No questions asked (no sanctions) welfare

One of just three changes as a result of the Welfare Expert Advisory Group report is contentious – it will remove (next year) a sanction (reduction in sole parent benefit) for mothers who don’t name the father of their child or children:

The Government will scrap the discriminatory sanction that cuts income to women and their children if the name of the child’s father is not declared to the Government.

Removing the section 192 sanction will cost $113.4 million over 4 years and will come into effect on 1 April 2020.

The Green Party has wanted a range of sanctions and requirements for getting benefits removed for some time. It was championed by Metiria Turei as she crashed and burned her political career just before the 2017 election, and her successor as Green co-leader, Marama Davidson, has also promoted much higher benefits with no questions asked.

It doesn’t actually start today, it starts in April 2020.

National imposed the sanctions and oppose their removal. Stuff: Government to scrap benefit sanction for solo mums, among welfare changes

National’s spokeswoman for social development, Louise Upston, said her party disagreed with the bulk of the report, “which would see fewer obligations imposed on beneficiaries and fewer incentives to get back into work”.

“Increasing the abatement threshold for people on benefits means people can keep more of what they earn. This is a welcome incentive to encourage more people into work.

“National believes that New Zealanders should be given a hand up, not a hand out and those who can work, should.”

ACT leader David Seymour…

…said removing sanctions on women who don’t name the father of their child is a complete reversal of position for Labour.

“In 2004, Social Development Minister Steve Maharey said: ‘It is a rort, and I have said time and time again in this Parliament that fathers must front up to their obligations, and we will make sure they do … It is not unreasonable to penalise financially those who do not.’

“This change will mean taxpayers will assume greater responsibility for supporting children, rather than their fathers.

Auckland Action Against Poverty…

…said it was glad to see the Government “finally taking action to stop punishing sole parents and children”.

It urged the Government to also ensure that every woman who had been penalised by the sanction received back pay, however the Minister told media this would not happen.

From the WEAG report:

The current benefit system is based on a one of conditionality and sanctions. We heard overwhelmingly through our consultation that such a system diminishes trust, causes anger and resentment, and contributes to toxic levels of stress. The application of obligations and sanctions in New Zealand (and elsewhere) is problematic.

The empirical literature provides no single, overarching answer to whether obligations and sanctions in welfare systems bring about the desired forms of behavioural change, such as movement into paid work or whether the positive effects of obligations outweigh the negative (Watts & Fitzpatrick, 2018: 111).

Research does indicate that obligations and sanctions can be costly to administer and comply with and have many harmful unintended consequences that compound social harm and disconnectedness (for example, movement in and out of insecure jobs, interspersed with periods of unemployment; disengagement from the social security system; increased poverty; increased crime to survive; worsened ill-health and impairments) (Economic and Social Research Council, 2018; Watts & Fitzpatrick 2018; Butterworth et al, 2006; Kiely & Butterworth, 2013; Davis, 2018). There is even less evidence that non-work-related obligations and associated sanctions achieve the stated aims of intended behavioural modification.

A high number of obligation failures15 are disputed (46%) and almost all (98%) of these disputes are upheld with the failure being overturned.

Require mutuality of expectations and responsibilities

The current obligations and sanctions regime must be immediately reformed into a system of mutual expectations and responsibilities that are applied according to the circumstances of the individual. They must be applied in a way that meets the values of the system, with robust checks and balances to mitigate potential negative impacts on individuals and their families and whānau.

Removing the father naming sanction makes it easier for fathers to avoid responsibility.

The report recommended a range of obligations and sanctions be removed.

