Government defends welfare reforms

The Government is rejecting opposition criticism of welfare reforms and says it’s on track to get 46,000 people off benefits over the next four years.

Laws are going to be changed, requiring solo parents on a benefit to look for part-time work when their youngest child is five and fulltime work when that child turns 14.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett says extensive skill training programmes and help with childcare are essential parts of her package. “We’re not cutting benefits, we’re trying to move people ahead and we’re not being punitive,” she said. “Long-term reliance on benefits is one of the worst things that can happen to families and we need to help them get off it.”

Responding to claims these  reforms amounted to beneficiary bashing and were unrealistic the Prime Minster, John Key expressed the opinion that plenty of women go back to work when their baby is a year old and that  it makes financial sense to do so.

Labour, NZ First, the Greens and the Mana Party say there aren’t any jobs available and beneficiaries are being unfairly targeted.

Child Poverty Action Group says at the time when the Government is consulting on vulnerable children, it’s about to blow a huge hole in the safety net provided to thousands of children whose parents are on a benefit. Spokesman Dr Mike O’Brien says there are also issues around what provisions will be put in place to protect parents of high-needs children.He says the proposals suggest there’s no understanding within the Government that the care of children is hard work.

New Zealand Council of Christian Social Service’s (NZCCSS)   most recent Vulnerability Report, published in September 2011, concluded that the increasing hardening of access to government benefits and housing is resulting in higher levels of vulnerability and more people wanting services from social support organisations. It said  most NZCCSS members experienced another strong increase in demands for their services.

The  NZCCSS  is fostering debate to encourage politicians to address the impact of income inequality through government policy.

NZCCS represents six denominations — Anglican, Baptist, Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist and the Salvation Army — who are responsible for about 500 social service delivery sites nationwide.

The changes in benefit eligibility and access to state housing in particular seem to have been having an impact. “There has been a large drop in the number of hardship grants – including for food and benefit advances to help pay for power. This appears to be a direct result of the requirement to get budgeting advice if you need to get more than three grants a year”, said NZCCSS Executive Officer, Trevor McGlinchey. “Community social service providers have been coping with a surge in budget advice referrals, and while some areas in Auckland had a drop in demand for food parcels many others have had a marked increase in requests.”

The National Council of Women of New Zealand (NCWNZ) believes in principle that stage one of the Government’s welfare reforms represents a positive step in the right direction,” NCWNZ President Elizabeth Bang said today.

The National Business Review has an extensive list of links to blogs and opinions about the welfare reforms.

Additional reading

News category: New Zealand, Top Story.

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