Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

Paula Bennett’s welfare abuse

July 1st, 2009

To date, the government’s response to the recession has been faulted on the demand side – for not giving sufficient stimulus to the economy, as reflected in its wilful misdirection of most of the April tax cut money to the top tier of incomes, when low income earners would have spent the money to far better economic effect. The lack of proper planning and funding for social welfare provision has been just as disastrous.

Right now, the government seems intent on forcing more and more of the victims of this recession into fewer and fewer job openings. On National Radio this morning for instance, Social Welfare Minister Paula Bennett could be heard riding off energetically in all directions. Why, she was going to hand the Disabilities portfolio over to Taraina Turia in order to concentrate on getting people into jobs! We were dreaming, Bennett said, if we didn’t think that unemployment wasn’t going to increase.

Fabulous. So, beyond the slogans and empty gestures, would she be relaxing any of the eligibility settings for assistance, in recognition of the scale of the recession? No, not at all. Earlier this year, Bennett refused to instruct her staff to exercise discretion when it came to dispensing help through the Temporary Additional Support (TAS) scheme – which is the last line of defence for people in danger of slipping through the welfare safety net. Now was not a time to ‘tinker’ with the rules, she told me when taking questions about the government’s response to the recession, at a post Cabinet press conference.

In similar vein, Bennett is refusing to revisit the eligibility rules in households where one partner is still working. Currently, as Sue Bradford of the Greens has pointed out, couples with an earner in paid employment need to be amassing below $534 a week before the unemployed partner can qualify for the dole, or the DPB. This rule is, among other things, serving to keep the welfare figures conveniently and artificially low. As Bradford says, the situation is putting pressure on couples to split, in order to gain access to assistance. Shouldn’t Christine Rankin and the Families Commission be having something to say to Bennett about her eligibility rules?

These rules, as Susan St John and Keith Rankin showed yesterday in the NZ Herald, stand up badly to international comparison, and are inherently unfair :

Mary Williams, of Muriwai Beach, who lost her job in a bank in March, said in a letter to the Herald: “Why am I classed as a single earner paying ACC and income tax when employed, but classed as a couple when out of work?”

She and her husband Neville have started selling their possessions. “Because my husband earns just above the income limit for a couple, I cannot register for unemployment,” she said.

So, it is all very well for the government to say it is concentrating on getting people back into work. Already, the inadequacy of this response is evident : because there are not enough jobs for the people, and for the families, most at risk. Eligibility rules for assistance that have been premised on a relatively healthy job market and a ready return to employment are no longer adequate. Still, this government currently seems uninterested in responding to genuine need – it is more about spinning an appearance of concern, for the re-assurance of the majority still in work.

That approach is extremely short-sighted. “Financial pressures that attack the family unit lead to deepening poverty and emotional damage for all concerned,” Bradford says. “In the long term, poor educational, health and employment outcomes for children and adults in sole parent families will cost us more than easing rules on income levels and benefit entitlements.”

It would take five minutes for Bennett to issue a direction that people with partners in paid employment can access the unemployment benefit. She should also be telling her front line staff to administer the TAS benefits with discretion, and according to need. Yet that would be to assume that this government has an interest in steering New Zealand through this recession with anything other than its own welfare in mind.


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    1. 16 Responses to “Paula Bennett’s welfare abuse”

    2. By Lindsay on Jul 3, 2009 | Reply

      But socialists have traditionally despised the idea of discretionary entitlement. Universal rules and rights-based entitlement is their ideal. In order to provide such, means-testing has to be applied. That allows targeting of the neediest.

      “Eligibility rules for assistance that have been premised on a relatively healthy job market and a ready return to employment are no longer adequate.”

      The eligibility rules have been premised this way since the first Labour government introduced Social Security.

      Welfare benefits are paid from general taxation. If people want better cover, then the country needs to change to a more comprehensive insurance-based model.

      Sue Bradford,“In the long term, poor educational, health and employment outcomes for children and adults in sole parent families will cost us more than easing rules on income levels and benefit entitlements.”

      So Bradford is now admitting that there is a problem with sole parent families. This is only because, she would counter, their benefits are insufficient and their children live in poverty.

      But now she is suggesting that couples be given preferential treatment in terms of how much household income they can acquire via welfare.

      You really should be thanking Paula Bennett – not attacking her – for sticking with the welfare philosophy of the Left. State, universal, means-tested, rules-based, entitlement.

