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Poverty is not a business opportunity

3 July 2006

Poverty is not a business opportunity

The proposal that control of welfare payments to Maori should be transferred from individuals to social service providers is being condemned by Green Party Maori Affairs Spokesperson Metiria Turei.

The National Maori Urban Authority called last week for control of Maori welfare payments to be transferred to social support groups as a way of ensuring that benefit money is spent on essentials like rent, food, and power.

"This idea has been mooted before, and has never been a good one," Mrs Turei says.

"At its core, it disempowers Maori beneficiaries from taking control of their own lives, and if we are ever to break the cycle of benefit dependence, it is vital that individuals are in control of their own destinies.

"Clearly, many beneficiaries struggle with budgeting, but this is primarily because most benefit payments are not sufficient to cover essential expenditure such as rent, food, and power. Misuse of funds is a problem too, but services already exist to assist people with managing their funds. In fact, it is already possible for beneficiaries to hand over control of their payments to budgeting advisors, on a voluntary basis. To mandate this practice would be a very bad idea.

"As well as being fundamentally disempowering and patronising, there are numerous practical concerns with a proposal like this. The risk of abuse of the system is high, and we have seen no evidence that the National Maori Urban Authority or the social support organisations that would administer this scheme have the ability to do so.

"A number of questions need to be asked, including whether or not these groups will keep a commission for their services, where the interest earned on beneficiary funds will be spent, and whether or not these groups will demand government funding for their services.

"This seems to me to be nothing more than another cynical attempt to make political traction off the tragic Kahui case which, if implemented, would only serve to wrest control over their own finances from Maori beneficiaries and make them vulnerable to abuse of the system.

"There are much better ways to address the financial and budgeting issues faced by beneficiaries than this. For example, abatement rates for beneficiaries in part time work should be fixed so that it is actually financially helpful for them to supplement their welfare payments by working part time," Mrs Turei says.


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