There were several very powerful submissions from people talking about what these changes would have meant for them as well as some very personal presentations that spoke quite deeply to our values and compassion, and the potential for a loss of life due to these changes.
The Home schooling lobby was very well represented and made some strong points about how much money home schooling is saving the Government and the positive educational outcomes of home schooling, which are undercut by the Bill as it is currently written.
There was support for welfare reform and protection of New Zealand’s most vulnerable but significant disagreement about how to do that.
The Caritas submission brought a couple of quiet tears to my eyes that hopefully no-one noticed. The sense of futility and disappointment they’re feeling with the entire parliamentary system is deeply concerning. Lisa Beech has been presenting to select committees for 25 years and has never felt it was more meaningless. It was also strangely reassuring in a very saddening way because it made me realise that my experience and concern that I wasn’t finding a way to speak into the process in a way that managed to result in any particularly effective change, wasn’t necessarily anything to do with me. Reassuring but also quite worrying, because what is the point if we can’t make a difference. The Chair, of course, reassured Caritas that they were listening and did really value their contribution. I hope this is so.
Caritas help up the Dominion Post advertisement with the full page headline Where are the Jobs. They were challenged rather bizarely I thought by a member of the National party that this headline didn’t necessarily represent the editorial line of the paper but was rather probably just a quote made by someone else. They also spoke simply and eloquently about values of compassion for the vulnerable.
The Legislation Advisory Committee, a committee of the attorney general, also gave a very strong submission raising significant concerns about the state of the Act which has been amended 131 times with 54 new sections added since it was first written. They noted that this Act really matters in the trenches to people especially to people who don’t have the money to get a lawyer to interpret the Act for them. I would also note that it also creates an unnecessary pressure on the case workers who are expected to be able to administer the ACT. The lack of clarity and the over 50 points of discretion cuts across guidelines for legislation and the cabinet manual advice.
Regulations must be reviewable but who wants to head off to judicial review.
There is a fundamental constitutional principle that people should be able to know their rights and entitlements. It creates risks for individuals and also risk in terms of litigation when their rights and entitlements are unclear.
The New Zealand Council for Christian Social Services agreed we need to invest in people and agreed that most people on benefits would like to work if given the chance. Given that don’t understand direction of this Bill. In business we don’t incentivise activities by punishing usually done with rewarding.
Know that benefits are the absolute minimum and many currently live in poverty. They would like to see acknowledgement that good parents deserve additional support. What an opportunity to support families. Currently it’s heart breaking to see good parents caught up in the desperation of poverty.
The organisation has concerns specifically regarding the impact of these changes on people struggling mental illness and believe the additional stress of work testing and possible sanctions could increase mental illness.
They would like the Government to think more about how we can support good employment practices. They noted that new employees are not entitled to sick leave until they’ve been in a job for 6 months and for sole parents this can put them on a benefit work benefit cycle, that doesn’t actually help anyone.
In response to a National party MP questioning re how to break intergenerational welfare dependency NZCCSS noted generational family disadvantage shows in many ways one is the break-down of wider family structures which often means sole parents can be really sole parents without any of the wider family supports that others may take for granted. This cycle will not be broken by these reforms. They noted the cycle of disadvantage in this country whakapapas back to the welfare reforms of the eighties. Clearly this would indicate a different approach would be the best way to break that cycle, and that this Bill is actually an extension of those reforms rather than any break.
Plus to add my two bits – intergenerational welfare dependency is a bit of a myth to begin with. Research has not shown causation only a pretty small correlation. This is in the same camp for me as trying to fix child poverty by getting parents off welfare – disingenuous at best.
NZCCSS proposes a child welfare test rather than a work test.