Drug addicts will face the prospect of losing their benefit if they refuse treatment or don't make efforts to find work, the ACT Party leader says.
David Seymour who is visiting Christchurch today has announced the party's policy on welfare which takes a harder line on drug addicts and those on sickness benefits, including those who suffer from long-term stress.
ACT wants to reduce the current number of 4000 people who receive the Supported Living Payment because of stress, 70 percent of them for more than five years.
Stress is a condition that can be treated over time, not a permanent incapacity, the party says.
Under the welfare policy 'designated doctors' will be hired to identify cases of fraud and ineligibility, ensure people are on the correct benefit, and are supported to meet any job seeking obligations.
"It will increase the number of cases that are picked up as fraud, as there will be more active inquiries into cases, and doctors will feel empowered to offer a frank opinion."
The party will also ease pressure on doctors over assessments of whether a beneficiary has the capacity to work.
At present they are required to discuss a work capacity certificate with the patient and ensure they agree to the information being provided.
"They are put in a difficult position if the patient disagrees with their opinion. ACT will allow doctors to complete work capacity certificates privately so they can give a frank opinion," Seymour says.
The newly released welfare policy is tied in with ACT's policy announced earlier to rename the Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission as Mental Health and Addiction New Zealand which would organise providers for a person's therapy and care.
Earlier this week Seymour was promoting the party's law and order policy, saying ACT would ensure tougher sentences for serious crimes, increase the capacity of the prison system and put victims back in the centre of the justice system.
ACT says 4100 people receive a benefit because they are addicted to drugs costing taxpayers $76 million a year. About 2700 of them are on the Jobseeker benefit and almost 30 percent of them have received it for more than six years.
"Either they're choosing not to comply with the obligations of their benefit, or their addiction is so far gone that they can't comply," Seymour said.
More than 1000 have been receiving a benefit for more than 10 years.
ACT intends taking "a more proactive approach" with drug-addicted beneficiaries.
"For those on the Jobseeker benefit, this will mean greater enforcement of job-seeking obligations and preparing for work. The most urgent task is ensuring beneficiaries can get clean enough to work."
To this end the party intends cracking down on any people who it says might be responsible for their own "incapacity" so that they can receive a benefit.
"One way of demonstrating this would be participation in mental health and addiction services. Someone who demonstrates no intention of, or motivation to, address their incapacity and become independent may find themselves ineligible for a benefit."
The party is promising that mental health and addiction services will be available for those seeking treatment, saying its plans to recruit more health workers will ease current shortages.
Seymour says it's appropriate some people who have a significant illness or disability are supported, however, of the 165,000 New Zealanders receiving either Jobseeker Support - Health Condition or Disability or the Supported Living Payment "many could return to work if they got the right support".
"ACT says if you can work, you should."
Features of the policy ACT intends to push for:
- Require Ministry of Social Development case managers to consider if all reasonable treatment options have been pursued before deciding if a medical condition should be accepted as permanent
- Expand the roles of regional health advisors and 'designated doctors' to pick up on fraud and ineligibility, ensure people are on the correct benefit, and are supported to meet any job seeking obligations
- Enable doctors to complete work capacity certificates privately to avoid having to provide advice under duress.
- Take a more proactive and systematic approach to ensuring beneficiaries whose primary incapacity is substance abuse are taking steps to become independent
He blames Labour for wasting the potential of thousands of people by allowing to remain them on welfare for years on end.
"ACT will provide hope and opportunity by helping sick and drug-addicted beneficiaries who can get off the benefit and back into work to do so," Seymour says.
Following the announcement, Seymour used the opportunity to connect with residents and businesses in central Christchurch, garnering a spoon-sized sample of the political timbre.
"What are your thoughts of the upcoming election," he asked passerbys who had greeted him.
Several members of the public asked the leader to record personalised videos to friends.
He wandered around Riverside market, speaking to food vendors before he made a beeline to Rollickin' Gelato.
Following in the footsteps of his fellow political leaders Chris Hipkins and Christpher Luxon, Seymour served up icecreams behind the counter.
The store was again running a scoop poll based on polticial party ice cream flavours.
Seymour's "David Smore" was in poll position on 29 percent with both Luxon's "Blueberry Lux " and Te Pāti Māori leader Rawiri Waititi's "Rawiri Raspberry" trailing on 24 percent.