More punitive policy from National

National are rattling off policies that seem more intent on targeting voter demographics and ignoring evidence based approaches to issues.

Yesterday:

National will help more young people become drug free, move off the benefit and get a job to help ensure they reach their potential.

“Most of our young people are doing incredibly well. There are more job opportunities and more support than ever in our country, as a result of our strong economic growth,” Social Development Spokesperson Anne Tolley says.

“But some young people on a benefit need more support. National is committed to helping them into work to ensure they can stand on their own two feet.”

National will invest $72 million over the next four years to support beneficiaries under 25 years of age by:

  • Guaranteeing work experience or training for those who have been on a jobseekers benefit for six months or longer, and financial management training to help them develop financial responsibility
  • Providing rehabilitation services if drug use is identified as a barrier to employment
  • Ensuring all young people under 25 who are on a job seekers benefit receive intensive one-on-one case management to get a job.

“Only 10 per cent of young people who go on a jobseekers benefit stay for more than six months – but for those that do, their average time on benefit is almost 10 years,” Mrs Tolley says. “We want to invest early, and give them one on one support so they can develop the skills they need to move into the workforce.

“We will guarantee them access to work experience or training courses designed specifically to get them ready for work.

“In addition, one in five beneficiaries tell us that drug use is a barrier to them getting a job – so we are increasing the support we give them to kick drug use and get work ready.”

National will also place obligations on those who do not take up the significant opportunities available in New Zealand to start work or training.

A contentious component of this policy:

Job seekers without children who refuse work experience or training or recreational drug rehabilitation will lose 50 per cent of their benefit entitlement after four weeks of not meeting their obligations, with further reductions if that continues. This will also apply to those who continue to fail recreational drug tests, where these are requested by prospective employers.

The lower benefit payments will only be able to be used for essential needs such as rent and food – like we currently do with our Money Management programme for 16 to 19 year olds.

Lower benefits for drug addicts is also likely to result in them committing more crime to feed themselves and their habit.

“This significant extra support we are announcing today will come with obligations and personal responsibilities, so those who won’t take the opportunities available to them will lose all or part of their benefit until they take steps to turn their lives around.

“We know benefit sanctions are an effective tool to help people into work, as 95 per cent of people who receive a formal warning meet their obligations within four weeks.”

Any benefit reductions will be made at the discretion of WINZ staff, to take account of individual circumstances. And once individuals decide to meet their obligations, benefits will be reinstated.

“New Zealanders are creating real opportunities for themselves and for New Zealand, through hard work and a commitment to doing better. National supports those efforts and is focused on helping all New Zealanders get ahead, even our most vulnerable,” Mrs Tolley says.

The Drug Foundation has concerns about the punitive approach to dealing with drug addiction.

RNZ: New sanctions could push young beneficiaries to P

Putting further sanctions on young beneficiaries who use drugs could push them from cannabis to methamphetamine because it’s harder to detect, the Drug Foundation warns.

if an under-25 year old, with no children, refused to do work experience and training, or continued to fail drug tests, their benefit would be halved after four weeks of not meeting obligations.

Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell said that risked unintended consequences.

“Drug testing can encourage people to move away from using easy to detect drugs like cannabis, to harder to detect drugs like methamphetamine,” he said.

Mr Bell argued the policy failed to take into account the stages of beating chronic drug dependency.

“Drug dependency is a chronic and relapsing condition, so people might be in recovery, but they might slip – they might fall off the wagon. Is the government going to sanction them for something that seems to be a natural part of the drug recovery process?”

Figures provided to the Drug Foundation by the Ministry of Social Development showed that of the more than 100,000 beneficiaries who failed to meet some sort of obligation in the year to the end of June 2016, just 144 of those failures were to do with drugs.

So it is a relatively small part of the problem.

Benefit advocate Kay Brereton said while the focus on young people was great, it was hard to build their trust when the threat of sanctions loomed large.

“When people’s benefits get sanctioned, they’ve got this choice between ‘do I have somewhere to live or do I eat food’. I think for the young people we’re talking about, they will choose to have food and they will have nowhere to live. They may end up couchsurfing.

“Do you want to hire someone who doesn’t even have stable accommodation – are they going to still be in the same city next week?”

But National social development spokesperson Anne Tolley said sanctions worked.

“Ninety-five percent comply, but then you know it’s a personal choice for people. Very few turn up looking for social housing, but the numbers are very small,” she said.

Addiction is not really a ‘personal choice’. It is more of a medical condition, and punitive penalties are unlikely to address that effectively.

Using beneficiaries and drug addicts to try and attract a few votes seems a silly and cynical approach, but that’s what National has been tending to do more of as they try to hold onto power.

