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Labour basks in 'beat-the-beneficiary' battle

Labour basks in 'beat-the-beneficiary' battle

A dramatic surge in benefit stand downs is yet another sign that the Government is trying to outgun National and Act at beneficiary bashing, Green Social Services Spokesperson Sue Bradford says.

Ms Bradford's comments come in light of figures published in The New Zealand Herald this morning showing the number of beneficiaries having their income support suspended for 13 weeks had increased 889 percent in the last two years - from 100 in 2002 to 989 in 2004.

"I'm really disturbed by the trends shown by these latest figures, the consequences of being left without income for such an extended period are severe," Ms Bradford said.

"People who are already barely surviving and are massively in debt to start with are left with stark choices, with crime often being the only way through.

"It's simply not good enough for Labour to continue to try to out do National and Act on who is the toughest towards beneficiaries. The 13-week stand-down is one of the legacies of National's 1990s beneficiary bashing, yet unfortunately Labour seems content to continue it."

Ms Bradford said she has no objection to people on the unemployment benefit being work-tested, but believes the current system is being administered inhumanely.

"Someone who is registered as unemployed should be available for suitable work on pain of losing their benefit. However, we continue to have concerns about exactly how the system is administered. The work test process is automated: beneficiaries are being treated as numbers, not people. We question whether case managers are making humane and accurate assessments of the situations they encounter.

"For example, if a person can't make a job interview because they have no money for transport, it appears a machine can cut them off. I'd be grateful if the Minister could give me assurances to the contrary.

"Lack of money to get to job interviews or to jobs themselves once employed is one of the main reasons people don't meet their work-test obligations. Work and Income unfortunately has no obligation to provide people with the resources they need to get to interviews or work, even though so many beneficiaries end up with no spare cash at all for most of the week."

Ms Bradford said she was also worried that the Ministry of Social Development doesn't keep figures on how many people are sanctioned for failing the drug test provisions of the 'Jobs Jolt' scheme.

"We continue to push for a more humane welfare system that treats each beneficiary as an individual deserving of respect and support, while, in the case of unemployed people, assisting them to find work."

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