  • the requirement to complete specific activities before a benefit is granted (pre-benefit activities)
  • the sanction where benefit payments stop if people have a warrant out for their arrest, and continue data matching with the Ministry of Justice and take a proactive supportive approach to contacting these people
  • social obligations that require people receiving a benefit to take all reasonable steps to have their children enrolled with a medical practice, be up to date with their Wellchild/Tamariki Ora checks and be attending early childhood education or school
  • pre-employment drug testing and provide specialised support for people with substance use disorders
  • the mandatory work ability assessment for people with health conditions or a disability and link workability assessments to return to work plans
  • the requirement to reapply for a benefit every 52 weeks – MSD is expected to provide full and correct entitlements through regular reviews (at least annually)
  • work obligations when an additional child is included in a benefit (the subsequent child rule)
  • the sanction on not naming another parent (was section 70A in the Social Security Act 1964 and is now section 192 of the Social Security Act 2018).

Only the last of those is being being removed by the Government, so most sanctions will remain.

The cost of removing the s192 parent naming sanction is estimated to cost $113.4 million over 4 years, which is $28.35 million annually.

“Around 24,000 children will be significantly better off as a result of this change, with many sole parents’ incomes increasing by an average of $34 a week,” Carmel Sepuloni said.

That’s a lot of children with unnamed fathers.

Doing some calculations the budget suggests about 16,000 solo mothers will have an income (benefit) increase, that’s a lot who don’t name fathers – it’s nearly a quarter of the total of about 60,000 receiving Sole Parent Support  (some of those will be fathers).

Why don’t mothers name fathers?

Some will genuinely not know who the father is, or will be uncertain. And some mothers will have legitimate reasons for having nothing to do with fathers.

In other cases men named as fathers may deny they are the parent.

And there must be some arrangements of silence of convenience, where the mother doesn’t name the father so he doesn’t have to pay maintenance, but under the table support arrangements are made.

$28.35 million annually is not a lot in the whole scheme of social welfare, which has a current  annual budget of $30.6 billion.

This is a small win for the Greens, but when the sanction is removed many children and low income families will be better off, which generally is a good thing.

It may cost a bit more as more solo mothers are likely to choose to not name the fathers, which is likely to reduce the number fathers paying maintenance, but this is likely to be not substantial.

Welfare advisory group – 42 recommendations, 3 to be implemented

The Welfare Expert Advisory Group (WEAG) report has been released containing 42 ‘key recommendations’. The Government has announced that one will start to be implemented soon, and another two next year.

This was initiated by the Green Party Confidence and Supply Agreement with Labour.

Overhaul the welfare system, ensure access to entitlements, remove excessive sanctions and review Working For Families so that everyone has a standard of living and income that enables them to live in dignity and participate in their communities, and lifts children and their families out of poverty.

The Government has announced that three recommendations will be implemented.

  • Removing the section 192 sanction will cost $113.4 million over 4 years and will come into effect on 1 April 2020.
  • Increasing the abatement thresholds of main benefits over the next four years will benefit around 73,000 low income individuals and families and is a total investment of $97.1 million over 4 years and will come into effect on 1 April 2020.
  • $76.3 million will be allocated to fund up to 263 new front line staff over four years to help support more people into work
  • The combined cost of these three pre-budget announcements is $286.8 million over the next 4 years.

That’s about $70 million per year. That’s very frugal (you could say paltry) compared to the NZ First $1 billion per year that was available from last year’s budget.

Carmel Sepuloni (Minister of Social Development):


Supporting people into work and income security – priorities in welfare reforms

The Government is taking immediate action to support people into work and improve income security for New Zealanders on benefits, in response to the release of the Government’s Welfare Expert Advisory Group (WEAG) report today.

The WEAG report, Whakamana Tāngata: Restoring Dignity to Social Security in New Zealand, contains 42 key recommendations that call for a systematic overhaul of New Zealand’s welfare system with a renewed focus on support to help those on benefits into sustainable work, improved income adequacy to ensure families on benefits are not living in poverty and a culture change in MSD to ensure people are treated with respect.

“Our welfare system is not providing the right support for people in need. This is contributing to issues of inequality and hardship which have been long-term problems for New Zealand that this Government is committed to fixing,” Minister for Social Development Carmel Sepuloni said.

“The release of the expert working group report and the three announcements made in response to it, represent good first steps to improving the system, but major change will take years.