This is disappointing. National are looking increasingly undeserving of being returned to power.

Confession of a guilty man

Guest post from Patupairehe:


Recent events in the media have been bothering me. A few of our so called representatives have been somewhat economical with the truth, in their past dealings with what is now known as the MSD. Some have also been less than upfront with the public, but lets not go there. That is not why I’m writing this. I am writing because I have a confession to make. In the distant past, I too, have failed to meet my ‘obligations’ to the ministry. Not that I feel guilty about it, I just think that if Metiria can ‘fess up, and explain why she did it, then so should I. As she opined in a recent article on the Stuff website, “”…it’s worth me taking the hit if it means New Zealanders understand how appalling our welfare system has become and how easy it is to fix it.” So here is my story…

My now wife & I had children young, and it was often a struggle to make ends meet on an apprentice’s wage in the late 90’s. A family friend suggested we apply for the accommodation supplement, so my then partner phoned WINZ to find out how. She was informed we would be mailed some forms to fill in, and that we would need to bring these to a meeting with a case manager, along with our birth certificates, some of my payslips, and a joint bank account statement (which was to prove that we were in a de-facto relationship).

I remember thinking at the time how silly it was, that they wanted her to prove we were entitled to less money than she would have been, had we not been honest about our relationship. I had to take time off work to set up the joint bank account, and also to attend the meeting with our case manager. At the conclusion of the meeting, the case manager informed us that we were entitled to around $20 each per week, then asked if we both wanted our payments to be made into the joint account. She didn’t seem to understand why I found that question funny.I was also told that I must inform WINZ of any changes to my income, by ringing the call center on payday.

The first time I rang the call center was on a Thursday around 2 weeks later, as I was paid fortnightly. We had already received our first 2 benefit payments, and the lady on the phone informed me that due to me  working overtime, we had been overpaid, but not to worry about it because it would be deducted in installments from future ‘entitlements’. A few days later, we both received letters stating we had been overpaid, that this ‘debt’ must be repaid, that it would be deducted at $X/week, and that our new weekly entitlement was $X/week before repayment deductions.

A fortnight later, I rang the call centre again, and after waiting on hold for around 20 minutes, a different woman answered. As I had worked less hours than last time, she was happy to inform me that both my partner & I had been underpaid, and that we would both be paid the difference (which was <$10) within two working days. I told her to just credit it against what we ‘owed’, but apparently she couldn’t do that. A few days later, we both received a letter, which informed us that an underpayment had been credited to our bank account.

This silliness went on for just over a year, during which my partner & I accumulated just under 30 letters each. Then one Wednesday, our benefit payments didn’t appear in our account. When I rang to report my pay that Thursday, I asked why, and was told that it was because my partner had failed to return a form they had sent her. When I asked her about it, she dug around in our filing cabinet and found it. She had thrown it in there without even opening it, because “They send us stupid bloody letters all the time!”.
The form was around 15 pages long, and asked all manner of irrelevant questions, such as “Are you descended from a NZ Maori?”. To this day I fail to understand what that had to do with my income, or how much rent we paid. But we filled it out honestly anyway, and our benefit was re-instated the following week.

I kept ringing up every payday for several months, and waited on hold for around half an hour on average. The computer generated letters kept arriving, and our average payment amount slowly decreased, as my pay increased. Our payments were down to around $10 each/week when I stopped ringing them. It just didn’t seem worth waiting half an hour on the phone once a fortnight for, and we figured that we’d just wait for them to stop paying us, when we ignored the next written interrogation from them. I had also been informed by a friend, whose sister was a WINZ case manager, that they wouldn’t bother attempting to recover ‘debts’ of under $2000.

Sure enough, my then partner eventually received a form ,and ignored it. A few weeks later, we both had our benefits cut, and she got a dirty letter from WINZ, which stated that we would not get any more money until she filled in the form. She ignored that one too. And that was the last we heard about it.

I’m not sure if things are still the same nowadays. I wouldn’t know, having not claimed a benefit for quite some time. What I do know, is that a significant percentage of the welfare budget is spent on administration, and I can understand why, if my experience is anything to go by.

 

Green hero now a liability?

A week or two Metiria Turei was riding on a surge of Green support after she admitted lying in relation to getting a benefit in the 1990s. She says it was necessary “to feed my child”, and also to enable her to study for a law degree. She later said she should also have been able to have some fun after asked about standing for Parliament in 1993 and 1996.

With Labour languishing it seems that the Greens poached a chunk of their support, and all was looking great for the Greens, with hopes they would get ahead of NZ First and possibly even challenge Labour for the second biggest party prize.

