get their kids immunised and ensure that they don't truant. It is about time New Zealanders made it clear that this form of child neglect is unacceptable. It should also be noted that those parents who make an informed choice not to have their kids immunised will be exempt.

Ends

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