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Sickness beneficiary pilots proving unsuccessful

Tuesday, 28 June 2005

Turner: Sickness beneficiary pilots proving unsuccessful

The Government has been unable to find an effective solution to the surging number of sickness and invalids benefits if the results of its pilot programmes are anything to go by, United Future social services spokeswoman Judy Turner said today.

Citing information she had obtained, Mrs Turner said the programmes failing because they are voluntary. The Innovative Employment Assistance (IEA) initiative started as a pilot in Manukau in February 2004, and comprises three different programmes:
* PATHS (Providing Access To Physical Health Solutions) Aimed at beneficiaries with physical ailments by providing access to health interventions that they might otherwise be unable to access.
* ProCare The Independent Practitioners' Association ProCare Health Ltd is contracted to provide appropriate treatment to beneficiaries with stress, depression and other anxiety-related disorders (but excluding schizophrenia and bipolar disorder).
* Work Wise This programme attempts to help clients with severe mental problems (e.g. bi-polar disorder) get jobs by assisting them with things like CVs, interviews, job search, and employment contracts.

When Social Development Minister Steve Maharey originally announced these programmes, he talked about involving 400 clients in the PATHS pilot and 600 clients in the ProCare pilot over two years.

The forecast success rate for these programmes after a year was 24% (although a 30% success rate was initially projected), but the results produced by these pilots to date have been less than stunning, Mrs Turner said.

By December last year (the most recent figures available), 117 had participated in the PATHS programme. Yet only 18 had come off the benefit (15%), and 43 (37%) had left the programme but stayed on a benefit, including those who had accessed the health services. These figures include Wellington, where the pilot was extended last year, but so far none of the participants in the Capital have left the benefit.

Over the same period, 141 had participated in Work Wise, 10 were off the benefit (7%) and 35 had left the programme without leaving the benefit.

As the programme designed to address the stress and depression that has been a major driver behind the increase in sickness and invalids beneficiaries, ProCare has perhaps yielded the most disappointing results. By the end of 2004, only 52 had participated from the original target of 120.

"Yet answers to parliamentary questions I lodged last year reveal that in the Manukau area these conditions alone account for 908 sickness and 419 invalids beneficiaries," Mrs Turner said.

Since it began, 24 (46%) had left the ProCare programme without leaving the benefit, including those who had accessed public health services as part of the programme. Only seven had left the benefit (13%).

Documents obtained under the Official Information Act reveal that by June last year officials were concerned by the participation rate in PATHS and ProCare, which was "lower than expected".

In fact, by the end of June, only 35 were participating in PATHS and only five in ProCare. Letters were sent to potential PATHS clients directly "with little success", and a similar approach towards potential ProCare clients had "not proved effective".

When confronted with these figures during question time last week, Mr Maharey said that he was "very pleased with the emerging results from the Providing Access to Health Solutions, ProCare, and Workwise programmes that have been piloted in the Manukau and Wellington regions", signalling that they will be rolled out to the Western Bay of Plenty and then across the country in the coming year.

"A commonsense solution to the problem of increasing numbers of sickness and invalids beneficiaries is to help them to seek treatment, and that is why United Future supports the intent of these programmes," Mrs Turner said. "But clearly there is a major problem in getting these people to take up the help that's on offer, and you start to ask yourself why that is".

Mrs Turner said that although medical certificate was normally required to go on these benefits, and remain on them, there was no requirement for the beneficiaries to seek treatment for their condition.

"Why shouldn't beneficiaries have a reciprocal responsibility to seek treatment, where it's appropriate, for their illness? It's in their interests, as well as the taxpayers."


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