29 Feb 2012

Minister a hypocrite says Harawira

5:14 pm on 29 February 2012

Mana Party leader Hone Harawira says the Social Development Minister is a hypocrite over the Government's changes to benefits.

He says the minister, who was once a a solo mother on the Domestic Purposes Benefit, is cutting all of the privileges she enjoyed as a beneficiary.

Mr Harawira says Paula Bennett basically set herself up in life with direct assistance from the state, but is now making sure that nobody else can ever get that kind of help.

But Ms Bennett says solo parents on the domestic purposes benefit receive more support now than when she was receiving it.

She says the planned changes to welfare will modernise the system.

Minister rejects benefit bashing

Ms Bennett has also rejected an accusation of beneficiary bashing over the Government's comprehensive welfare reforms.

Legislation containing the first stage of the changes will be introduced to Parliament in March.

The first stage includes changes to the Domestic Purposes Benefit, youth benefits and the Widow's and Women Alone Benefit.

Some beneficiaries with children five years and older will have to be available for part-time work, and those with children aged 14 and over will have to be available for fulltime work.

Hone Harawira told Morning Report no emphasis was being put on job creation and maximum effort was going into bashing beneficiaries.

"It's just not intelligence, it's not future planning," he said.

But Ms Bennett said that was nonsense, and if anyone was beneficiary bashing it would be Mr Harawira if he thought that all people were worth was a life on benefit and that the Government could perhaps "manufacture some job to make people better."

She said Mr Harawira's views were quite belittling of the people who are trying to do their best and need Government support.

The minister said benefits would not be cut if people cannot find work, as long as they are making themselves available for employment.

Mr Harawira said the Government needs to start with getting beneficiaries to work in their community to help them to prepare for full time jobs.

Any job a good job

Opposition parties have questioned how people are supposed to come off the unemployment benefit when there are so few good jobs available.

Ms Bennett says people should be willing to do jobs like cleaning or working in a fast food restaurant, describing those jobs as noble.

She says any job is a good job, and people doing cleaning or fast-food service can get experience that allows them to move on to other jobs.

Labour Party leader David Shearer says beneficiaries could take on menial jobs, but that's not always practical with many such jobs being in places that are difficult to get to for people with families.

He said the key thing is opportunity, which means training and decent work, and he asks where those jobs are.

Prime Minister John Key says there are jobs out there, but people aren't always willing to do them.

He says some industries, such as horticulture, have to bring in workers from overseas.

Anti-poverty groups criticise changes

Lobby groups against poverty say the changes undermine beneficiary parents and penalise their children.

Child Poverty Action Group chairman Mike O'Brien says the changes are punitive and do nothing to improve children's welfare.

Beneficiary advocacy group Auckland Action Against Poverty says the programme will push vulnerable young parents into jobs while other people lose theirs.

Spokesperson Sue Bradford, who stood for the Mana Party at last year's election, says the Government seems to have no notion that unemployment is high and there are not necessarily jobs for all sole parents to go to.

But the chief executive of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce says there are many part-time jobs available for these beneficiaries - mainly in small- and medium-sized businesses.

Michael Barnett says there is a demand for such workers, as long as they are supported.

He says smaller companies often need people for three to five hours a day and in turn employees should be able to negotiate working hours that fit their family schedule.

Lower Hutt single mother Lyn Dalton, who has two sons aged 9 and 12, stopped work to look after her children.

She told Nine to Noon she is worried the changes will disrupt the care her children receive, and says she already has a full-time job; running a home, carrying out the role of mother and father and homeschooling one of her children.