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Commission finds Future Focus bill requires change

Commission finds Future Focus bill requires substantial changes

The Human Rights Commission wants substantial changes made to the Social Assistance (Future Focus) Bill so that it does not discriminate against specific groups and it meets basic human rights standards. It has offered its expertise to help redraft the bill it considers fundamentally flawed.

The Social Assistance (Future Focus) bill aims to “put into effect the package of proposals to implement the manifesto commitments made by the Government prior to the election and introduce an unrelenting focus on work.”

However, the Commission says it will fail in its purpose because it:

• Discriminates against certain groups

• Contravenes New Zealand’s international obligations

• Is unlikely to achieve its purpose given the lack of available jobs in the time frame proposed

• Has the potential to impact on young children if parents are forced to return to work and cannot arrange satisfactory childcare

• Places extra burdens on sickness beneficiaries

• Perpetuates stereotypes about already vulnerable groups.

The bill includes:

• introducing a part-time work test for solo parents on domestic purposes benefit once their youngest child turns 6 years old

• introducing a part-time work test for people on sickness benefit who are assessed as being able to work part-time

• requiring people receiving unemployment benefit to reapply every 12 months and undertake a comprehensive work assessment at that time.

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Appearing before the Social Services Select Committee today, the Chief Human Rights Commissioner Rosslyn Noonan said despite some positive features, the bill should be substantially redrafted.

“The Commission agrees with the Attorney General that the bill is inconsistent with the Bill of Rights Act. It will discriminate against specific groups of New Zealanders and in particular, it will unfairly target the most vulnerable in our society, young children and people with disabilities.”

Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Dr Judy McGregor said,” The Commission had recently undertaken a large work-based project, the National Conversation about Work, across 16 regions and involving 3000 employers, employees and community groups.”Overwhelmingly we found that New Zealanders made redundant in the recession want work, that disabled people were disproportionately affected by the economic downturn and are now on invalids benefits and that many solo parents just cannot find childcare that allows them part time work.”

The Commission’s submission listed the groups the bill would discriminate against:

• sex (widows with children do not have to undertake the test but widowers do);

• marital status (solo parents whose partner is deceased do not have to take the part-time work test but solo parents who are not with their partner for other reasons – for example, they are divorced or separated - do)

• family status (older single people who receive the DPB (solo parent benefit) because they are caring for children are treated differently as they will be subject to the work test and associated sanctions whereas older single women who may have cared for children but no longer do receive the DPB (women alone benefit) which is not subject to the work test.



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