That bubble of ambition appeared to have been burst when Jacinda Ardern took over the Labour leadership and sucked up all the media attention. And Ardern threatens to compete with a similar demographic that Turei appeals to.

A shaken looking Turei had a meeting with MSD yesterday to discuss her benefit transgressions – she had already said she will pay back any money she fiddled out of the system.

And then a double whammy last night when a reality check Newshub poll showed that 73.9% of people responded yes to ‘Was it wrong for Metiria Turei to lie to get a bigger benefit?’, including 51% of Green supporters.

Newshub also asked questions about Turei’s living arrangements while she was claiming a benefit. She had already admitted lying about having flatmates, but has now conceded that for two years one of those flatmates was her mother.

“I also wish to confirm that my mother was my flatmate for a period during the mid-1990s.

“We were financially independent while living together in the same home.”

Newshub also showed that she shared an address for two years with the father of her child,

“I did not live at the same address as the father of my child.

“I was, however, enrolled to vote at the same address as him, which was in the Mt Albert electorate. A friend of mine was running as a candidate in Mt Albert in 1993, and I wished to vote for them.

Technically that appears to be an offence under the Electoral Act.

“That was a mistake – one of many I, like many other people, made as a young person”.

It is now apparent that Turei was making a number of deliberate’ legal mistakes, at the same time she was studying for a law degree.

Two weeks ago Turei even went international with her story. In The Guardian: I told a lie to claim benefits. Now I am an MP and I want to tell you why

‘A lie’ seems to be somewhat understating what she did over several years.

Over five years, I received a training incentive allowance (a benefit that has since been ditched by our current government), as well as a payment for single parents. I also had help from my family, and my daughter’s father’s family.

Despite all that support, which is much more than many people in similar circumstances have, I did not have enough money to pay the rent and put food on the table. And so, like many – but not all – people faced with that choice, I lied to survive.

I lived in a few flats over the years with a few different flatmates. I didn’t tell the government department in charge of my benefit about some of those flatmates. If I had, my benefit would have been reduced, and I would not have had enough money to get by.

Many sole parents do get by – with financial difficulty for sure, but they manage.

Still not clarified is what her daughter’s father was doing to provide for and support his child, if anything.

Turei is now claiming that this examination of her past and her ‘private life’ (that was publicly funded) is a reason why benefits have to be much higher and no questions should be asked.

But she has been a politician for 15 years, and should have known that if she used her personal story for political purposes, in an election campaign, it would likely attract some scrutiny.

The Greens have promoted their integrity. In June Turei posted on Facebook:

Todd Barclay’s actions damage the relationship between the public and the politicians elected to represent them. The Green Party wants to be part of a government you can trust and already have policies in place to show we are more than just talk.

She has deliberately revealed aspects of her past that she should have known had risks, and it now threatens the relationship between the Greens and the public.

So far co-leader James Shaw has supported her beneficiary campaign…

Turei’s co-leader James Shaw said he was proud of Turei for coming forwards.

“We actually treat poor people in this country terribly, and the law is an ass, in this case,” Shaw said.

…but there must be growing concerns in the Green camp after yesterdays developments.

 

The Turei show continues

Metiria Turei and media have ensured her confession about benefit fraud and her campaign for beneficiaries stayed as one of the biggest political stories.

Turei has advised that the Ministry of Social Development has been in touch with her after she wrote to them, and she will be interviewed next week.

She continued with her focus on beneficiaries in Parliament yesterday.

And media have widened the scope of their questions, including whether her daughter’s father was a flatmate, and what part if any the  father had in her support – Turei said this was a private matter.

As a press release from the Green Party:  Statement from Metiria Turei on MSD

“Today, I have spoken over the phone with an investigator from the Ministry of Social Development.

“I was phoned by this person after their office received a letter from me (attached), which I sent on Monday.

“The letter asserted my willingness to co-operate fully with an investigation into the period of time I received a benefit during the 1990s, and I confirmed that over the phone today.

“During our phone call, I made myself available to be interviewed about my case.

“We are in the process of confirming the details of that meeting, but it will take place next week.”

http://img.scoop.co.nz/media/pdfs/1707/LettertoMSD.pdf

Patrick Gower: Conviction for fraud could see Metiria Turei quit Parliament

Greens co-leader Metiria Turei could be forced to quit Parliament if she is convicted of benefit fraud.

“While benefit fraud is legislated under the Social Security Act, we generally prosecute under the Crimes Act,” a spokeswoman for Ministry of Social Development told Newshub.

