8 Aug 2018

Beneficiary contraceptive scheme comes to an end

8:56 am on 8 August 2018

A scheme to fund free long term contraceptives for beneficiaries and their daughters ends on Monday.

05072016 Photo: Rebekah Parsons-King. Ministry of Social Development on Willis Street in Wellington.

Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

The previous government set aside almost a $1 million for the scheme over six years, but Work and Income spent just $200,000 of that.

The grant, which included IUDs, injections and implants, was labelled an insult and intrusive.

Former Green MP Sue Bradford was a vocal critic of the grant when it was announced in 2012.

She said while contraception should be free, the grant was tied to the benefit system and was part of a wider agenda by the National government to discourage women on a benefit from having babies.

"We simply didn't believe that the state should play a role in trying to persuade women and their daughters to take long term contraception and to do that through Work and Income where so much of what Work and Income is on about is access to benefits. When you are dependent on the state that's your whole survival," she said.

There was no way of knowing if Work and Income case officers exerted pressure on women to take up the offer, she said.

Family Planning, which was responsible for fitting the devices, said they never saw any evidence of pressure being applied.

Its chief executive, Jackie Edmond, said they also had concerns about the scheme being promoted at Work and Income offices.

"Really you'd be much better to target access to all women in terms of access to these contraceptives - IUDs and implants - rather than just target a specific group to subsidise their visit," she said.

The red tape was a problem, Ms Edmond said.

"It was just a little bit cumbersome, so we never saw very high numbers of women through the scheme. As I said the intentions were pretty good, because we know cost is a barrier to women. It wasn't very smooth, lets say," she said.

Just 1133 grants were paid out, in stark comparison to the 16,000 grants the previous government budgeted for.

National's spokesperson for women, Paula Bennett, was the architect of the scheme. She is disappointed it's been scrapped.

"It's not like you have to pay if people don't take it up, it's user demand driven. I brought it in because there were woman that were not getting access to contraception because of the additional costs involved. And I just thinking removing those extra costs for them is about free choice and empowers them. So I think it's a real shame," Mrs Bennett said.

Ms Edmond agreed cost was a barrier and said there was high demand for family planning's low-cost services.

"The implant of course now is free, but putting it in can be expensive because its a long appointment, so it may cost $100 to $150 even $200 in some places and an IUD is similar," she said.

The current government said it wasn't appropriate for Work and Income to manage the grant, and any decision on contraception is a woman's personal decision in consultation with their doctor.

It has allocated $17.5m this year to health services to improve access to contraceptives for women on low incomes

Pharmac also funds three long term contraceptives.