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Our Response to proposed Welfare Policy

Media Release 19th November 2009
Beneficiary Advisory Service:
Our Response to proposed Welfare Policy

I felt really offended by the stupidity of the statements reportedly made by Bill English on TVNZ’s Q&A earlier this month, says Rebecca Occleston, spokesperson for Beneficiary Advisory Service.

National's welfare policy announced in August last year included: introducing more frequent assessments for sickness beneficiaries; forcing long-term unemployed (those with more than one year on the dole) to find work; and requiring solo parents to seek part-time work once their youngest child is 6.

What we think:

Unemployment: people are still losing their jobs, even if the recession has eased, it is still here and “forcing” long term beneficiaries to work is just unrealistic. Giving beneficiaries encouragement to work and support when they find work is much more effective and realistic goal.

DPB: parents work (on average) about 14 hours/day 365 ¼ days/year. When children start school, the parent is only working about 8 hours a day (+ housework and other chores and + weekends). Most people would agree this is a full-time job! There is also the issue of school holidays. Stating parents have to work part time when their child is in school is unrealistic and unhelpful. It is very hard to find work during these hours with holidays and sick days (every time you or one of your children is ill) off! Also, by stating this, the Finance Minister is undermining the message the Families Commission is trying to get out: that parenting is the most important job you’ll ever do. Certainly if people want to (do paid) work, they should be encouraged and supported by the Welfare system, but this should not be a requirement for this group. These people ARE working: they are looking after children.

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We support National’s decision to increase the amount of money beneficiaries could earn - from $80 to $100 - without losing any of their benefit and relaxing the abatement regime.

Sickness: National is suggesting more frequent assessments for Sickness Beneficiaries. These benefits are assessed at least every three months (sometimes more often if the doctor thinks it should be). This is generally a short term benefit for when people are temporarily unable to work. When they are able to work again is an issue for the person themselves and their doctor and is not the job of Work and Income.

Invalids: these people can get this benefit because they are permanently and severely restricted in their capacity to work! If someone on Invalid’s Benefit wants to work or finds suitable work, they should, of course, be given all the help they need to do this. However, many people are on this benefit because they are simply unable to work due to physical or mental illnesses.

As a general conclusion, we find the whole focus of their proposed policy is wrong. Attempting to force beneficiaries into the workforce when there are fewer jobs to be had is simply ridiculous. Giving people support to find work or when they do find work and in the meantime (or long term for those unable to work) would be much more appropriate. Requiring people to do things they are incapable of doing is just going to create more stress for some of the least resourced and most disadvantaged members of our community. Most people want to work, not just for the money but for the feeling of contributing to society. It seems there is an assumption that most people on benefits don’t want to work. This assumption is naïve and inaccurate.


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