30 Oct 2019

National floats 'hard-line' policies on social welfare

5:49 pm on 30 October 2019

National has floated a series of "hard-line" policies on social welfare, including whether to require sole parents to have their child fully immunised in order to receive a benefit.

Simon Bridges pictured 21 May 2019

National Party leader Simon Bridges Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

The opposition party released its social services discussion document on Wednesday afternoon, seeking the views of its supporters on policy positions and proposals.

One question asks: "For sole parents, should it be a requirement that their child is fully immunised?"

The idea is still in its early stages and may not be adopted as party policy, but the fact National has deliberately sought out its members' views shows it is a real possibility.

Speaking to reporters in Christchurch, National leader Simon Bridges threw his weight behind the proposal

"There is no good reason not to immunise your children in 2019. The evidence is out and it's clear," he said.

"So if you don't want to vaccinate your child, here's the thing: don't take taxpayers' money."

National considered introducing a so-called "no jab, no pay" policy in 2012, but then-Social Development Minister Paula Bennett opted against it, saying it would breach people's right to refuse medical treatment.

In 2015, Australia adopted a policy where parents who refused to vaccinate their children could be denied up to $15,000 in childcare rebates.

At the time, then-Prime Minister John Key ruled out revisiting the idea in New Zealand.

In a statement, Associate Health Minister Julie Anne Genter dismissed the idea of a "no jab, no pay" policy.

"We will be guided by evidence of what will protect children, not populist rhetoric," she said.

"We're focused on removing the barriers for people to get vaccinated. We're making it easier for people to do the right thing, not punishing children for adults working multiple jobs, having poor transport options, and struggling to see a GP."

Other questions include whether travel and money restrictions should kick in for those on the unemployment benefit after six months, and whether people under the age of 25 should face a time limit for how long they can receive the dole.

Under a National government, all beneficiaries under the age of 20 would be put on a "money management system" automatically deducting payments such as rent and power from their benefit. The same would apply for those up to the age of 25 who did not meet their obligations.

Speaking in Christchurch, Mr Bridges said he made no apology for National's "hard-line approach" on welfare.

"We want to support people to support themselves and this is only possible because hardworking Kiwis pay their tax. We have obligations to these hardworking Kiwis too."

He said it was "profoundly irresponsible" to abandon families to welfare dependency, pointing to an increase of more than 22,000 people on the job-seeker benefit since Labour came into the government.

"We can't let Kiwis languish on the dole," Mr Bridges said.

In a statement, National Party social development spokesperson Louise Upston pledged to reinstate a "firm but fair" sanctions regime, saying the government's relaxation was sending the wrong message.

"National believes the best route out of poverty is through the security of a regular pay cheque, and that social welfare should be geared towards supporting and encouraging people to move from welfare dependency into work."

"Measurable targets" to reduce the number of New Zealanders on benefits would be reinstated by National as part of its "social investment" approach.

The party also confirmed it would return the sole-parent sanction, scrapped by the government, which saw single mothers who did not name their child's father penalised up to $28 per week.

As previewed, the discussion document outlined a crackdown on gang members with a plan to strip them of their benefit unless they were able to prove they did not have illegal income or assets.

National's discussion document also includes a focus on the first 1000 days of a child's life, outlining a series of policies to support families.

All new mothers would be entitled to three days of fully-funded care in a hospital or birthing unit under a National government.

It would also reinstate a target of having at least 90 percent of pregnant women registered with a Lead Maternity Carer (LMC) in their first trimester.

"The first few days after giving birth can be some of the most challenging for new mums," National MP Louise Upston said.

"We'll also look at increasing the number of home visits to new parents from Well Child Tamariki Ora providers, because we recognise that they have trusted relationships with families and are best placed to pick up any issues or challenges that will impact children from early on."

All mothers under the age of 18 and some under the age of 20 would receive intensive home visiting programmes and wraparound services to ensure they achieve NCEA Level 2.

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