The charges usually used are:

  • Obtaining by deception or causing loss by deception (punishable by up to three years imprisonment)
  • Dishonestly taking or using document (punishable by up to seven years imprisonment)

Under the Electoral Act, if an MP is convicted of a crime punishable with a sentence of more than two years, they have to leave Parliament.

Ms Turei lied to get more money, and it goes back to when her daughter Piupiu was born. She says she had no other option, although she did have time to campaign for the McGillicuddy Serious Party in 1993 and the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party in 1996.

Ms Turei was on the Domestic Purposes Benefit from 1993 until 1998. In three flats during that time, she lied about how many flatmates she had to get extra money.

My guess is that she will pay any money deemed to have been overpaid to her back but she won’t be prosecuted.

NZ Herald: Metiria Turei explains silence on flatmates in fraud case

In a sit-down interview with the Herald, Turei said she couldn’t condemn people who were faced with hard choices because of financial hardship.

“We have a system that leaves people with too few choices. That the only choices are bad ones. Not to pay the rent, not to pay the power bill, not to have enough food for your kids. Or, lie to WINZ and keep a secret.”

There is also the choice to work to supplement your income, or to live in a relationship with someone who contributes to your costs of living.

Metiria Turei won’t say whether one of the flatmates she failed to tell Work and Income about was a boyfriend – saying the state has no right to investigate a woman’s intimate personal life.

Actually the state does have a right under law to question whether someone claiming a sole parent benefit is living with a partner or not, and whether they are being supported by a partner. This is fundamental to how benefits are calculated and paid.

Asked if living with a partner without disclosing that to WINZ was more serious than failing to tell the agency about flatmates, Turei said it was treated differently by the agency.

“And one of the things that I will do if I get the chance is to fix that system so a woman’s personal life is not subject to questions by WINZ, by MSD. We have seen a lot of that directed at solo mums.

Currently a person stops being eligible for sole parent support if they are in a relationship.

Like it or not, that’s the rules now and it was when Turei was a beneficiary.

She said that the need to care for her baby and not her political beliefs led her to lie to Work and Income. Turei campaigned for the McGillicuddy Serious Party while receiving her benefit, and was a part of a theatre group.

“None of us had any money. I think that’s the thing – people on benefits are entitled to a life as well. They need the financial resources so they can pay the rent and put food on the table, they need a pathway out of welfare.

“But they also need to engage in the world, to be able to be with family, to have friends, to do other things, be politically engaged if that is what they choose. We shouldn’t have a benefit system that locks people out of their community.”

Some like Turei think that the state should fund a choice of lifestyle.

Others cut back on some of their social life when they have children, and when they are on a benefit.

Audrey Young:  Metiria Turei turns spotlight on her own failures

MSD investigators would not be doing their job if they did not ask whether one of the flatmates was a boyfriend living in a de facto relationship and whether they could talk to some of the flatmates.

That would elevate the issue from an overpayment to a more serious breach of the law. It is a simple question Turei has repeatedly failed to answer because she believes that the state is intruding on private lives.

On the other hand, she might discover that any offending is considered at the lowest level or that there was no offending at all because she was within the flatmate allowance.

But the actual offending and any debt has been of less concern to many of Turei’s critics than her attitude which has remained one of unswerving entitlement to break the law.

This is where Turei has got herself and her party into a quagmire from which it will be difficult to extricate itself.

Her sense of entitlement to break the law has invited a host of examples moral equivalents – hypothetical offending by other types of people, including say farmers, and other types of offending, including say tax fraud, in order to justify getting more money to feed the kids.

Many people starting small businesses suffer from financial hardship for some time, and it’s not uncommon to not pay taxes because there is a choice between that and feeding their families and paying basic bills.

But taxes shouldn’t be just waived for anyone who claims to be in financial hardship.

In the meantime, the focus is finally starting to turn away from Turei and towards the Greens’ new social welfare policy which is to remove sanctions and obligations from welfare recipients.

That includes women receiving sole parent support (the old Dpb) living with their boyfriends.

Under the Green Party policy, a man and woman can be living in a de facto relationship for three years with one of them working and earning and the other getting a benefit without losing the benefit.

There are not too many people who would see that as the fair application of a safety net.

Under that policy the state would need the right to investigate someone’s private circumstances, unless the Greens want it to operate on a trust system, where it’s leader says that breaking the law to get more benefit is justifiable.

Turei’s actions were designed to turn a spotlight on the failures of the system. They have instead turned the spotlight on her own failures as a politician.

This could become a quagmire for Turei and the Greens. I don’t know how well they thought this through before making an issue of it – I suspect some idealistic tunnel vision may have missed the possible jeopardy.