“In Budget 2019 we will be allocating funds to employ up to 263 frontline staff over four years to support more people into good work, allowing beneficiaries to keep more of what they earn when they do work by lifting the abatement threshold and eliminating a discriminatory sanction that cruelly singled out 24,000 children raised by sole parents.

“Our plans will result in fewer children growing up in extreme poverty and see more people moving off benefits and into decent long term work.

“The Government can’t deliver on every recommendation at once. We are taking a balanced approach and are committed to delivering change over the longer term and prioritising areas like housing and mental health which impact on all New Zealanders but especially those in the welfare system.

“We have decided not to implement the report’s recommendations to increase benefit levels by up to 47% immediately. As we have said, we will be looking at a staged implementation of the report. There are a range of ways to improve people’s financial wellbeing and reduce the number of people on benefits that live in poverty, in line with our commitment to reduce the overall rates of child poverty in New Zealand, and we will be looking at these over the coming years,” Carmel Sepuloni said.

Green Party Co-Leader Marama Davidson says the report released today creates a vital roadmap for significant change and the new budget initiatives our Government is implementing will provide a solid start on that journey.

“We are committed to an inclusive society where everyone is treated with dignity and respect, and supported to participate fully in the community,” Marama Davidson said.

Minister for Children Tracey Martin says that we need a welfare system that is fair to everyone and that supports child wellbeing.

“We need to ensure all parents and caregivers have the resources and ability to provide the best possible care for their children, Tracey Martin said.

Government announcements

The Government will be repealing Section 192, formerly known as Section 70A, that cut incomes to parents and their children if the name of the other parent was not declared to the Government.

“Around 24,000 children will be significantly better off as a result of this change, with many sole parents’ incomes increasing by an average of $34 a week,” Carmel Sepuloni said.

“This will have a meaningful impact on some of New Zealand’s poorest families and fixes an unfair and discriminatory sanction that penalised children because they didn’t have a named father.

“The Government supports parental freedom, and ensuring sole parents and their children are not pushed into poverty because of a private parenting decision that the Government has no need to be involved in.

“National was briefed in 2016 that there was insufficient evidence to support the discriminatory sanction as it didn’t achieve its initial purpose to get money from the partner that’s not named in the birth certificate.

73,000 individuals and their families will be better off by the Government raising abatement thresholds for those on benefits who work.

“This is about ensuring wage fairness and making sure low income beneficiaries can take home more of what they earn.

“This change is about catching up with the times. Abatement thresholds for Jobseeker Support haven’t changed in over 20 years and many people find they are no better off for working, after travel and childcare costs.

“We are supporting more people into work by funding up to 263 new frontline staff over four years.

“The report shows that proactive employment case management is integral to ensuring that people are upskilled and trained so they are matched to sustainable and meaningful employment” Carmel Sepuloni said.

The full report: http://www.weag.govt.nz/assets/documents/WEAG-report/aed960c3ce/WEAG-Report.pdf

North Korea restoring missile site, threats of further sanctions from US

The meeting in Vietnam last wee between Donald Trump and Kim Yong Un ended abruptly last week, with a luncheon and signing ceremony cancelled.

Now relations between North Korea and US seem to be deteriorating.

Wall Street Journal –  North Korean Launch Site Is Being Built Back Up Again

Disclosure comes in the wake of failed U.S.-North Korean summit in Hanoi last week

North Korea is restoring a missile launch site it previously claimed to be dismantling as an overture to the U.S., according to newly released commercial satellite photos and people briefed on South Korean intelligence.

The move has sparked concerns that North Korea may be wavering on some of the gestures it made to demonstrate its willingness to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.

Reuters – U.S. will look at ramping up sanctions if North Korea does not denuclearize: Bolton

President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, said on Tuesday that the United States would look at ramping up sanctions on North Korea if Pyongyang did not scrap its nuclear weapons program.

