National’s Upston criticised for ‘soft on benefit sanctions’ claim

Kay Brereton from the Beneficiary Advocacy Federation has hit back against National’s Social Development spokesperson  saying “the Government going soft on benefit sanctions, saying it was sad when parties seek to punish people with ‘inadequate incomes’.

Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni: ““MSD has made significant shifts in its service delivery over the last year to improve its service culture and ensure that people are getting the support they are entitled to and that they are not unfairly sanctioned”

Louise Upston (National): “The number of people claiming the job seeker benefit has increased by 11,000 because the Government is going soft on benefit sanctions and those who don’t want to work”.

Ensuring people get benefits and assistance they are entitled to has been an issue for some time. There has also been obvious philosophical differences between National and other parties over whether benefits shouldn’t be difficult to get, that they should be more of a choice for those who feel they need assistance. National opposes benefits being a sort of lifestyle choice.

Carmel Sepuloni:  Benefit rates remain low

The total proportion of working age people on a main benefit is 9.9% compared to 9.8% in the December quarter last year.

Rates on main benefit are different from the official unemployment rate, which was last recorded at 3.9 percent, down from 4.7 percent at the same time the previous year.

“The latest benefit figures show that more people who are applying for hardship assistance are getting it. The need has been there for years but under this Government people know where to go when they need support.

“This has seen a rise in the level of hardship assistance being given, particularly food grants and emergency housing grants.

“MSD has made significant shifts in its service delivery over the last year to improve its service culture and ensure that people are getting the support they are entitled to and that they are not unfairly sanctioned, driving them and their families into further poverty.”

Louise Upston (National MP):  Benefits up as Govt makes it easier to do nothing

The number of people claiming the job seeker benefit has increased by 11,000 because the Government is going soft on benefit sanctions and those who don’t want to work, National’s Social Development spokesperson Louise Upston says.

“Over the past year there has been a 42 per cent decline in the number of people who have been sanctioned for failing to meet the basic criteria which goes with receiving taxpayer’s money. That includes simply turning up to appointments.

“Given that unemployment has decreased, it’s inexplicable that the number of people on a jobseeker benefit would increase so rapidly and that the Government would make it easier for people to avoid work.

“The Minister needs to explain why so many more people are lining up for benefit, while at the same time there aren’t enough people to plant Shane Jones’ ‘billion’ trees or to pick fruit from our orchards.

“For the past ten years the total number of people on benefit has been decreasing because the National Government was focused on creating jobs and getting people into work, and making sure people met their obligations.

“Now for the first time in a decade with unemployment at record lows the number of people on benefits has increased rapidly – by more than 9000.

“It’s especially disappointing to see that the number of 18-24 year-olds receiving a benefit has increased by 10 per cent. It’s this age group which needs the most encouraging to get into work to avoid a lifetime of benefit dependency.

“National is aspirational for all New Zealanders. We believe that people deserve a fair go, but not a free ride. Employment is the best way to lift families out of poverty.”

National have a hard line ‘tough but fair’ approach that is quite different to the softer ‘more compassionate’ approach of the current Government.

About 134,000 people are receiving jobseeker support, an 8.3 percent jump from last year.

About 8500 sanctions were applied in the December 2018 quarter, a decrease of more than 6000 compared to the previous year.

1 News: Advocate hits back over National’s call for more benefit sanctions

Kay Brereton from the Beneficiary Advocacy Federation says it is sad when political parties seek to punish a certain percentage of people with inadequate income.

the easing of disciplinary action is being applauded by Kay Brereton from the Beneficiary Advocacy Federation.

Ms Brereton said she knew of people who had been docked for not attending an appointment, because they were at their part-time job.

The increase in people on the jobseeker benefit might be because more people were now being deemed eligible, she said.

She said it was sad political parties thought a certain percentage of those with inadequate income should be punished.

Some see limits to what assistance can be obtained, and inadequate assistance (not enough money), as punishment. Greens have gone as far as advocated for a virtual no questions asked approach to giving out benefits and grants.

National’s ‘firm, fair’ approach is seen by some as unfair and even draconian, but al they can do from Opposition is complain about the easing up on sanctions against people who appear (to some) to choose a benefit over work.

There has to be a balance between providing state care, assistance and money but encouraging people to be responsible for their own financial situations and earning money for themselves. There continues to be a significant difference between National’s tougher approach and the current Government’s more lenient leanings.

Punitive imprisonment versus rehabilitation

New Zealand has one the highest imprisonment rates in the developed world, and despite a target of reducing re-offending by 2017 by 25% (that won’t be met) $1 billion more will need to be spent in the next five years to house all the prisoners.