    3. By stuart munro on Jul 3, 2009 | Reply

      Whichever way you stack it Lindsay, the DSW is effectively conspiring to break up the relationships of New Zealand’s poorest families.
      It is an apalling human rights abuse, and the economic paradigm on which it was based has been proven unsuccessful.
      So Paula Bennett is just flogging the beneficiary dead horse again. And this is not acceptable behaviour for a minister, not because it is cruel, though it is, but because it is stupid.
      Ministers are not entitled to be stupid, and when they can do no better, they have to go.

    4. By RS on Jul 3, 2009 | Reply

      This, as with so many of the Key government’s policies, demonstrate the intellectual and moral vacuum at the heart of government. We had the job summit, which probably cost more than the 390-something salaries it protected; a cycle path which sounded like the outcome of a 12 year old’s school project rather than a government-led summit; a cut in community education budgets and R&D tax breaks whilst professing to build a more productive, higher value economy; and a cut in provisions for the looming pension crisis complete with a promise that pensions are safe. They seem to think the electorate is as stupid as they are, and unfortunately they are probably correct.

    5. By Lindsay on Jul 3, 2009 | Reply

      But this isn’t Key/National policy. And why should Bennett carry the can for what has been policy throughout Labour regimes? I am no fan of National but you guys are too keen to lay unwarranted blame. Stuart, the most culpable policy behind family breakdown is the DPB. So, by your reckoning, DSW has been conspiring for decades.

    6. By Dr Strangeglove on Jul 3, 2009 | Reply

      Lindsay – isn’t that Weldon’s mantra.
      How progressive to recommend that the country restructure into a more comprehensive US insurance-based model for their social welfare system.

      Bennett’s taxpayer funded corporate monopoly subsidy during a banking crisis is a fitting solution (for the likes of AIG) .
      Lindsay do you really want WINZ to behave as a Insurance Corporation (in a banking Crisis)?

      “Oh Tommy you’re a hard man”.

    7. By stuart munro on Jul 4, 2009 | Reply

      The difference between us Lindsay, is that you are concerned with who is blameable, and I am concerned that the problem be fixed.
      The DPB is a safety net that was adopted because what we had before wasn’t very satisfactory.
      The DSW has indeed been conspiring for decades – since about 1987 in fact, when New Zealand’s public services turned feral.
      Bennett should carry the can because she is minister. She receives that enormous and undeserved salary for undertaking a public responsibility. When she fails in that responsibility, she need expect no sympathy.

    8. By Lindsay on Jul 6, 2009 | Reply

      “The DPB is a safety net that was adopted because what we had before wasn’t very satisfactory.”

      What we have now is even less so. In the majority of cases it is not a safety net but a default lifestyle. That is one of the problems that needs fixing. And I am very interested in how we do that in a way that minimises hardship.

    9. By stuart munro on Jul 6, 2009 | Reply

      Especially if it can take the heat off your failing Minister, over the unemployment benefit system that breaks up families, the topic of this column and this thread.
      I doubt that you are actually familiar with the majority of cases of DPB beneficiaries.
      But by all means tells us your suggestion for fixing the DPB system.

    10. By B. Clusker on Jul 6, 2009 | Reply

      Lindsay the majority of people on the dpb are there because they have no other choice. Maybe for some people it is a ‘lifestyle’ whatever that means but if so it is a pretty miserable one. Unless you have actually experienced raising children on $277 per week you should refrain from making ridiculous generalisations.

    11. By remo on Jul 29, 2009 | Reply

      women receiving DPB need every bit of assistance they can get, and those undertaking study even more so. The only way to nurture the most vulnerable among us is to manage pathways into deeper learning , which provides for more self sufficient lives. Education. Participation.
      To burden our young and in many many cases abandoned young women/children with further stress, when their lives and their childrens lives are already hard enough in our punitive culture, is to burden our collective future.

      Paula Bennets actions are venal, self serving and vicious.Are actually insulting,and fall well below the standards required for Government.

    12. By Kellie Bowman on Jul 30, 2009 | Reply

      Shame on Paula Bennett for forgetting where she came from! I for one would be interested to know just how much benefit she was receiving as a single parent, INCLUDING her training incentive allowance, that allowed her to get where she is today.

      I would have thought that it would be in the Government’s best interest to assist single parents with their study costs so they could get off the benefit system – a short term investment for a positive long-term outcome.