Bolton told Fox Business Network that following the Hanoi summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Washington would see whether Pyongyang was committed to giving up its “nuclear weapons program and everything associated with it.”

“If they’re not willing to do it, then I think President Trump has been very clear … they’re not going to get relief from the crushing economic sanctions that have been imposed on them and we’ll look at ramping those sanctions up in fact,” said Bolton, a hardliner who has advocated a tough approach to North Korea in the past.

His comments came days after the Feb. 27-28 denuclearization summit between Trump and Kim broke down over differences on how far North Korea was willing to limit its nuclear program and the degree of U.S. willingness to ease sanctions.

Earlier on Tuesday, two U.S. think tanks and South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported that North Korea had restored part of a missile launch site it began to dismantle after pledging to do so in the first summit with Trump last year.

Yonhap quoted lawmakers briefed by South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) as saying that the work was taking place at the Tongchang-ri launch site and involved replacing a roof and a door at the facility.

Satellite images seen by 38 North, a Washington-based North Korea project, showed that structures on the launch pad had been rebuilt sometime between Feb. 16 and March 2, Jenny Town, managing editor at the project and an analyst at the Stimson Center think tank, told Reuters.

That alleged rebuilding was taking place in the lead up to the meeting between Trump and Kim in Hanoi.

It looks like peace in Korea may be more difficult to achieve that Trump anticipated, but North Korea’s history suggests it was always going to be difficult.

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.

Mixed messages in US sanctions on Russia

Donald Trump has indicated he wants to improve relations with Russia, as the US have imposed fresh sanctions on Russia for cyber-related activities.

CBS News: Trump open to lifting Russia sanctions, “most likely” to meet Kim Jong Un again

President Trump on Monday said he would consider lifting sanctions on Russia if Moscow were to take steps towards working with the U.S. on issues like Russia and Ukraine. Mr. Trump made the comments in an interview with Reuters.

It’s yet unclear exactly what kind of steps Mr. Trump would require to ease such sanctions. Mr. Trump insists he has been tougher on Russia than any other president, despite the laudatory way he speaks of his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russian response (Reuters):  Actions better than words, says Russia after Trump offer

The Kremlin said on Tuesday it welcomed statements by U.S. President Donald Trump indicating a desire to cooperate with Russia, but that it would welcome concrete steps to improve relations more.

Trump has repeatedly said he would like better ties with Moscow, but despite meeting President Vladimir Putin last month, relations have come under further strain as Washington announced new sanctions.

“We of course welcome statements that affirm a readiness to cooperate, but we would welcome even more some kind of concrete actions,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Peskov said the Kremlin would like to hear more details from the United States on any proposed cooperation in Syria and Ukraine, and that Kiev should also take positive steps.

“We need to be specific about what is expected from Russia in terms of Ukraine, and why nothing is expected from the Ukrainian authorities,” he said.

But at the same time U.S. imposes fresh sanctions for Russian cyber-related activity

The United States on Tuesday imposed sanctions on two Russians, one Russian company and one Slovakian company for what Washington said were their actions to help another Russian company avoid sanctions over the country’s malicious cyber-related activities.

The U.S. Treasury said in a statement that the sanctioned companies, Saint Petersburg-based Vela-Marine Ltd and Slovakia-based Lacno S.R.O., and the two individuals helped Divetechnoservices evade previously imposed sanctions.

In a statement on the Russian foreign ministry’s website, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov called the latest sanctions groundless and promised a response from Moscow.

Ryabkov’s criticism extended to separate sanctions Washington imposed on Tuesday on two Russian shipping companies that it said were involved in transferring refined petroleum products to North Korean vessels in violation of Unite Nations restrictions.

IOt’s hard to see any progress on better US relations while more sanctions are being imposed. No wonder Putin asked for action rather than words from Trump on lifting sanctions.

Bridges still supports benefit sanctions ‘to motivate to work’

Beneficiary sanctions remain a point of difference between National and the government.