Turei condoning benefit fraud

I understand to an extent what Metiria is trying to do with her stand on benefit fraud. Many people on benefits really struggle financially, and that’s an issue that deserves attention. Sure she is trying to maximise votes in the upcoming election, but I believe she passionately believes she can do good for poor people.

But there are aspects of Turei’s agenda that I have real problems with, especially her condoning of benefit fraud.

Her own admission suggests more than a solo mother fibbing a bit to ‘feed her child’.

It happened over a three or five year period, which is sustained cheating.

It happened in three different flats – so when Turei got a new flat she chose to rent more rooms than she needed, with the implication that she was planning to rort the system several times.

From Stuff:  Greens co-leader Metiria Turei won’t report woman committing benefit fraud

At her party’s annual conference earlier this month Turei make a risky admission while launching a major policy to dismantle the Government’s welfare reforms, dramatically hike the benefit and remove nearly all sanctions and obligations to collect it.

Turei told party supporters she had lied about her living situation to Work and Income (WINZ) while she was collecting the Domestic Purposes Benefit.

While she’s willing to pay the money back, Turei stands by her decision to commit benefit fraud, which she says she did in order to “take care of my baby”.

It doesn’t appear that it was simply a matter of not being to be able to by enough food one week so she got in a flatmate.

On Tuesday Turei confirmed she had met with a woman while travelling in the South Island last week who told her about a flatmate with a baby “who is doing exactly what I did”.

“She’s trying very hard to be the best Mum she can be but she isn’t telling WINZ about all her flatmates and I won’t condemn her.”

“I’ve had people come and disclose to me their circumstances and I’ll never abuse that trust. What I will do is fix the system so they never have to lie again.”

Turei said she is supporting this woman in trying to be “the best mother she can be” by defrauding the state.

This sounds like condoning wider benefit fraud, but Turei wants to do more than approve, she wants the slate wiped clean presumably for all levels of benefit fraud. In Parliament yesterday:

Metiria Turei: When so many stories of people being driven into poverty and despair by the broken welfare system have emerged in this last week, will she instruct the MSD to hold an amnesty for every current beneficiary—

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Oh! Now we get to it.

Metiria Turei: —for every current beneficiary, so not me, Minister—so that they can talk to Work and Income about—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Would the member complete her question. It is a very long question.

Metiria Turei:—so that they can talk to Work and Income about their full entitlement without risking investigation or financial punishment?

She is proposing an amnesty for every current beneficiary, apparently no matter what level of fraud they may have committed, and no matter how desperate or calculated the fraud was.

From Mending the Safety Net – Metiria Turei’s speech to the Green Party 2017 AGM:

No beneficiary should have to live with the threat of losing the money the need for the rent.

So, the Green Party in government will immediately remove all financial sanctions and obligations that treat beneficiaries as criminals and second-class citizens.

That includes the sexist, punitive section 70A, which cuts women’s benefits if they can’t or won’t name the father of their child.

But also, the constant demands to prove you still have a disability, piles of job application rejections, having to get budget advice over and over because your winter power bill is too high, risking half your benefit if you miss your appointment because your child is sick.

And it includes the intrusive interrogation of a sole parent trying to find a life partner.

Under this government, sole parents, mostly women, are forced to reveal the most intimate details of their lives – who she’s sleeping with and how many times a week, under the threat of losing the money her and her kids rely on to pay the rent.

In my books, that’s discrimination. It’s persecution. And it’s wrong.

Women will no longer be threatened by WINZ simply because they are trying to form a loving relationship that benefits them and their children.

A good government, a decent government, does not use the threat of poverty as a weapon against the poor.  Not now, not ever – and under a Green Government, never again!

So no problem about fraud in the past and no questions asked in the future.

Turei has just spoken with Guyon Espiner on RNZ, that interview will be worth checking out further.

Espiner asks her about standing for Parliament twice during this period (for the McGillicuddy Serious Party in 1993 and Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis in 1996) but Turei says that beneficiaries should be able to have some fun.

Turei says that if benefits are generous enough fraud won’t be necessary to survive, and only serious cases will need to be dealt with.

I don’t think it is that clear cut or simple.

Turei means well, there are serious issues that deserve attention, but there are problems with what she is condoning and proposing.

Turei’s confession risk, but will it be effective?

Yesterday Metiria Turei confessed that as a beneficiary she lied to WINZ about having flatmates to get more benefit – she says it was necessary to support her and her daughter as she studied law at university.

There has been a big and a very mixed reaction.

I think that it’s fairly well known that fibbing to WINZ isn’t uncommon, over flatmates or over whether you are living alone or with a partner.

I doubt that Turei is at much risk of being investigated and prosecuted for something from twenty years ago.

She will no doubt be supported on this by her supporters.

