Non-govt providers to take key role in youth welfare reform: Bennett
By Paul McBeth
Feb. 27 (BusinessDesk) – Non-government service providers will take the lead role in helping at-risk youths in the first leg of the government’s welfare reforms, says Welfare Minister Paula Bennett.
The government will table a bill next month to enact the first stage of its welfare reform, with a focus on ensuring 16- and 17-year-olds aren’t trapped in welfare dependency, Bennett told media at today’s post-Cabinet press conference.
The government will provide funding to work alongside some 14,000 at-risk youth, 3,000 of whom are on a benefit. A further 11,000 are not in employment or education and are not claiming government support.
The third-party, non-government service managers will oversee benefit payments, with essential costs such as rent and utility bills paid directly to the provider. Special cards will be issued for living costs, which won’t be able to be spent on liquor or tobacco.
Providers such as the Salvation Army or iwi groups will get a one-off administration fee, and receive financial incentives to make sure their wards meet milestones, such as entering budgeting courses, finding work, or achieving attendance records, Bennett said.
Those young people targeted will also be eligible for a $10 weekly top-up to their benefits for completing a budgeting course, and a further $10 for finishing six months education or training.
“We’re blatantly targeting that 14,000,” Bennett said. “That’s how you stop them still being NEET (not in employment, education or trading) at 21, 22,” Bennett said.
Government figures this month showed the number of youth aged 15 to 24 not in employment, education or training (NEET) rose 0.7 percentage points to 13.1 percent in the December quarter. As a comparison, the NEET rate was between 10.2 percent and 12 percent between March 2004 and December 2008, peaking at 15.4 percent in December 2009.
The hand-holding process is part of a new investment focus for welfare, which will see greater emphasis placed on potential long-term liabilities, she said.
The government will be making a formal request for proposals from would-be providers soon.
The second tranche of reforms, which will see legislation tabled in July for enactment next year, will overhaul benefit categories and clamp down on fraud.