      As a single parent currently completing a degree at university, I am determined to create a better future for myself and my son. I have worked hard and paid my taxes for the past 21 years, only to be made redundant and unable to find further full-time work. I am paying my way through my studies with my savings and income from a part-time job. I look forward to the day that I no longer have to rely on the benefit system!

      The retraction of the training incentive allowance has only made things harder for those already hard working single parents that are doing their best to better their lives.

      The National Government’s decisions have been of great concern from day one – I hate to imagine what they will do next!

      I have absolutlely NO sympathy for Paula Bennett – her actions are indefensible!

    13. By Nasty Old Witch on Oct 1, 2009 | Reply

      “Sue Bradford,“In the long term, poor educational, health and employment outcomes for children and adults in sole parent families will cost us more than easing rules on income levels and benefit entitlements.”

      So Bradford is now admitting that there is a problem with sole parent families. This is only because, she would counter, their benefits are insufficient and their children live in poverty.”

      Lindsay please tell me why we have sole parent families? Is it because women are being worked into the ground in their marriages. Its 24/7 going out to work and most often doing all the min 50 hours housework per week a mother of a couple of kids does per week. This min ( most woman laugh at this and say its a hell of a lot more) 50 hours doesnt sudenly disapear when the kids turn 5 although a lot of husbands now expect a woman to go out to work and do this 50 hours also once the kids are at school.

      Do you think it might be the 40 percent rate of male infidelity women are now experiencing.
      And unfortunately for the girls once again its the mother who pays for the husbands affair if she decides to leave. Child support is much cheaper than paying for a family.

      The problem is ofourse most women don’t complain about such things publicly becuase they know they will just get trashed and ignored. They also know it might just break up their marriage and they’ll be in a worse position.
      Could another problem be the 212000 cases where the police have been called to domestic abuse call outs and this figure will be the tip of the iceburg.

      Maybe if your employer/business partner beats you, cheats on you, or makes you work 90 hours a week so he can have a better life you should leave but ofcourse its illegal to leave that old business responsibiity ( the children ) unattended and theres no pay for meeting this legal requirement and if you want a break you will have to pay someone unless this ex partner is kind enough to help you out. So be you had better be nice to the asshole who has cheated on you and forced you into poverty. And many of the men in this country are just fed up with you speaking up about this dire unjustice. They are sick of hearing your cries for help.
      So shut up and be the politically correct woman the violent misoginists of NZ want you to be.

      Sorry lindsay In don’t know if you are physically violent though you are a creepy creepy guy from a females point of view. But you are most likely aware that most women wouldn’t dare tell you that.

    14. By lyndon on Oct 2, 2009 | Reply

      We should perhaps mention at this point that Lindsay Mitchell is a woman.

    15. By radioactive ass bomber on Oct 2, 2009 | Reply

      A woman can be a misogynist.
      *its probably bound to happen when one works intimately with the core of the business round table.
      We all know the DPB is deeply flawed, this has been known fact for some time(known by the Maori Party, Labour, national and the Greens).
      Curious that this issue is to be raised now while we are bailing out those that don’t deserve it, creating debt left right and centre.
      WHY bring it up now except that the poor in society can be vilified?
      Picking on the weakest- isn’t that the motto of cowards.
      You would be seeking to manipulate us when you try to open old wounds and set male Vs female.
      It is a topic of failed Govt policies-
      not man vs woman.

    16. By Aurora on Apr 8, 2010 | Reply

      Paula Bennet seems as clueless as they come, and yes she must carry the can as it were for this awful breaching of human rights. They want to force sickness beneficiaries to work part time for one dollar an hour.. who would seriously be able to work for one dollar an hour, when the min wage is twelve dollars an hour. These are people who have a signed doctors referral, as they are unable to carry on in normal working conditions. This is only going to create a longer recovery period for those who can recover. I can see the streets in our biggest cities full of Victorian era style beggars, children and adults alike. Good one NZ, what a mess this government is. Stand down National.

    17. By Aurora on Apr 8, 2010 | Reply

      I’d like to point out that these politicians, don’t have any idea what it is like to experience alarmingly high food costs that are increasing on a weekly basis. I can only imagine the hardship and stress on the single parent, trying to simply put food on the table. Our PM I’m certain never steps foot into a supermarket, let alone has any idea how much food costs these days, he is a multi millionaire, how can he possibly “get” the concerns of ordinary Kiwi families? And Paula Bennet is so inexperienced we are paying for her to be trained overseas? what is wrong with this picture?

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