26 Sep 2023

National Party reveals traffic light system for Jobseeker beneficiaries

12:52 pm on 26 September 2023

National has pledged to hit beneficiaries with tougher sanctions - including benefit reductions or mandatory community work - if they fail to meet their obligations more than twice.

National social development and employment spokesperson Louise Upston said the party would introduce a "traffic light system" to help more people on the Jobseeker Support benefit into employment.

It would make it "crystal clear to unemployed people receiving the JobSeeker benefit what their obligations are, and what consequences they will face if they refuse to do their bit".

At the red level, a person could face benefit reductions or suspension, including mandatory community work experience and money management sanctions.

Upston said: "Employment is the best way out of hardship" as it gave people "greater independence, choice and opportunity, and is also better for taxpayers".

She said "benefit dependency" had grown "substantially" under the Labour government.

"Labour removed clear consequences for jobseekers who don't fulfil their obligations to prepare for or find work.

"In the 12 months to June this year, the number of sanctions applied to jobseekers who breached their obligations was around half the number applied in National's last year in office, despite a 45 percent increase in the number of jobseekers since then."

Christopher Luxon and Louise Upston speak to media from Phil Greig Strawberry Farm in Auckland on 26 September 2023.

National social development and employment spokesperson Louise Upston. Photo: Tim Collins

Jobseeker Benefit traffic light system:

  • Green (compliant) - Meeting obligations to prepare or find work. No change to benefit
  • Orange (some risk) - First or second breach of obligations to prepare for or find work will see additional requirements and targeted support applied, eg, more regular check-ins and / or attendance at job workshops
  • Red (high risk) - A third breach of obligations will result in reactions including benefit reductions, benefit suspension, money management and mandatory community work experience

"We will retain the existing rule that jobseekers with children can receive no more than a maximum 50 percent reduction of their benefit payment, if they are sanctioned," Upston said.

Talking to media in Auckland today, National leader Christopher Luxon said it was about "rights and responsibilities".

It was about the welfare system supporting people while they looked for work "not trapping them in dependency", Luxon said.

He said about 85 percent of people on the Jobseeker benefit were compliant and meeting obligations.

Today's announcement would affect "a relatively small group".

Luxon said there was a worker shortage in New Zealand.

"One of the outstanding legacies of this [Labour] government is going to be 'how on Earth in a low unemployment environment, with worker shortages up and down this country, have you managed to put 60,000 more people on unemployment benefit'," Luxon said.

Upston said an employee was expected to meet obligations or face consequences, so it was only fair that those on the Jobseeker benefit under National, would also be expected to meet their obligations or there would be consequences.

"We will also require beneficiaries to apply for the Jobseeker benefit every six months instead of 12 months - that allows Work and Income to check in on them, to make sure they are getting the support they require as well as making sure they are still eligible," Upston said.

"We'll be seeking documented proof that people are making applications and attending interviews. We will also have a one-month stand down for those who have a warrant out for their arrest and do not turn themselves in. And we will be indexing benefits to inflation."

Upston said the traffic light system was an extension of what applies currently.

"We want to do is have sanctions that are not financial. We think it's really important that people face consequences if they don't fulfil their deal in terms of looking for work, very sensible, practical steps to look for work. This is a non-financial sanction."

Upston could not give a target number.

She said organisations that provided work for those on the Jobseeker benefit have shared "one of their biggest frustration is when people don't ... reliably turn up to do the work ... and there is no consequence".

"National wants to see more Kiwis off welfare and in work."

Greens, Labour, ACT react

The Green Party has condemned National's jobseeker policy as cruel and heartless.

"National is deliberately and heartlessly choosing to make life harder for thousands of people," Green Party social development spokesperson Ricardo Menéndez March said.

"A National government would literally leave children to go hungry and punish families. It is cruel, ill-thought-out, and will endanger the wellbeing of thousands of people. The policy goes against our shared values of caring for each other."

He said people needed support when times were tough.

Labour leader Chris Hipkins said: "Harsher sanctions don't work. National's plan today will simply result in more children living in poverty because that's what happened last time. And this from a National Party that also wants to put thousands of people out of work before Christmas, which is their stated intention."

Hipkins said there was a record number of people getting off the benefit and into work, "the National Party wants to sack all the people who are involved in getting those people off benefits and into work".

ACT Party Social Development spokesperson Karen Chhour: "Around four in ten beneficiaries have been on a work-ready Jobseeker benefit for one to five years. The real tragedy is that Labour's low expectations for beneficiaries is preventing them from creating a better life for themselves and their families.

"ACT's policy of electronic income management for long-term beneficiaries is a humane response for achieving this, it doesn't take from those in need, it makes sure that the money is being used to support them and their families."

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