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Big News: Steve Maharey Misleads Parliament

Big News with Dave Crampton

Steve Maharey Misleads Parliament

Social Services Minister Steve Maharey is either “bullshitting” again or is ignorant of aspects of his portfolio, especially regarding the increase in the number of sickness and invalids beneficiaries. I’m sure John Tamihere is not surprised.

When asked in Parliament last month about beneficiaries transferring between benefits, Mr Maharey stated: “I repeat that no one is migrating from the Unemployment Benefit through to the Invalids Benefit.”

However figures released under the Official Information Act show that 1457 beneficiaries have migrated from the Unemployment Benefit to the Invalids Benefit since January 2001.

In 2001, 701 people transferred from the Unemployment Benefit to the Invalids Benefit, with 633 the following year and 123 so far this year. This is a lot more than the Minister’s figure of zero.

The Minister says that people are on the Sickness and Invalids benefits because they are sick or have a disability. He is right in most cases – some have an ACC injury and are on the benefit because they have been assessed off the scheme. Yet on April Fools Day in Parliament he also said “there has been no migration at all from people going on the Unemployment Benefit to these forms of benefits.”

Who was he trying to fool? Official figures show that more than 37,000 people have transferred from the Unemployment Benefit to the Sickness Benefit during the past three years. In 2000, 11,552 people transferred, in 2001 it rose to 12,596, increasing to 13,053 last year.

By stating that there has been no transfer from those on the Unemployment Benefit to the Sickness and Invalids benefits when official figures show that more than 13,685 people have transferred just last year alone, the Minister appears to be either ignorant or misleading. During that time youth unemployment increased 30 percent and the number of Maori unemployed increased 8.4 percent. Pacific Island unemployed jumped by 24.3 percent.

What Maharey does want to do is decrease the numbers on the sickness benefit so next year he plans to introduce work-testing for the sick, after axing work tests for those on the Domestic Purposes Benefit. A better idea would be to get the fit on the dole back to work. But as Maharey is a failure in this area he suggests the easier option of work capacity tests for the unfit. This won’t lead to jobs. ACC attests to that.

Maharey has attributed the increase in the number of sickness and invalids beneficiaries to an ageing population, deinstitutionalisation, and ACC claimants moving onto benefits after being assessed off the scheme. Many ACC claimants were assessed off the scheme due to work tests – yet Maharey wants to test them again via the Sickness Benefit, to get them on the dole. Perhaps they should be put back on ACC where some of them should have been all along.

Nearly 1100 people migrate from the Unemployment Benefit to the Sickness Benefit alone on average every month – which is much greater than the migration of ACC claimants to both the Sickness and Invalids benefits during the entire time Maharey has been a minister. The number on the Sickness Benefit would be even higher if the roughly ten percent of prison inmates who were on that benefit when committing crimes led a righteous life.

Maharey may crow that unemployment figures are a 15-year low, but when it is on the back of a 17 percent increase in sickness beneficiaries and a 28 percent increase in the invalids benefit since 1999, well, of course it is lower.

Either Maharey has got SARS – Selective Amnesia Recall Syndrome - or he has advisers about as evasive as Maori Affairs Minister Parekura Horomia. Will he apologise and face the facts?

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- Dave Crampton is a Wellington-based freelance journalist. He can be contacted at davec@globe.net.nz

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