Friday, February 25, 2011

Welfare reform is disgraceful...

Sue Bradford, former NZ Green Party MPImage via Wikipedia

Welfare reform report is 'disgraceful'...

Beneficiaries advocate Sue Bradford has called a report suggesting at least 100,000 people on welfare benefits be forced back to work within 10 years a "disgraceful, dirty attack" on beneficiaries.

The Welfare Working Group's final report was released yesterday, giving the Government 43 recommendations to reform the welfare system.

The report focuses on lowering the number of people on welfare benefits from about 360,000 to 260,000 within 10 years by setting work obligations and harsh penalties if people do not comply.

Welfare Working Group chairwoman Paula Rebstock said she was confident the reform package would have a positive impact on people, their families and the wider community.

But Ms Bradford said the report was a "disgraceful, dirty attack" on welfare recipients, and the Government should throw it in the rubbish.

"I'm begging to think they've been looking to Nazi Germany for inspiration, with their underpinning 'work makes free' philosophy, attempted eugenic control of a portion of the population, and its potential racist implications for Maori."

The former Green MP said the new system would subject beneficiaries to punitive work testing and sanctioning, including the sick, injured and disabled.

One of the many recommendations in the report was merging all existing categories of benefits, including the sickness and invalid benefits, into a single Jobseeker Support payment.

The additional costs of other benefits would be converted into supplementary payments, meaning overall payments would not be cut.

The group also suggested solo parents work 20 hours per week when their youngest child reached three years old.

Solo parents would receive assistance aimed at covering the costs of childcare for the first six months, or two years of study.

The Government has already ruled out a radical recommendation to send mums who have a subsequent child while on welfare back to work when the child turned 14 weeks.

Recipients who do not meet their obligations would get a 25 percent payment cut for the first failure; 50 percent for the second; 100 percent for the third; and a 13-week stand-down for a fourth or any subsequent failure.

The establishment of a single crown agency, Employment and Support New Zealand, which would administer the system, was also recommended.

Ms Rebstock said the proposed changes would reduce the number of people looking for work from 37 percent to 77 percent, and the Government's forward liability would go from $47 billion to $34b by 2021.

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said the changes would spell a disaster for vulnerable children.

"Forcing solo parents to work when their youngest child is three and cutting off their benefit if they don't comply will punish children and entrench the growing gap between those who have the most and those who need the most."

Ms Turei said work testing people with chronic illness, and moving to a single benefit were equally unacceptable.

Unicef NZ said it was concerned small children may not receive the best care and be at risk of inadequate childcare arrangements when parents are forced to work.

Unicef NZ executive director Dennis McKinlay said he hoped the Government would follow through with its commitment to ensure no child was placed at risk.

The Public Service Association (PSA) said the proposal to create a new crown entity to look after welfare was a return to the failed model set up in the 1990s.

"Work and Income New Zealand (Winz) was a byword for corporate excess and lack of direction," national secretary Brenda Pilott.

"If we've learnt one thing from the failed state sector reforms of the 1990s it's that policy and operations have to work closely together."

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said the Government would consider the report.

"This will take time and we'll keep talking to New Zealanders about the kind of welfare system they want, that is fair and effective."

She said the 2021 target sounded ambitious, but other recommendations were not extreme.

Acknowledgements: National Business Review

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