It’s much harder to judge whether she will increase votes for the Greens. She could and probably will both pick up and lose votes.

The media reaction so far has been largely sympathetic and therefore positive.

Isaac Davidson: Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei’s benefit fraud confession risky but effective

Turei’s personal story at least refocused attention onto what is an ambitious policy to address poverty in New Zealand. All benefits would be lifted by 20 per cent, beneficiaries would be able to earn more without being penalised, and the bottom tax rate would be cut.

So in the end, Greens spent their election-year conference talking not about Labour and NZ First, but about their core, defining issues – poverty and climate change. And that’s something that looked unlikely a few days ago.

Stacey Kirk: Metiria Turei makes a risky admission, politically and legally

She’s revealed that while she was a solo mother on the DPB, studying law and looking after a baby, she was also lying to her WINZ case worker about how many people she was flatting with, and so, what her accommodation costs actually were.

Turei says she has no idea how much she could be liable for, and whether or not the Ministry of Social Development could still launch an investigation, more than 20 years later.

Turei said she believes benefit dependency doesn’t exist, and very few set out to defraud the system – their circumstances, constructed by the state, give them little option.

The Greens co-leader’s story is one of determination and hard work, however. It would be a mean-spirited person who accused her of intentionally setting out to rip off taxpayers.

I think this is quite a contentious and complex issue. It is very tricky territory effectively approving of what she did as not ripping off the taxpayer.

As far as the party is concerned, this speaks to their core base. Where the Greens have tried for years to downplay their most left of leanings, play up their economic credentials, some core Greenies may have been getting concerned at just what the modern Green caucus was prepared to give up to get into Government.

The danger, however, will be whether this does work to scare some Labour voters – cautious of an alliance that could alienate most of middle New Zealand.

In Turei’s startling admission and vow, to significantly bolster the role of the welfare state, she’s counting on New Zealanders to not only voice concern over inequality, but to collectively do something about it that may go against the nature of their very core.

She’s effectively drawing an ideological line in the sand and asking New Zealanders: “Which side are you on?”

I don’t think it’s that simple. It’s very tricky suggesting that if you are hard up then breaking the law is justified.

Is burglary justified for poor people? A key difference is that one is just defrauding ‘the state’, while the other adversely impacts on individual people.

But it’s the kids that cop the consequences

A difficult situation was raised on The Nation this morning – a policy where mothers who don’t name the father of their children gets less benefit.

The Nation: Lisa Owen interviews Andrew Becroft

Lisa Owen: Well, seeing as we’re talking about benefits, there is more than 13,000, and they’re mainly women, who are currently getting their benefits docked because they name or won’t name the father of their child. That equates to 17,000 children who are missing out because that money’s not in the benefit every week. Do you think that that is a policy that puts kids at the centre?

Andrew Becroft: No. I don’t. In fact, we gave to this government three, what we thought, were doable improvements that would improve the position of children at the most disadvantaged end. That was one of them – to remove that obligation.

Lisa Own: So, you believe that those sanctions – because there’s an opportunity to do it, as that piece of legislation is under review – so you do you think that they should can that? That it’s too punitive for kids?

Andrew Becroft: In principle, I don’t think it’s child-centred or child-focused. And whatever the rationale for it, it disadvantages kids and it’s not good for children.

If the welfare of the children is paramount, then this seems a draconian and punitive policy that is certain to adversely affect the kids.

Of course children not knowing who their father is is not a great situation either.

Neither is it good that fathers don’t take responsibility for the care and provision of their children.

On Thursday the Herald had an article about this with an eye raising example:  Sanction hurting solo mums by reducing benefit for not naming father

Parents who don’t legally identify the other parent have $22 deducted every week for each child. A further $6 per family is added if it continues for over 13 weeks.

Auckland woman Stephanie, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, can’t prove the father of five of her 10 children. She gets $116 deducted from her benefit every week.

Wow on both counts – the lack of proof of fatherhood of 5 of ten children, and the $116 deduction.

She said the father of four of her children has denied he is their parent. The 33-year-old is currently pursuing court action to get a paternity test. The father of her youngest child claimed he hasn’t had the birth registration papers delivered to his house for him to sign.

Stephanie said it was like the Government was punishing her and her children, when the blame sat with the fathers.

Instead it was her and her babies that went without food and clothing and struggled to make ends meet.

“Caring for them isn’t hard, but financially it is. We can’t afford heaps of things.

A certain amount of the blame is certainly with the fathers. A father should take responsibility for the care of their children, full stop.

But I don’t like the threat of a reduction of a benefit being used as stick to try to force revealing who the parent is. It shouldn’t have to come to this (parents’ responsibility), but it is also not a good way to deal with it.