The public psyche is punitive, with pressure on politicians to lock more offenders up for longer. That will cost more – and that cost is not just borne by the country (that is, all of us), there is a high cost to families and children affected by imprisoned parents.

New Prime Minister Bill English wants to apply his ‘social investment’ theories to prison numbers and re-offending rates. He has signalled a change in approach by removing Judith Collins as Minister of Corrections and replacing her with Louise Upston, who is also now Associate Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment.

Fixing the  lack of education and work skills that are prevalent in the prisoner population is an important part of rehabilitation and reducing re-offending.

The Government doesn’t just have to turn around rising imprisonment rates, it also has to turn around punitive public preferences. Neither will be easy.

Dr Jarrod Gilbert at NZH: Bill English faces tough job shifting the ‘lock ’em up’ penal policy

For a number of years Bill English has quietly championed a prison reform approach that should appeal to fiscal conservatives and social liberals alike. As prime minister, he now needs to sell it.

At stake is a billion dollar spend on a new prison caused by a prison population that recently hit 10,000.

In 2012, the government and the Department of Corrections set a bold target of reducing reoffending by 25per cent by 2017.

They are going to fall well short. Undoubtedly, many people will make a big deal of that failure, and perhaps that’s reasonable, but it ought be applauded for its bold intent.

It was the ambition of the target that challenged corrections staff – from policy analysts to prison guards – to fundamentally rethink what they were doing. Instead of simply containing prisoners until their release, they were instructed to think about creating an environment and initiatives that rehabilitate them.

It was never going to be a quick or easy thing to fix, but rehabilitation needs to be addressed.

Nearly three quarters of released prisoner were reconvicted of an offence within five years, and more than half were returning to prison.

In many cases if the underlying causes of crime aren’t resolved then offending is likely to continue.

More importantly, reducing reoffending wouldn’t just reduce costs, it would also mean fewer victims of crime. There is perhaps no clearer example of a classic win/win.

That’s something that the public need to understand.

On this basis, the government launched a reform agenda, but it hasn’t taken the country with it. And this is a mistake. Without building a broad public consensus on the approach’s goals and merits, it is at risk from moral panics and knee-jerk politics.

Our base instinct to punish criminals is natural and punishment is an important function of prison.

Lock-em-up proponents tend to be more vocal, more pushy for more imprisonment.

But often there will be no sentence long enough to placate distressed victims or their loved ones, so as a society we must weigh-up those desires with the interests of the public good.

Media play a major part in this. It’s common for them to push the victims of crime to speak after sentencing, and in most cases unsurprisingly they usually say sentences were not sufficient. This just feeds the longer sentence pressures on politicians.

And here’s where we need to start the conversation and build a consensus around the balance between punishment and rehabilitation.

Extending the debate beyond punishment may not be easy. New Zealand has been sold the idea that longer sentences are the solution by both major parties for years.

Populist tougher sentence policies pander to what voters seem to want.

Penal populists say harsh sentences act as deterrence by making people think twice before committing crime. Deterrence arguments aren’t without merit but studies show that likelihood of apprehension is a far greater deterrent than severe punishments.

So wouldn’t an extra billion dollars be better spent on policing rather than on prisons?

But media and public pressure works against this.

When Philip Smith escaped to Brazil in 2014, for example, there was an immediate clampdown on temporary releases that allow prisoners to work outside the wire in paid employment.

Despite the escape being a consequence of corruption rather than policy, the Department of Corrections feared a public backlash and restricted temporary releases even though they were widely seen as a successful rehabilitation tool.

One high profile escape adversely affected many others.

Having removed Judith Collins from the Corrections portfolio, English has very publicly signalled that the harder-edged and populist approach does not curry his favour.

But can he change public attitudes in the way Judith Collins and others so cleverly played up to them?

Can English convince the country that although the Department of Correction’ re-offending target won’t be met, its modest gains and the change of thinking it represents is nevertheless the best hope of bringing the prison population down?

That won’t be easy.

I don’t know the answer to that; the punitive approach in the New Zealand psyche is so strong we’ve become one of the most imprisoned populations in the developed world without even flinching.

The loudest calls are for even longer prison sentences.

Do we really want more prisons?

Or can we see the sense in more policing, more rehabilitation and less offending?

One thing that Gilbert doesn’t mention is drug and alcohol links to a lot of offending. Addressing addictions is a critical part of rehabilitation.

