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Welfare Report Criticised As Being Off The Mark

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Paula Rebstock
Paula Rebstock

Wellington, Aug 9 NZPA - A Welfare Working Group (WWG) report describing New Zealand's welfare system as outdated, unsustainable and not achieving what people should expect has been criticised as missing the point.

The WWG was established by the Government in April to review the welfare system and recommend how to improve economic and social outcomes for those in it.

A discussion document it released today said long-term benefit reliance had become increasingly prevalent.

"We have come to the view that the scale and consequences of long-term benefit receipt are deeply concerning and that the system is not achieving what New Zealanders could reasonably expect," said WWG chairwoman Paula Rebstock.

It said there were 98,300 people on domestic purposes benefits, 97,500 people on invalids benefits, 75,300 on unemployment benefits and 65,700 on sickness benefits. There were more than 356,000 people drawing some sort of benefit.

The report said the current system was unsustainable, didn't provide equal and fair opportunities for people on different benefit types and was associated with poor social outcomes.

Benefit support became important when the global economic crisis hit in 2008, the WWG said.

"But there is also evidence that many people who entered the benefit system as a result of the last recession have found it difficult to escape, and may go on to spend many years out of work."

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett and Prime Minister John Key in March announced plans to reduce the number of people receiving benefits by supporting them back into work and tightening rules around benefit eligibility.

The policy drew criticism from welfare groups and opposition MPs concerned that it would demonise beneficiaries.

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said today the WWG report missed the point and was a wasted opportunity.

"If you want people to work there has to be work out there and it has to be well enough paid that people can live on it without needing government support. That is not the case in this country," she told NZPA.

"All the Welfare Working Group is doing is, one, giving the Government justification for its policy -- which is what it always intended to do -- and two, fiddling around the edges of what is the real issue, which is that there are insufficient jobs..."

Green policy to address such issues included building 6000 state homes, which would address a "chronic" shortage of housing, while creating tens of thousands of new jobs. Getting beneficiaries into education so they could get skilled up for work was another initiative being ignored, she said.

Mr Key said the welfare system needed to be fair both to those who used it and those who paid for it and geared towards supporting the most vulnerable.

New Zealanders should be justified in assuming that those who can work should work, he said.

Business NZ chief executive Phil O'Reilly said the report was yet to make any recommendations and hoped it would "start a national conversation that will result in more New Zealanders in work".

Welfare Justice, an alternative working group set up to present its own perspective on welfare reform, has enlisted a group of university professors and researchers to compile a report which it will present to the Government by the end of the year.

Group member Mark Richards said at its launch last month that all voices needed to be heard in any debate about the future of the welfare system and the make-up of the WWG appeared "somewhat lacking in people who have experience on the beneficiary side of the counter".

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