Yesterday we found out that MSD plans home visits to “check in” on sole parent beneficiaries after 14 weeks to make sure they’re still living alone.
The Minister has noted “relationships could develop quickly and some people might not be aware of their obligation to tell Work and Income.” This is actually not even true. It’s fine to be on the DPB and have a relationship. You can even live with a girlfriend or boyfriend and not have to tell them. The legislative test is whether your relationship is in the nature of marriage and this requires financial interdependence, (meaning actual or a willingness to support if the need arose), cohabitation and emotional commitment.
The government is trying to make this sound benign, helpful, friendly even but it is undoubtedly an incredibly invasive initiative of the scale we’ve never seen before in New Zealand.
Work and income staff are not generally on friendly terms with people needing their assistance. The power imbalance is completely out of wack. Further, it sounds as if integrity services will be visiting people in their homes. That is intimidating.
How are they going to prove a relationship from a home visit? What will happen if someone says no thanks at the door?
We need to remember too that many of the people they will be visiting will be women in the process of leaving violent relationships. This is on top of the work test obligations, threats of drug testing, and social obligations specific just to them because now they’re on a benefit they obviously can’t make good decisions for their children. We need remember too that all around the country women in violent relationships will be learning more about what life will be like for them if they leave and need income support. These stories will be a factor in their decisions to leave or not.
These policies undermine our efforts to look after vulnerable children and reduce domestic violence and I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that’s a bigger problem for us as a country than any welfare dependency.
Yet, while I say all this, today in select committee we heard, contrary to what has been reported, that they’re actually just planning on piloting this. They won’t be targeting everyone on the DPB – just some but they couldn’t tell us who – a National member of the committee helpfully suggested it might be trialled in different geographical areas, possibly balanced by gender and ethnicity.
They’re not allocating any extra staff or resources to it, at this stage, and haven’t even worked out where or how they’re going to do it.
I’m sure they will roll this out at some stage but considering how it’s been presented vs the apparent lack of real policy work behind it, it’s hard not to see this as another example of beneficiary baiting to distract from their other political failures.