Upston, Corrections and ‘social investment’

Louise Upston is keen to make a difference to prison numbers and re-offending rates by applying ‘social investment’ principals – spending more money to reduce prisoner recidivism and therefore reduce crime and prisoner numbers and therefore reduce prison costs and the costs of crime to families and communities and the country.

Prior to Bill English’s reshuffle it was suggested by a number of pundits that Upston, a Minister outside of Cabinet, was at risk of demotion. So it was a surprise to some that she was promoted into Cabinet.

Upston was notably given the Corrections portfolio, but her other responsibilities may also be significant – she remains Associate Minister of Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment and picks up Associate Minister of Education plus Associate Minister of Primary Industries.

Herald: Corrections Minister: my views have changed

One of the surprises of Prime Minister Bill English’s Cabinet reshuffle was handing the challenging and important Corrections portfolio from Judith Collins to Taupo MP Louise Upston.

Upston told the Herald that the social investment work – to be headed by Justice Minister Amy Adams – would be central to work in the Corrections portfolio. That meant investing in rehabilitation and other programmes to try and cut reoffending rates.

“If you think about social investment – this is the opportunity to interrupt and really break that cycle, which is something I’m really excited about.

“We will continue to have a focus on making sure our communities are safe. But also, our continued focus will be on making sure that where taxpayers money is spent, it is spent wisely and getting the outcomes that people expect.

The outcome in this area is around reoffending rates. It is complex, it is challenging, and I’m looking forward to it.”

It is certainly complex and challenging, and there are no quick fixes. But if the Government invests more (time and money) into addressing the causes of crime, and is more effective at rehabilitating prisoners, then we should see improvements over time.

Upston has less than a year until the election to start making more of a difference, and there’s no guarantee she will still be Corrections Minister after that – and also no guarantee National will still be in power.

She will need help from English and new Finance Minister Steven Joyce as it will cost more money initially.

Today, she said her experience as an MP meant some of her views on law and order had changed.

I would hope that MPs would learn from their experiences and be prepared to change their views. They are able to become much better informed than the average person.

“And some of that has been, actually, what I have seen in Tongariro [prison]. And one of the real standouts for me was a visit to the Maori Focus Unit and to, first of all, see the enormous dedication of the Corrections staff…but also then in the discussions with the inmates for them to see they had quite a different future as a result of the changes that we were making.

“Yep, I do think if someone has done a crime, they do the time. But we also need to make sure that when they come out that they are better than when they went in, and more importantly they have greater opportunities for them and their families.”

Key things that need to be addressed are addictions and drug and alcohol abuse, violence, and for many prisoners fundamental education such as literacy and numeracy (a high number of prisoners have failed badly in education) as well as employment skills.

“If I look at my other portfolios – Associate Education and Associate Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment – the Prime Minister signalled to me that he wants me to continue my focus on trades training, which links back very nicely to Corrections.”

Those Associate portfolios have an important association with Corrections and rehabilitation.

But it will be difficult getting more money allocated for crime prevention and prisoner rehabilitation when increasing prisoner numbers require substantially funds immediately in order to house the prisoners.

In October, the Government announced plans to cope with a booming prisoner population including a 1500-bed prison on the current Waikeria Prison site in Waikato.

Those changes will hit the Government’s books by an extra $2.5 billion over about five years.

Wouldn’t it be good if that sort of money was spent on reducing prisoner numbers rather than building more prisons.

Minister for Women or activist?

The Chiefs Rugby/stripper story keeps on getting attention, despite the stripper Scarlette wanting it left alone so she can move on.

Some of the attention has turned to (and turned on) Minister for Women, Louise Upston. She has been strongly criticised for not strongly criticising what happened in Hamilton.

Green MPs have become involved, illustrating a clash of women’s activism versus the responsibilities of a Minister.

Upston was overseas when the story was being done to death by media but she maintains that she doesn’t and won’t comment on individual cases. All she has said is via Twitter:


That’s not good enough for Jemma Lynch at Newshub: Minister for Women? Yeah, right

The Prime Minister defended her silence saying he’d already said enough as the voice for the Government on the issue.

And after that she sent a tweet.

Yes, instead of reassuring over half of the population by saying she, the minister for all women, is standing up for women, she sent a tweet to her three-and-a-half-thousand followers on a social media platform basically none of the country uses.

A tweet two days after the shameful investigation was concluded, which did not mention the Chiefs, nor New Zealand Rugby, nor the investigation itself.

Sorry Minister, that’s simply too little too late.

Minister, step up, or step aside.

