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Benefit Changes Don't Go Far Enough

Media Release
Benefit Changes Don't Go Far Enough

Monday, November 2, 2009

The government's plans to tighten up on benefit eligibility do not go far enough, according to welfare commentator, Lindsay Mitchell.

"Work-testing parents on the DPB when their youngest child turns 6 will encourage those who want to avoid work to simply expand their families. Currently around 5,000 babies are added to an existing benefit each year. One solution to this might be making additional children ineligible for family tax credits although this will increase hardship."

"What the government needs to be doing is sending a very clear message that, in future, welfare for parents with dependent children can only be provided for a limited time. The shorter that time, the greater the likelihood prospective recipients will be deterred and the tendency to lose touch with the workplace will be reduced."

"Any proposed work-testing on the sickness and invalid benefits could be equally ineffective because it requires a GP to assess the beneficiaries ability to work 15 hours. A recent Auditor General's report highlighted the poor standard of communication between GPs and Work and Income; the lack of information GPs were supplying on certifying certificates and their difficulties in trying to talk directly to case managers. Australia implemented this policy in 2006 but the numbers on their disability pension have continued to rise. "

"The fastest growth area for sickness and invalid benefits is psychological and psychiatric problems. These include drug and alcohol abuse. Stricter measures that the government could consider are 1/ appointing agents for those beneficiaries who have drug and alcohol abuse problems and 2/ requiring those beneficiaries to participate in rehabilitation programmes."

"In the past Work and Income (then the Social Welfare department) imposed tougher eligibility conditions based an whether an applicant was considered to have caused their incapacity to work. As with ACC, it now seems that there is little choice but to tighten up on eligibility. That will require a very strong, mutually supportive working relationship between Work and Income and GPs. The risk of intimidation needs to be acknowledged and actively resisted. If receipt of one of these benefits was widely seen to be much harder to qualify for, some people might think twice about indulging habits that seriously impair their physical and mental health."

"National could also consider 'grand parenting' as Australia has done with their Parenting Payment. That involves changing the rules for new beneficiaries but applying existing rules or less stringent rule changes to those already in the system ."

"Above all what National has to do is change expectations about what any of these benefits - DPB, Invalid or Sickness - is for. They are for emergencies, not lifestyles. Their voters elected them on a promise to tighten welfare and they need to do it in an effective, sustainable way."


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