 

US sanctions Russians for cyber attacks

The US has announced sanctions on three Russian individuals and five companies, who have been cited as ‘malicious actors working at the behest of the Russian Federation and its military and intelligence units to increase Russia’s offensive cyber capabilities’ against the US ‘and it’s allies’ – which could include New Zealand.

Reuters: U.S. sanctions Russians over military, intelligence hacking

The U.S. Treasury imposed sanctions on three Russian individuals and five companies on Monday, saying they had worked with Moscow’s military and intelligence services on ways to conduct cyber attacks against the United States and its allies.

“The United States is engaged in an ongoing effort to counter malicious actors working at the behest of the Russian Federation and its military and intelligence units to increase Russia’s offensive cyber capabilities,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

“The entities designated today have directly contributed to improving Russia’s cyber and underwater capabilities through their work with the FSB and therefore jeopardize the safety and security of the United States and our allies,” Mnuchin said, using an acronym for Russia’s Federal Security Service.

The Treasury said Russia’s “malign and destabilizing cyber activities” included the NotPetya attack last year, which spread across Europe, Asia and the Americas. The White House in February blamed Russia for the attack, saying it caused billions of dollars in damage and was part of the Kremlin’s effort to destabilize Ukraine.

The Obama administration sanctioned Russia’s FSB in December 2016, citing the Russian government’s aggressive harassment of U.S. officials and cyber operations aimed at the 2016 presidential election.

Washington imposed additional sanctions against the intelligence services in March, when President Donald Trump’s administration slapped sanctions on 19 individuals and five entities.

At the time, the administration publicly blamed Moscow for the first time for a campaign of cyberattacks that targeted the U.S. power grid, including nuclear facilities, and stretched back at least two years. Russia has denied trying to hack into other countries’ infrastructures.

There’s a good chance Russia will retaliate with sanctions of their own.

GCSB (February 2018): New Zealand joins international condemnation of NotPetya cyber-attack

The Director-General of the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) Andrew Hampton has today added New Zealand’s voice to international condemnation of the NotPetya cyber-attack.

NotPetya caused wide spread damage and disruption to computer systems around the world in June 2017.

Mr Hampton says the GCSB’s international partners have today attributed the NotPetya cyber-attack to the Russian Government.

“While NotPetya masqueraded as a criminal ransomware campaign, its real purpose was to damage and disrupt systems,” Mr Hampton said.

“Its primary targets were Ukrainian financial, energy and government sectors. However, NotPetya’s indiscriminate design caused it to spread around the world affecting these sectors world-wide.

“While there were no reports of NotPetya having a direct impact in New Zealand, it caused disruption to some organisations while they updated systems to protect themselves from it.

“This reinforces that New Zealand is not immune from this type of threat. In a globally connected world our relative geographic isolation offers no protection from cyber threats.

“We support the actions of our cyber security partners in calling out this sort of reckless and malicious cyber activity.”

In the 12 months from June 2016 to June 2017 nearly a third (122) of the 396 serious incidents recorded by the GCSB’s National Cyber Security Centre involved indicators that have previously been linked to state-sponsored actors.

I think it’s unlikely New Zealand will join the US with sanctions.

English v Ardern on sanctions on benefits

In Question Time today Bill English asked Jacinda Ardern about the use of sanctions in relation to getting unemployed people into work.

Winston Peters chimed in with a question/comment about saddling up a gift horse.

2. Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by all her statements?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): In the context in which they were given, yes.

Rt Hon Bill English: Does she stand by her statement in regards to her Ready for Work scheme, or Work for the Dole scheme, that: “Our view was that you couldn’t compel people to take up a job.”

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: When I was discussing the way that we would role this programme, we were acknowledging that there’s a range of ways in which we could encourage the uptake of the opportunity for employment. I have also acknowledged that sanctions have long been a part of our benefit system, and that won’t change. Ultimately, though, this is a Government focused on getting young people into work.

