Submit on the Social Assistance (Future Focus) Bill

The Social Assistance (Future Focus) Bill has been referred to Parliament’s Social Services Select Committee for submissions.

This is an ideologically inspired beneficiary-bashing Bill that lacks any evidential support for most of its provisions.  The Regulatory Impact Statement from the Ministry of Social Development that accompanied its introduction stated:

There is no research currently available which accurately quantifies the size of the behavioural response from these changes in policies. This prevents estimates, with the degree of accuracy required, from being made of the number of people who will move from benefit to work over a year, as a result of the proposed changes.

In other words, Paula Bennett and her Ministry have no idea whether it will actually work.  Other criticisms of the Bill are that:

  • It discriminates on the basis of gender, marital status and family status and has been criticised by the Government’s own Attorney General, Christopher Finlayson, as being “…inconsistent with s 19(1) of the Bill of Rights Act and that this cannot be justified under s 5 of that Act.”

  • It proposes to force domestic purposes beneficiaries whose youngest child is aged 6 or over into the workforce.  When a similar policy was introduced in the late 1990s it had little impact in reducing DPB numbers.  It also has serious implications for the welfare of children, with a high likelihood of children being left “home alone” by parents who are forced to work but cannot arrange adequate childcare in the school holidays.
  • It proposes to force people on sickness benefit suffering from sickness and disability into the workforce with an effective income gain of less than $1 an hour if they earn more than $80 a week.  Both domestic purposes and sickness beneficiaries, because of their disadvantage in the labour market, are likely to find themselves competing for low-paid and casual or temporary work – hardly the recipe for closing the income gap with Australia.

Metiria Turei and Catherine Delahunty have produced a submission guide to assist people wanting to make submissions opposing this Bill.  The deadline for submissions is Friday 14 May 2010.

6 Comments Posted

  1. The key assumption according to the regulatory Impact satement is that work will become available as the economy picks up. Wow. is that why funding for Community Max and other youth employment initatives has maxed out and no longer availanle. have we not enough eligible for the UB chasing too few jobs without squeezing in others who halth/family status make fulltime work questionable.
    US General Accounting Office analysis of reforms of the mid-1990s, called Wiscounsin Welfare, showed that in the first year some found work, but they would have anyway. Other results showed poverty levels did not improve. They also discovered wages became even more depressed.
    The proposed reforms mimic what National and NZF tried in the mid-late 90s and they failed then. The current reforms fit within a supposed framework of closing the income gap with Australia but the opposite is likely with the removal of assistance like TIA and limited assistance for youth unemployed gaining jobs that might lead to skilled work.

  2. Until very recently I was a counsellor for people referred by their doctors for help with many conditions. A reasonable proportion were in receipt of a WINZ benefit. I can honestly say that in five years, out of hundreds of people, I saw no-one who could even remotely be charged with making their benefit a lifestyle choice. I saw lots of pretty messed up lives, especially with alcohol and drugs, where just getting through the day was a massive undertaking. I suppose it’s possible that those choosing their benefit as a lifestyle were so healthy that they never needed to see a doctor or counsellor – but I doubt it.
    No, this move by the government is classic conservative thinking. It’s been around at least since the Poor Law. It really sticks in the conservative craw that people should get paid for ‘sitting on their arses’. They hold the view that the poor are basically responsible for their own misfortune, and that they should just stop being so lazy,immoral and dishonest. As if these are confined to the poor alone! Last time I looked there were a lot of lazy, immoral and dishonest people at all levels of society. But of course there are many who share the Government’s view and they will be glad that something is being done to whip these dole-bludging wastrels into shape. As with the ‘three strikes’ policy it’ll make some people feel good, even though little will change.

  3. This is a bizarre Bill. They tried most of this stuff back in the 1990s to get people off the DPB and sickness benefit.

    It didn’t work then, and it won’t work now.

    Yet they abolish the Training Incentive Allowance for tertiary study that has been very successful in getting domestic purposes beneficiaries the qualifications to get off benefits and into long-term employment with a good income level. Instead, they should have extended TIA to long-term sickness beneficiaries, who often can work, but need qualifications to do the sort of sedentary work their impairments restrict them to.

    This “shunt them off into any old job, however short-term and however low paid” approach is really dumb policy – I guess typical of National Governments that can’t think past the next election. Most of the people they get off benefits with that approach will eventually be back on them.

  4. One would hope that alongside this policy there would be one stopping employers from offering beneficiaries lower rates than other employees. The likelihood of this? 0.001?!
    And has anyone actually said what will happen to the beneficiaries who are honestly unable to find a job, despite their best efforts?
    It astonishes me that any govt would decide to do something that has been proven to have no effect elsewhere. I’m not very happy with long-term welfare dependence (in some cases) either but this isn’t the way to fix it.

  5. This bill will provide a cheap labour force for New Zealand. I can imagine many employers advertising jobs at low rates because they know if the job is offered to certain people they will be obliged to accept the work or lose their benefit, even though the financial rewards would be negligible and their quality of life will deminish. There will be lots of people trapped in demeaning jobs on low pay under disreputable employers (who will probably discourage union membership as well).

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