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Benefit announcements a mixed bag

26 October 2006

Benefit announcements a mixed bag

Today's announcement that the Government would not be making final decisions about its much delayed Single Core Benefit policy until 2008 gave a clear signal that the policy has been shelved until after the next election, Green Party Social Development Spokesperson Sue Bradford says.

"Clearly, it has proved too hard for the Ministry of Social Development to find a fair and workable way of reducing the current system of different benefits and entitlements to a single core level..

"The Green Party believes the best way forward is to scrap the 1964 Social Security Act entirely and start again to create a structure that is simple, universally available and pitched at a level that pays enough for people to live on. The aim is to lift people's ability to survive, rather than cut benefits - which is what the Single Core Benefit threatened to do.

"The rest of today's announcement is a mixed bag. The Green Party welcomes the announcement that the maximum stand-down period for all benefits will be reduced to only two weeks. This will go a long way towards alleviating the hardship that many beneficiaries face by the time they actually receive the benefit.

"Sole parents will also welcome the new alignment of change-in-circumstances rules so that they can continue to receive a benefit for up to eight weeks in some circumstances. The extension of eligibility to the stand-down exemption for those entering a refuge after a relationship breakdown is also welcome, as is the simplification of residency eligibility requirements to two years across all benefits, and the exemption of refugees with permanent residence from the residency requirement is also a humane step.

"Conversely, I feel very concerned about the Government's new and added requirements for pre-benefit activity by those receiving the Unemployment Benefit, which will result in a deferral of benefits being paid out, and resultant hardship. The removal of work test exemptions for those 60 years and over, and for partners who are 55 or over will increase the likelihood that older beneficiaries with little work expectations will be harassed.

"Similarly, the part time work test for partners of beneficiaries with a youngest child six years or over - raises more social problems than it could ever resolve. Who will look after those kids in school holidays if their partner is unable to do so through ill-health or a disability?

"Many of these changes still entail making people beg for pittances. Real solutions require setting benefit levels and entitlements in ways that enable people to get on with their lives, with dignity, and without the current variations between and within regions as to how these entitlements are approved or denied." .


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