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Is beneficiary bashing our national pastime?

4 July 2006

Is beneficiary bashing our national pastime?

The debate raging this week on the issues of Maori beneficiaries and family violence has highlighted a concerning trend of beneficiary bashing, Green Party Maori Affairs Spokesperson Metiria Turei says.

"It seems that in the wake of the tragic death of the Kahui twins, beneficiaries have unfairly become a convenient target for the posturing of politicians and commentators," Mrs Turei says.

"First it was the suggestion that Maori beneficiaries should have their finances managed for them by social service agencies; now we are hearing that 'clusters' of beneficiaries are to be targeted for review by Work and Income and that we need to hold beneficiaries 'accountable' for their use of public money.

"What seems to have been forgotten is that child abuse and deaths occur in households across the spectrum of income and ethnicity - we cannot blame the benefit system. Even if abuse of the system was happening in the Kahui household, it doesn't follow that this contributed to the death of the babies.

"I am pleased to hear today that Social Development Minister David Benson-Pope has refused to entertain ideas about the state or other groups controlling how beneficiaries are able to spend their money.

"We do not give benefits to people as a reward for good behaviour, we give them to them because they have demonstrated through an actually very rigorous process that they are entitled to them.

"Making sure that those receiving benefits have satisfied the entitlement criteria is how we ensure accountability in the system. It would be completely unfair to then dictate how beneficiaries spend the money to which they are entitled, and what's more, would actually increase dependence on the state and agencies rather than working towards the stated goal of encouraging independence.

"If the Government were to dictate to middle and higher income families, many of whom now receive public money in the form of Working for Families support, how they should be spending their money there would be a public outcry. And yet there are calls for the Government to do exactly this to those on the lowest incomes.

"Beneficiaries have become a target in this debate because it is easy and convenient, and because there is public pressure for someone to blame and something to be done in the wake of the terrible deaths of the Kahui twins. But this targeting is unfair, and unless we collectively take a deep breath and reign it in we risk further alienating one of the most vulnerable groups in society," Mrs Turei says.


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