Rt Hon Bill English: Does she agree with the statement of her Minister for Regional Economic Development in regards to the Ready for Work scheme that, “They’ll be made to go to work. … there will be no more sitting on the couch.”?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I’ve said, sanctions have long been a part of our welfare system, and that won’t change.

Rt Hon Bill English: Does she therefore agree with her parliamentary under-secretary Jan Logie who said: “Benefit sanctions punish families who are already struggling to get by …. These are not the actions of a decent and compassionate government—benefit sanctions are punitive and cruel, and it’s going to take a change of government to get rid of them. … The Green Party in government … will immediately end … sanctions.”

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Prime Minister has no responsibility for Green Party policy, or statements made by someone who was not an under-secretary at the time.

Rt Hon Bill English: Does she agree with the statements made by members of the Green Party in support of the Government that they oppose sanctions on benefits and intend to roll back those that exist?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I absolutely stand by the Labour Party’s confidence and supply agreement with the Green Party, which says that we will look at the excessive use of sanctions within the welfare system. I have to say, the excessive use of sanctions ballooned under that last Government, because rather than focusing on providing employment opportunities like this Government, that’s what they resorted to.

Rt Hon Bill English: Can the Prime Minister now outline Government policy on sanctions as they may apply to young people who have been on the unemployment benefit?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I have already given a general statement that sanctions have long been a part of our welfare system, but details around the way our particular policy around getting young people into work will go to Cabinet and decisions will be made collectively. But what I am happy to say is that, unlike the last Government, we are not willing to allow more than 70,000 young people not in employment, education, or training to have their lives wasted.

Rt Hon Bill English: If a young person who may be eligible for a scheme of this nature refuses to participate, or attends for a day or two and then refuses to attend, will the Government apply sanctions to them?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I’ve given the general principles that we’ll be working to, but final decisions of the programme will go to Cabinet. But, again, this Government is entirely united behind the idea that young people deserve opportunities, and under this Government they’ll get them.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I ask the Prime Minister whether it’s her Government’s attitude that the wealth of a country is in its working people, and whether it would be refreshing if some people, instead of looking a gift-horse in the mouth, decided to put a saddle on its back and be grateful?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: This is a Government that is focused on providing employment opportunities, and that’s exactly what our Minister for Regional Economic Development has been speaking to. Unlike the last Government, who labelled young people “pretty damn hopeless”, we’ll get them into jobs.

More US sanctions against Russia

The US Senate has voted in favour of strengthening sanctions against Russia “in response to the violation of the territorial integrity of the Ukraine and Crimea, its brazen cyberattacks and interference in elections, and its continuing aggression in Syria,” said Republicans and Democrats on the committees.

ABC News: Tillerson warns against steps that cut off talks with Russia

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday the U.S. relationship with Russia is at an all-time low and deteriorating further, yet he cautioned against taking steps that might close off promising avenues of communication between the two former Cold War foes.

Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Tillerson stopped short of registering his opposition to a new package of Russia sanctions the GOP-led Senate is considering in retaliation for Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election and its aggression in other parts of the world, including Syria and Ukraine.

Top lawmakers on two Senate committees — Banking and Foreign Relations — announced the sanctions deal amid the firestorm over Russia’s meddling in the presidential election and investigations into Moscow’s possible collusion with members of President Donald Trump’s campaign.

The plan calls for strengthening current sanctions and imposing new ones on corrupt Russian actors, those involved in human rights abuses and those supplying weapons to the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The package also would require a congressional review if a president attempts to ease or end current penalties.

Penalties also would be slapped on those responsible for malicious cyber activity on behalf of the Russian government.

A procedural vote on the Russia sanctions is expected Wednesday, and the measure is expected to get strong bipartisan support.

House and Senate committees are investigating Russia’s meddling and potential links to the Trump campaign, with testimony scheduled Tuesday from Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Special Counsel Robert Mueller is conducting a separate probe.

So both Congress and the Senate are continuing investigations, strengthening sanctions, and making it harder for President Trump to “ease or end current penalties”.

