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Column: Judith Collins

Judith Collins Family Spokesperson - Column

It's a lemon "It sounds good but, on closer examination, it's a lemon". That's what the New Zealand Herald editorial said this week about Labour's "single benefit" proposal. Another quote said "the ideal of folding the various categories of need into one standard entitlement has an enduring, if superficial, appeal to the tidy mind, even if it does not amount to much change in practice." The Dominion Post called the same proposal, "Maharey's Mystery".

National agrees. Labour's single benefit announcement is more about appearances than moving any of the 300,000 working-age people from welfare dependency and into independence.

The proposal with the farcical, long distance operational date of 2007, would supposedly see all benefits come together under one name, with special add-ons for those with different circumstances. Labour first announced the plan in 2000, to start in 2002.

Minister Steve Maharey says a single benefit system would reduce the time spent on administration but it is hard to see how administration would be any easier if the Government allows multiple add-ons. When administrators have finished sifting through various claims of entitlement they may find the current system is quicker after all. This system allows all those with similar reasons for dependency are grouped together. WINZ spends just 30% of its time trying to find people jobs, the other 70% on administration. Something needs to change but a superficial name change isn't the answer.

If you have a vague recollection of having heard about a universal benefit years ago, you are right. Labour first announced the idea in 2000 and promised a "single benefit" system would be up and running in 2002. Three years later the proposal is being dredged up again from the murky depths of Labour's filing cabinet. No actual details have been finalised by the Government - even though they have had five years to prepare. Now we are told, it will operate by 2007.

It just looks like a dishonest political stunt to respond to the issues raised by Don Brash in this year's Orewa speech but it does little to deal with our concerns.

* WINZ spends just 30% of its time trying to find people jobs, the other 70% on administration. * Despite a buoyant economy and the worst skills shortage in a quarter of a century we have more than 300,000 working age adults on benefits - about 15% of the workforce. 109,000 are on the DPB, 79,000 on the Unemployment Benefit, and 19,000 on the Invalids and Sickness Benefits. * Since Labour came into office in 1999, the population has increased 6% while those on both the Invalids and Sickness Benefit have increased by 40%. * There are more than 23,000 women on the DPB who have had at least one additional child while on the DPB. * The financial cost of the four main benefits amounts to more than $5 billion a year, $14 million a day which works out to be $2,500 a year for every member of the workforce.

Labour has avoided all mention of community work for the dole and seems intent on keeping up its dogma of all carrot and no stick.

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