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Welfare Working Group Report - A missed opportunity

LIFEWISE MEDIA RELEASE - 22nd February 2011

Welfare Working Group Report - A missed opportunity to deal with poverty and inequality

The final report by the Welfare Working Group released today has been described as "cruel, draconian and lacking in solutions that will properly deal with inter-generational poverty and its resulting social problems for NZ children and families" by John McCarthy, General Manager of Auckland social services provider LIFEWISE.

The Group, with its unrelenting focus on work at all costs and punitive measures for those who are unable to comply, lacks understanding of the plight of individuals and families who live in poverty and of the solutions required to address it. Their focus on ending dependency rather than ending poverty has led the Group to propose paid employment as the only solution to poverty. Quite apart from there being limited jobs available, both NZ and overseas research shows that this is not the best solution for all beneficiaries.

Those existing on benefits need certainty and support. No-one in NZ, whether currently working or on a benefit, can now feel certain that the safety net of which we have historically had good reason to feel proud, will be there with any certainty to protect them and their family's well-being in the future if their circumstances change.

Punitive and potentially discriminatory measures against beneficiaries such as incentivising contraception, third-party management of benefits for parents whose children won't go to school, turning beneficiary families into child abuse suspects by screening them for child abuse, punishing beneficiaries who grow the size of their families, and removing benefit entitlement to those with serious addictions who refuse to voluntarily take part in a treatment programme are all examples of an approach that shames and blames beneficiaries while doing nothing to improve their well-being.

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In addition, the Group assumes that it is poor aspirations or low expectations that are the main reason keeping those who are sick or living with a disability on a benefit or unable to undertake paid employment. This is simplistic and patronising and simply serves to place even more distress on an already extremely vulnerable group.

While some community and private service providers will undoubtedly see the potential opportunities from increased contracting out of services, others will see an increased workload resulting from increased poverty and misery, family violence, child abuse, suicide and crime. Some community providers will struggle with the ethical dilemmas experienced by organisations who have operated similar schemes overseas which require providers to apply sanctions if their clients do not accept employment, resulting in vulnerable and desperate individuals being forced into low paid jobs with poor working conditions and job security. This not only creates problems for those individuals, it promotes and sustains an unfair, low wage economy leading to a more unequal society and its resulting social problems. Community agencies like ours which stand for social justice will be asking "How is that just?"

LIFEWISE accepts Government still has to fully consider the report which may yet not be adopted in its entirety. LIFEWISE will welcome the opportunity to work with Government on implementing fair solutions to poverty and inequality.

"As the Alternative Welfare Working Group concluded in its report late last year, NZ is not in crisis. We have time to make changes to our welfare system that will lead to sustainable solutions to poverty and inequality. It's a shame we've missed the boat this time round" concludes John McCarthy.


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