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Maharey Says Benefit Levels Too Low

Maharey Says Benefit Levels Too Low

Steve Maharey, Minister of Social Development, said on National Radio today that he wants to increase benefit levels.

Commenting on an interview conducted by Linda Clark, DPB critic, Lindsay Mitchell said, "This is going to be impossible to reconcile with his other stated aim of 'making work pay' - that is to ensure that the gap between pay rates and benefit rates is sufficiently attractive to make taking a job worthwhile. He cannot do both. Higher benefit rates mean more tax. More tax means lower wages."

"Apparently there isn't a problem with welfare dependency in New Zealand, according to the Minister. Well, perhaps 5 percent of people on benefits are 'welfare dependent' he conceded. He must mean by this that only five percent of people on benefits stay on them long term. The average total time people stay on the DPB is at least 6.5 years. I wonder what Mr Maharey's definition of long term is?"

"Responding to questioning from Linda Clark about the desirability, or otherwise, of expecting people to engage in a work activity as a requirement of getting a benefit he firmly resisted any form of compulsion (conveniently forgetting that the taxpayer is under a compulsion to go to work to support the beneficiary.) Conversely, he went on to say that sanctions ensured that people do have to comply with job-seeking requirements. In fact, sanctions are rarely imposed, as he knows, because the sheer practicality of taking money off people who consider it to be their's by right, is too difficult for WINZ staff."

"He's big on training but again it has to be voluntary because you can't force-feed learning. Hang on, don't we compel children to attend school?"

"Mr Maharey has turned at least one corner. He now accepts that just handing money out to people doesn't help them. He talked about intensified case management. Linda Clark mentioned people she knew of who had been on a benefit for years and had only been checked on a couple of times. Mr Maharey insisted that has now changed. Has it? Since February 1999 people on the DPB who were not worktested had to attend a yearly interview to discuss future employment prospects. Now he is claiming this is a brand new requirement."

"On the subject of foodbanks he described how WINZ staff are interviewing people at foodbanks to find out why they aren't managing on their benefit and if possible, they are being given a special benefit to help. He was very proud that under Labour access to the special benefit has increased more than fourfold. This isn't viewed as a possible problem in that it might just make staying on a benefit more comfortable because Mr Maharey is convinced, bless his cotton socks, that almost everybody on a benefit really wants to work."

"As long as we have a Minister of Social Development who refuses to take off his rose-coloured glasses, whose policy solutions conflict to the the degree they cannot be simultaneously implemented, the welfare state will continue to run amok."

Lindsay Mitchell

Petitioner for a Parliamentary review of the DPB

e-mail dandl.mitchell@clear.net.nz

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