Reaction to Benefits Policy

A wide range of reactions to National’s Benefits Policy. Taking them in no particular order.

Bll Ralston displys his outraged liberal roots and agrees with Helen Clark that it is beating up on single parents:

Frankly, less than 4000 adhering to the government breast on a more or less permanent basis is extremely few. In an effort to eradicate these last few bludgers, as it sees them, National will spend many millions of dollars in bureaucratic terms policing its new “back to work” system, counselling the DPB recipients and ensuring they really are making a buck for themselves.

Colin Espiner blogged yesterday and calls it Don-lite – watered down from Don Brash, but still different from Labour. He concludes:

There will be the usual objections from beneficiary advocates but National’s welfare policy won’t lose it any votes and may even pick up a few. It will be interesting to see how Labour responds. My pick is it won’t have too much to say.

Simon Collins has a useful look at the party differences:

It [Labour] believes the welfare state exists to empower those who would be powerless without it. For sole parents, the domestic purposes benefit gives them the power to leave unhappy or abusive relationships, and to balance paid work and unpaid parenting in the ratio that suits them and their children.

In contrast National, as John Key put it yesterday, believes in “a genuine safety net in times of need”. It thinks people should be moved on as quickly as possible.

I don’t think National in beliefs or policy encourages people to stay in abusive relationships. The DPB still exists. The difference is, having once moved out, whether or not one is forced to seek work at some stage, or can you stay on it for a decade without ever seeking a part-time job? But Collins is right the views are seen as “empowerment” vs “safety net”.

As his [Key’s] policy pointed out, New Zealand’s refusal to work-test sole parents is now out of line with all Western countries except Australia, Britain and Ireland, all of which have signalled moves to start work-testing.

Yes, as with the 90 day trial period policy, this is standard practice in the developed world.

Collins also has quotes from various advocacy groups:

Family First director Bob McCoskrie, an invited guest at the policy launch, said making parents work part-time made sense, but only if implemented with discretion.

“We’d want to make sure that the work requirements are within school hours and not within the school holidays. Otherwise we are going to have a lot of unsupervised kids.”

Case Managers will need some discretion.

Another guest, Mercy Mission founder Barbara Stone, said she agreed with the work requirement “as long as it’s in school time and there is someone at home for the children for the rest of the time”. She said it was hard to get jobs for sole parents, who often had low self-esteem.

The focus should be on work during school hours only. But a part-time initial job may boost the self-esteem and confidence so that a full or near full-time job is easier to obtain once the kid or kids are older. Having a total break from the workforce for 10 years makes it much harder.

Housing Lobby spokeswoman Sue Henry said she was upset that John Key had “regurgitated” the work requirement policy that National implemented in the 1990s. “Quite frankly, latch-key kids and youth gangs and transience are a direct byproduct of taking the stick to beneficiary families [in the 1990s],” she said.

Yes there were no gangs before the 1990s. What a sensible contribution.

But Parenting Council chairwoman Lesley Max said the requirement for sole parents to work 15 hours a week was “consistent with the norm that exists across society as a whole”.

And who would argue with Lesley?

John Armstrong looks at the policy also:

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue – a much paler blue in the case of National’s bits-and-pieces patchwork welfare policy.

Heh that could apply to many National policies!

The latest policy is archetypal John Key. It promises things Labour would happily do itself – such as making the annual inflation-related adjustment of benefit rates a legal obligation on governments, rather than just convention.

Yet in forcing part-time work obligations on some sickness beneficiaries the policy has enough to be identifiably National in origin. But not so much that it frightens centre-ground voters.

Labour and the Greens ritually slammed the policy as an attack on beneficiaries. Some in National’s ranks must think “if only”.

As I said, a sensible combination of carrot and stick.

The Herald editorial is reasonably negative on the policy:

It [solo mothers breeding to get the DPB] is probably as much a myth as the Labour Party’s idea of the average employer. That is to say, there are instances of benefit abuse just as there are rogue employers, but to treat the whole beneficiary class as though they are avoiding paid work would be as foolish as legislating labour arrangements for all. Nevertheless, that is what National proposes to do with sole parents, invalids and sickness beneficiaries.

It is an interesting analogy, but somewhat flawed. Not all sole parents, invalids or sickness beneficiaries are being work tested. Only those DPB recipients whose children are aged over six, and only that small minority of invalids or sickness beneficiaries who have been medically assessed as capable of part-time work. The editorial concedes this later down, so the rhetoric of “treat the whole beneficiary class as though they are avoiding paid work” is somewhat hyperbolic.

For sickness beneficiaries the policy seems fair enough. As the economy has strengthened and the unemployed have faced more stringent job-seeking requirements, the numbers on sickness and invalids benefits have risen suspiciously high. They have needed only a doctor’s note, and even if the doctor assesses them to be capable of part-time work, they have been under no obligation to seek it. National intends to change that.

Some praise amongst the grumpiness.

But there will be cases where the time and cost of taking a low-paid job put added stress on a sole-parent family for little if any financial gain. It is doubtful that society gains from that stress, or that it is worth the trouble the ministry might take to enforce it.

Single mothers with good earning capacity are normally anxious to return to paid work as soon as child care allows. National’s efforts will be felt mainly by those with few skills and poor earning capacity and, frankly, Mr Key ought to have more important things to do. This policy does more to stroke the shibboleths of party supporters than meet any pressing social need. He should return to topics that count.

The policy is pretty standard in the developed world. And having an extra 30,000 or so people in the workforce will help close the gap with Australia.

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