Human Rights Commission slams Future Focus

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.

15 Comments Posted

  1. I always have trouble getting the regulatory impact statements that hide the bad side of this government’s legislation. Can you give me an easy link?


  2. Graham, Toad, BJ –

    thanks for responses – esp GH: interesting ideas there, I also viewed DK’s submission from Luke’s Lane crew, btw.

    Toad – just thought there might have been a chance you would get drawn down here for this one 😉

    BJ – given your (as I understand it) heavy load of commitments, I very much appreciate just the words of support!

    I’ll just plan on being lucidly stroppy by myself, and ad-lib from my submission notes.

    Have heard anecdotally that there were fewer submissions than expected on this one, so the process is going to be over quicker… hmm.
    Not sure whether I think that’s a good thing, or not. Veering towards not, actually.

  3. We have been trying to get an Early childhood education centre going for a few years now – after jumping through all the hoops that the previous government put in place (and dealing with incompetent civil servants which put us back 18 months) we got to the point of being able to apply for the money to actually build it. Guess what: the new Key government had frozen the funding so we couldn’t proceed. Now it is not there at all.

    Granted this is a rural area and that South Auckland has many, many more children who need a pre-school service (about 2,000+) but still there were 90 or so families/solo parents on WINZ books who would love to have been able to look for work, do training or upskilling and who now cannot. No training incentive allowance either,but most of these would still have gone back to education.

    Removing the huge amounts they have from the various levels of education is such an unbelievably stupid and retrograde step – back to the 19th century it seems.

  4. Last Wednesday a number of people from a benfit rights background presented some examples of the mayhem/distress that will result should the bill become law. Dr L Mitchell also opposed the law changes.
    My own submissions indicated the need for a more precise price index than the CPI with which to annually adjust benefits; that the abatement chnages need to apply to all benefit types with an encouragement to part-time work part of the package of encouraging/moving people to full-time work; and the changes to the advances of benefit system will actually force people more to the loan sharks who have been known to sell their debts to organised crime.
    Other mess creation is the annual UB application process, and sB renewal processes, the sanction regime, part-time work-testing DPBers..
    AND then there is the Welfare Reform Taskforce.
    I will try and get there this Wednesday.

  5. Have my speaking slot confirmed for Select Committee on Weds arvo, 4pm-ish.

    Toad, frog, any takers to accompany me? 😉

  6. Interesting, if the report found that, solo parents being unable to find suitable childcare is a big impediment to getting them off unemployment, it is very lucky we just cut early childcare over $100,000,000 a year for the next four years…

  7. Get somebody competent to do it.

    Doing it yourself, clumsily, and causing unnecessary suffering would be inhumane.

    ( Where’s Raybon Kahn when we need him 😕 )

  8. I have always preferred “A Wizard of Earthsea”, by Ursula K. Le Guin, to the Harry Potter series. LeGuin’s young wizard was instructed in the arts of magic and scorcery but was also warned of the responsibility it involved. To change the status quo or natural course of things, no matter high slight it may appear, there would always be wider consequences or ongoing reverberations that one may not always predict.

    I have the feeling this government enjoy waving wands and magically transforming New Zealand Society in a devil-may-care manner similar to a young wizard with no sense of responsibility. The long term costs won’t be immediately apparent but I can imagine them growing into a similar dark and shadowy demon that haunted Le Quin’s young wizard when he unintentionally released it through thoughtless actions.

  9. Another reactionary bill so what should a pre solo mother do when her husband becomes a total pain in the ar$e!! Murder Him?

  10. It will be interesting to see what the Select Committee does, given that Chris Finlayson as Attorney-General has found the Bill to be inconsistent with the NZ Bill of Rights Act. Mind you, that didn’t stop them with Three Strikes. Guess the bennies and the crims don’t have any human rights if you look at it from a NACT perspective.

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