And today (Tuesday US time) Sessions to face tough questions at public Senate hearing, in next round of Russia probe:

The Senate’s Russia probe will hit a new level of intensity Tuesday when Attorney General Jeff Sessions becomes the highest-ranking official to testify – in what Senate Intelligence Committee leaders confirmed will be an open hearing, in the spirit of last week’s dramatic session with James Comey.

The circumstances are different for Sessions’ appearance. While Comey was a witness scorned by President Trump and ready to dish on the leader who fired him, Sessions remains the top law enforcement official in the country, working for Trump’s administration.

But lawmakers – particularly Democrats – are preparing tough questions for Sessions both about Russia’s contact with Trump campaign associates and the circumstances of Comey’s firing.

Also from Fox News:  Mueller’s lawyer build-up raises flags for Trump allies

Special counsel Robert Mueller is said to be building out his investigative team with some of the country’s best legal minds, in a development that speaks to the seriousness of the Russia probe but also is raising red flags on the pro-Trump side.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, citing the hires, said “they’re setting up to go after Trump.”

“This is going to be a witch hunt,” Gingrich said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Not all Republicans feel that way, and Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., told “Fox & Friends” on Monday that Mueller just “wants to get to the truth.”

But recent hires show Mueller is building a formidable team, poised to either root out wrongdoing or prove the Trump team’s claims that there’s no ‘there there.’

Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney fired by Trump along with dozens of other holdover prosecutors earlier this year, tweeted that Dreeben is “1 of the top legal & appellate minds at DOJ in modern times.”

However, Bharara said Dreeben’s “loyalty is to the Constitution alone” and Mueller is looking to find the truth, apply the law “and yield a just result. Charge or no charge.”

It is important for the integrity of the US political system that as much of the truth is discovered as possible, charge or no charge.

US retaliates against Russian hacking

After weeks of accusations that Russia was involved in political hacking and interfering in last month’s US election last month President Obama has now launched retaliatory actions.

Washington Post: Obama administration announces measures to punish Russia for 2016 election interference

The Obama administration announced sweeping new measures on Thursday in retaliation for what U.S. officials characterized as Russian interference in this fall’s presidential election, ordering the removal of 35 Russian government officials and sanctioning state agencies and individuals tied to the hacks.

The FBI and CIA have concluded that Russia intervened in the 2016 election in part to help Donald Trump win the White House. Thursday’s announcement comes several weeks after President Obama promised to respond to Russian hacking with both public and covert actions,“at a time and place of our own choosing.”

The president said the new actions followed repeated warnings to the Russian government and were “a necessary and appropriate response to efforts to harm U.S. interests” contrary to international norms.

Obama said Americans should be “alarmed” by Russian actions, which he said included the interference in the election and harassment of U.S. diplomats overseas. “Such activities have consequences,” he said in a statement.

The new measures include sanctions on two Russian intelligence agencies, three companies that are believed to have provided support for government cyber operations, and four Russian cyber officials. The administration will also shut down Russian-owned facilities in Maryland and New York that Obama said where used for intelligence activities and would declare 35 Russian operatives “persona non grata,” meaning they would be required to leave the United States.

The State Department said it is taking action against these 35 individuals in response to Russia’s interference in the U.S. election and to the harassment of U.S. diplomats overseas over the last four years.

“The harassment has involved arbitrary police stops, physical assault, and the broadcast on State TV of personal details about our personnel that put them at risk,” according to a statement from State Department spokesperson Mark C. Toner.

The executive order released by the White House

The Russians dismiss these actions.

“Any anti-Russian sanctions are fruitless and counterproductive,” said Konstantin Dolgov, the Russian foreign ministry official in charge of democracy and human rights, according to Interfax. “Such one-sided steps have the goal of damaging relations and complicating their restoration in the future.”

I think that one sided steps such as hacking foreign political parties and leaking hacked information to political activists intent on influencing an election also risks damaging relations and complicating the restoration of good relations (if the US claims are true).