Remember the bad old days when Jenny Shipley was Minister of Social Welfare and there were beneficiary bashing measures in every Budget (including the benefit cuts in the 1991 Mother of All Budgets that have never been restored)?
Surprised there is nothing similar in this year’s Budget?
That’s because this Government has got clever, and is introducing its beneficiary bashing measures through a Bill quite separate from the Budget – the Social Assistance (Future Focus) Bill. Less media attention that way, you see.
Yesterday, Parliament’s Social Services Select Committee heard the Human Rights Commission’s submission on the Future Focus Bill. I don’t think I’m being overly cynical to suggest the timing was a deliberate Government ploy – hearing the Commission’s submission on Budget day guaranteed it received little media attention.
The Commission slams the Future Focus Bill, saying it:
- Discriminates against certain groups
- Contravenes New Zealand’s international obligations
- Is unlikely to achieve its purpose given the lack of available jobs in the time frame proposed
- Has the potential to impact on young children if parents are forced to return to work and cannot arrange satisfactory childcare
- Places extra burdens on sickness beneficiaries
- Perpetuates stereotypes about already vulnerable groups.
It says the Bill discriminates on the bases of:
- sex (widows with children do not have to undertake the test but widowers do)
- marital status (solo parents whose partner is deceased do not have to take the part-time work test but solo parents who are not with their partner for other reasons – for example, they are divorced or separated – do)
- family status (older single people who receive the DPB (solo parent benefit) because they are caring for children are treated differently as they will be subject to the work test and associated sanctions whereas older single women who may have cared for children but no longer do receive the DPB (women alone benefit) which is not subject to the work test
The Commission has recently undertaken a large work-based project, the National Conversation about Work, across 16 regions and involving 3000 employers, employees and community groups. Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Dr Judy McGregor stated:
Overwhelmingly we found that New Zealanders made redundant in the recession want work, that disabled people were disproportionately affected by the economic downturn and are now on invalids benefits and that many solo parents just cannot find childcare that allows them part time work.
Given that finding, wouldn’t it be a good idea for Government to implement measures to assist our citizens who are most disadvantaged in the job market into employment? But Paula Bennett seems to want to further victimise and stigmatise them with the punitive measures Future Focus proposes to introduce.