6 Dec 2011

Welfare proposals 'in line' with campaign policy

6:25 pm on 6 December 2011

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett says welfare reforms set out in its deal with the ACT Party are in line with what National campaigned on.

National's confidence and supply agreement with ACT includes a promise to implement parts of the Welfare Working Group report on parenting obligations and managing beneficiaries' incomes.


Welfare reform has been identified by National as one of its post-election priorities.

Paula Bennett says first up, will be closer supervision of younger people on benefits and this will be introduced early next year.

As a result of National's youth welfare package, those under the age of 18 and teen parents under 19 will have their benefits managed for them. They will have to undertake budgeting and parenting courses, and more skills training will also be provided for this age group.

National also campaigned on reducing the number of benefits available and introducing more work expectations for single parents.

The Labour Party's employment spokesperson, Jacinda Adern, says National is going further in its agreement with ACT.

"I think, ultimately, it's using ACT as a bit of a cover to pursue welfare reform and failed policies that we already have evidence that just aren't going to work."

National and ACT have agreed to implement four recommendations from the Welfare Working Group report.

All beneficiaries with children will be expected to enrol them in early childhood education from the age of three, to complete their Wellchild health checks, and to make sure they attend school.

Failure to meet those expectations could result in their income being managed by a third party.


However, Green Party co-leader Meteria Turei believes it is a step too far.

"They are about punishing people because they are in need of social support.

"There is no justification for requiring these kinds of punitive measures for people on welfare but not for those who get Working For Families, for example, who also get a form of government support in public money."

Paula Bennett says they have still to decide what to do when parents do not meet those expectations.

"It might be that you encourage them by actually giving them incentives and the other side is that it might be sanctions.

"But we're by no means saying at this stage that we will be sanctioning people that perhaps don't put their children into early childhood education. We might actually do the opposite and incentivise them to do that.

"Those are the kinds of discussions ... that we're really keen to work our way through."

Employment service contracts

Another Welfare Working Group recommendation in the National and ACT agreement is that employment services should be based on contestable contracts, with financial incentives for good results.


Sue Bradford, a spokesperson for the group Auckland Action Against Poverty, told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme on Tuesday that amounts to the privatisation of services.

"The unemployed are just going to be another business opportunity - a group of people to be out of which private companies and others can make money.

"And I think that's absolutely disgraceful - do people in this country really want this level of privatisation and profit-taking out of people who are jobless?"

But Paula Bennett defends the move, saying it is an extension of what is already happening and something National campaigned on.

"We did talk about better use of non-profit organisations and for profit. We currently contract more than $170 million worth of contracting outside Work and Income in any given year.

"Now, how effectively are we doing that? Should we give more money at the end of a contract for results, rather than up front?"

Labour's Jacinda Adern says the Government is taking the wrong approach. She says groups such as the Salvation Army, which runs programmes to help people prepare for work, are finding it tough.

"Their message to us has been really clear - that they are getting people work ready, but if the jobs aren't there at the end of it then really, in some cases, we're setting some people up to fail.

"The focus absolutely needs to be on job creation."

Ms Adern says there is no evidence to suggest the Department of Work and Income is failing. She says the problem is, there are not enough jobs.