Generally it’s normal and advisable that Ministers don’t comment on everything that happens that could be related to their portfolio. The Minister of Finance doesn’t comment on every cough of the NZX, the Minister of Police doesn’t comment on every crime, the Minister of Housing doesn’t comment on every trashed State House or person waiting too long to be housed.

What is happen here though is that people are demanding that Upston say and do something about the Chiefs’ incident.

The Greens have become involved calling the Minister to resign. MP Jan Logie claims that Upston  doesn’t give a damn about women because she won’t do what activists demand.

One News: ‘NZ women don’t deserve a minister who doesn’t give a damn’ – Greens call for minister’s resignation

The Minister for Women is accused of being derelict in her duties – and the Greens want her to resign.

“The Minister for Women Louise Upston needs to resign,” Green MP Jan Logie, backed by fellow women parliamentarians, told media.

“If the minister cannot support women who are challenging our culture of violence then she needs to stand down. New Zealand women don’t deserve a minister who doesn’t give a damn.”

“She should have made a specific statement, she should have supported Scarlette, she should have joined the Human Rights Commission in calling for an investigation and a change in culture instead she chose a generic statement that let them off the hook.

“We have the highest rate in intimate partner violence in the OECD and this is the minister’s best opportunity to change that culture, to get engaged, get involved. Her absence is a derelict of duty.”

Green co-leader Metiria referred to that on Twitter:

The Minister for Women needs to advocate for women or go.

I engaged:

Should the Minister comment on every issue raised by MPs or by social media? That could be a very slippery slope.

Sorry, tell me why she should be silent about the epidemic of violence suffered by women?

If you were Minister for Women would you comment on any/every individual case that was publicised and action was demanded?

Tell me why the Minister of Women should be silent?

Tell me why she should speak on individual cases, especially those already done to death and the victim wants out of the spotlight?

And that’s not an individual case. Is she failing to address violence? I thought Government announced measures today.

Metiria didn’t respond.

She has been an activist for a long time, being involved with the McGillicuddy Serious Party(1993) and the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party (1996). She became  opposition MP in 2002, becoming co-leader in 2009.

Is Metiria ready to switch to the role of Minister? The responsibilities are hugely different to being an activist who criticises and pushes for action on everything that comes to mind.

She may or may not get to find out how big a transition it would be.

If Metiria was to become Minister for Women I doubt she would speak up on every issue demanded as demanded by others – or at least she shouldn’t.

I don’t think the Minister for Women should climb into every issue as demanded by activists. If Upston did it once then the  pressure would increase for her to be a knee jerk reactionary, time and time again, which would be quite inappropriate for a Minister.

I don’t know how effective Upston is as Minister For Women but jumping on media bash wagons should not be in her job description.

Online voting trial ruled out

A planned trial of online voting in this year’s local body elections has been dumped.

Eight councils had been interested in trying online voting but Internal Affairs Minister Louise Upston has kicked it for touch, saying there is not enough time. It has been considered for years so I don’t know how time has now become a factor.

NZ Herald: Online voting not on the cards this year

The Government has pulled the pin on a trial of online voting in this year’s local body elections, saying it could not guarantee the security of the system in time.

Internal Affairs Minister Louise Upston announced the plan for some councils to trial online voting would not go ahead because time was running out for councils to prove voting system addressed concerns about security and vote integrity.

“Due to timing restrictions, preparations for the proposed trial have not yet met the legislative requirements and cannot guarantee public confidence in the election results.” She said security testing was planned but had not yet taken place. “Without seeing the results of testing we cannot be confident the systems are secure enough and the trial could not be authorised.”

Eight councils were interested in trialling online voting — Selwyn, Wellington, Porirua, Masterton, Rotorua, Matamata-Piako, Palmerston North and Whanganui.

Ms Upston said those councils which had signed up for the trial would be disappointed. However, the time pressures involved would increase the risks of any trial. “Maintaining public confidence and understanding of local electoral processes is more important than trialling online voting this year.”

The Government was open to looking a proposals for online voting in the future.

I doubt if it would be trialled in a General Election, so that’s another three years to wait until the next local body elections, unless it is tried in a referendum.

The Government first agreed to allow councils to trial online voting in December 2014 after a working party found online voting was feasible. It set out requirements to councils for a trial in November last year. That included full testing of the system, including testing to ensure votes could not be interfered with as well as an independent review. That work was to be done by June, but Ms Upston said it was clear that could not happen.

It’s difficult getting public interest in local body elections and online voting was seen as a way of improving that.

Online voting sounds good in theory but the practicalities are more of a problem.