But a mother who has 10 children with what sounds like at least three fathers has to take a big dollop of responsibility too.

Men have to take some responsibility for birth control if they have sex.

But the ultimate responsibility has to be with the mother. Once a woman becomes pregnant it can be her sole responsibility whether she has the baby or not.

I think it’s fair to question the responsibility of having ten children and relying on the benefit to support them. It seems an extraordinary situation.

The mother has to take some responsibility for being a solo parent – as do the fathers.

A Ministry of Social Development spokeswoman said the policy was introduced in 1990 to encourage the other parent to take responsibility and contribute to the cost of raising their child.

“If a person does not apply for Child Support or identify the other paying parent, their benefit rate will be reduced.”

The spokeswoman said an exemption can be granted for reasons such as family violence concerns, the pregnancy being a result of sexual violation and insufficient evidence being available to establish who the other parent is.

But Cole said an exemption was difficult to obtain and meant the beneficiary had to disclose their sexual history to a lawyer and then retell that story in an open-plan Winz office.

I think that’s putting sole parents in an awful situation.

But some people – both mothers and fathers – put their children in awful situations through a lack of responsibility, restraint or contraception.

This is something that has no easy solutions. The kids are the ones who will suffer – from a lack of money and from a lack of parent.

 

Blenheim mother of three

Stuff posted an article this morning on Blenheim mother-of-three struggling to survive since coming off the benefit.

There’s been a lot of comment and some corrections.

A low wage worker says there is no incentive to get off the benefit.

A number of people pointed out that wanting to earn a living and be self-sufficient is a good incentive to get off the benefit.

A struggling solo mum in Blenheim is only $34 better off a week since she came off the benefit and got a job.

The 48-year-old said Marlborough’s low wage economy meant it was harder for people to enter the workforce.

But this isn’t about being harder to enter the workforce, she asks…

“When you weigh it up, is it worth going to work?

If you weight it up on purely financial criteria then some more money with the prospects of quite a bit more is still worth it for many people.

The early childhood teacher, who worked 29 hours a week, earned $21.90 an hour, just more than the living wage set at $19.25.

There is no set living wage. The minimum wage is $14.75.

She received $580 a week when she was on benefits looking after her three dependent children aged 10, 15 and 17.

Her new job, which she also juggled with studying for a bachelor in early childhood education, paid $614 a week after her student fees were taken out.

And less if PAYE tax and ACC Earner Premium are taken out:

Gross pay: 635.10
PAYE: 92.30
ACC: 9.21
Student Loan: 32.17
Take home pay: 501.42

She missed qualifying for a working for family support benefit by one working hour.

But it’s been pointed out that that is incorrect. A comment at Stuff:

Based on the information supplied she qualifies for both the working for families tax credit weekly as well as the “In work tax credit”

– Copied and pasted from the IRD website = “In-work tax credit Paid to families with dependent children18 or younger who work the required hours each week”” “To get this payment, couples must work at least 30 hours a week between them, and single parents must work at least 20 hours a week.” – by working 29 hours she qualifies.

David Farrar works out how much that is at Kiwiblog:

According to the IRD calculator if she is working more than 20 hours a week she should receive $239 a week in family tax credits and $60 a week for in-work tax credits which is $299 a week on top of the $614 from her job.

No, I think it will be on top of her take home pay of 501.42, which comes to $800 per week.

“There is that stigma attached to being on the benefit and many believe that you are just a bludger,” she said.

If weighing up whether earning money is worth it then yes, that’s a risk.

“Children are my passion. I wanted to better myself and get a job in early childhood education.

“I was shocked I was only $34 better off a week. I thought I would be $100 better off. That’s huge when you are only earning $600 a week.

“We make do with what we have got. My children don’t go without. We don’t eat the flashest of foods but they get fresh fruit and vegetables.

“I am too proud to ask for help. It’s really hard to say I don’t have any money.”

Except that she has apparently volunteered her story to a journalist.

“We don’t have many treats. We are lucky if we have a takeaway every three months. It’s not part of our budget.

“It’s quite depressing, you just have to deal with it.

“The kids pick up on it. They are sick of being poor and having no money.”

Striving to work and earn money for yourself is something kids can pick up on too. If the seventeen year old is sick of being poor they could at least try to find holiday work. Many seventeen year olds earn money for themselves.

She would not give up her job to go back on the benefit.

“I love my job. It makes me feel rewarded.”

So why does she ask if it is worth it?

It’s hard to work out what the motive for this story is.

I hope she considers checking out her eligibility for family tax credits and in work tax credits.

And I hope the journalist who wrote this checks things out a bit better.

