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'Helping beneficiaries' is about helping Labour

12 May 2005

'Helping beneficiaries' is really about helping Labour

Steve Maharey's latest welfare policy is once again a mixed bag aimed at trying to capture right-wing voters without turning off traditional Labour supporters, says Green Party Social Services and ACC Spokesperson Sue Bradford.

The Social Development and Employment Minister announced today that the Government will spend $27.7 million over the next four years 'helping' Sickness and Invalid's beneficiaries into work.

"As usual, Steve Maharey, New Zealand's leading exponent of 'Third Way' politics, has dealt a mixed hand of social welfare strategies," said Ms Bradford, "it seems that yet again Labour is trying to win votes from both its traditional catchment and from National and ACT supporters, who characterise all beneficiaries as bludgers.

"Why is priority being given to getting the sick and infirm into work? There are still 96,889 people registered as jobseekers who aren't sick or disabled and can't find work. These are the people Work and Income should be putting their priority job-filling efforts into, not those on the DPB, Invalids or Sickness Benefits.

"The Greens support the increased assistance being offered to people with long-term ill health and disability who are actually seeking employment. We would not be happy if this initiative turns into harassment of recovering or incapacitated people.

"The extension of the Providing Access to Health Solutions (PATH) programme to Tauranga is welcome, but we believe it should be expanded to the whole country ASAP. PATH is one of the most innovative and empowering of the Government's programmes, because it offers beneficiaries health treatment to get back to work. Extending it to only one region really isn't good enough and the Greens would rather see money spent on a nationwide roll out, rather than designating doctors and second opinions for sickness benefit eligibility.

"We are increasingly fearful that Mr Maharey intends to impose a designated doctor system in this area similar to that used for ACC. For instance, his 'preparing for work assessment' is an ACC look-a-like. We have questions over the quality of these assessments; who does them and what are their qualifications?

"Increased payments to designated doctors - new fees to GPs and psychologists go from $67.50 to $119.25-a-visit - seem exorbitant. The higher the fee, the greater the danger that GPs' opinions will be biased because they will have a perverse incentive to give a Work and Income-friendly opinion in order to stay on the designated doctor list.

"When it comes to doctors seeking second opinions for benefit eligibility; can the Minister assure us that beneficiaries will at least be given a list of doctors to choose from, rather than being forced to see one nominated by Work and Income?

ENDS

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