Benefit dependency high but reducing

A Stuff article Future welfare bill ‘cut by $7.5b focusses on reductions in spending but it includes some sobering statistics on inter-generational welfare dependency.

Among some of the most startling statistics, are figures which show the effect of inter-generational welfare dependence.

New methods of data collection have allowed the ministry to track trends of young beneficiary recipients whose parents have also collected welfare.

The limited history of the data means only welfare recipients up to the age of 25 could be tracked.

Notable statistics:

  • 75% of the liability is attributable to clients that first entered benefits under the age of 20.
  • 74% of all beneficiaries up to the age of 25 had a parent on the benefit while they were a child
  • 35% had a parent on benefit throughout their teenage years
  • 88% of Youth Benefit clients came from families where one or more parent was also on a benefit
  • More than half of those had an “intensive beneficiary” as a parent – one who was on a benefit for more than 80 per cent of the time their child was aged 13-18
  • a client whose parent was intensively in the system during ages 13-18 was then 48% more likely to remain on JS-WR (job seeker – work ready) after a year compared to those clients matched to a non-beneficiary parent. Their exits were also less sustainable; on leaving the system, they were 11% more likely to be back on benefits within two years.

However these figures are dropping, with Jobseekers down by 8% overall since new initiatives were implemented in 2012 (and the economy improved).

Reforms have helped slash the forecast cost of New Zealand’s total welfare bill by $7.5 billion within the past year, a report says.

The estimated liability of the welfare system is now $69b, down from $76.5b in 2013, according to the latest valuation of the future costs faced by the Ministry of Social Development.

Based on New Zealand’s current situation – which includes rates of employment, inflation and trends of decreasing welfare dependence – that is forecast to drop a further $5.3b by 2019, according to independent consultants Taylor Fry.

From the Key Findings:

Welfare Reforms and Future Focus Impacts included in the Valuation

  • Impact from Welfare Reform changes that occurred from July 2013 onwards, including:
    – Simplification of the benefit structure in July 2013
  • Continuing Impact from Welfare Reform changes that occurred from July/August 2012 onwards, including:
    – implementation of the Youth Service in August 2012
    – introduction of Job Streams in July 2012
    – Bill 1 changes to work expectations for sole parents, partners of main beneficiaries, widows, and women alone effective October 2012
    – A new service delivery model, with the level of case management tailored to clients’ likelihood of long-term benefit receipt
  • Continuing impact from Future Focus changes from September 2010 onwards:
    – a new requirement for Unemployment Benefit (UB) recipients to reapply for the benefit and complete a comprehensive work assessment interview every 52 weeks;
    – introduction of part-time work obligations for parents with youngest child 6 or older
    – new budgeting obligations for clients who repeatedly apply for hardship assistance
  • Additional Future Focus changes from May 2011 to:
    – require Sickness Benefit (SB) recipients to attend a reassessment interview with a case manager after 52 weeks
    – require new SB recipients to undergo additional medical assessment after 8 weeks

Stuff reports that about 30% of the reduction is due to Government/Ministry initiatives:

Of the $7.5 billion reduction, $2.2 billion was directly attributed to reforms within the ministry – both legislative and policy changes, as well as operational changes.

The rest was down to factors outside the ministry’s control, which included the falling rate of unemployment that accounted for a further $2.2b drop. It was forecast that more people would come off benefits and there would be less people applying for them.

Not sold on benefit cuts

I’m uneasy about the policy of threatening to cut benefits in half in parents don’t comply with ‘obligations’. I agree with RRM’s sentiment “war on crap parents who suck at what they do and need a kick up the arse.” But I have my doubts they have the right sort of kick here.

The policy announced by Social Development Minister Paula Bennett yesterday…

… will apply from July to 31,500 children, aged 3 and 4, whose parents are either on sole parent or couple benefits.

Parents will have their benefits halved if they fail to take “all reasonable steps” to:

  • Attend early childhood education 15 hours a week from age 3.
  • Attend school from age 5 or 6.
  • Enrol with a general practitioner.
  • Complete Well Child checks.

And they expect 1300 families to have their benefits cut:

A Cabinet paper estimates that about 2200 beneficiary families might fail the test each year, of which 1300 might fail to comply immediately and have their benefits halved.

I’m all for encouraging and coercing slack parents into meeting basic obligations.

And I think it’s important to try and address problems with kids while they are young, if they can be identified and fixed early it could solve a lot of problems that occur far too often later in life.

But halving a benefit seems to me to be far too draconian. I think we have to find a better way, like incentives for compliance – provided that doesn’t disadvantage the majority of beneficiary parents who do their best for their children.