The contrast between policies of left and right have been well illustrated in the past week.
National’s education policy announced by Prime Minister John Key is designed to help people go forward.
The Green Party then released its education policy which had very little to do with improving educational achievement and addressing the long tail of under achievers and a lot to do with welfare.
Labour’s policy was also mostly about welfare, whether or not the recipients are in need of it.
Like most policies from the left they didn’t address the causes of any problems and Labour’s policy would remove the incentive for beneficiaries to seek work.
For all the pious words about caring for the poor, the opposition has fought tooth and nail against every move National has made in the area which will do the most to reduce poverty in the long term and that’s get people off welfare and into work.
In spite of the trenchant opposition to its reforms, National has implemented them and they’re working:
Comprehensive welfare reforms introduced over the past year are delivering strong results, says Social Development Minister Paula Bennett.
“We’re seeing positive developments as we implement welfare reforms to help more New Zealanders move from welfare into independence.”
“Our first priority has always been to either divert young people from entering the welfare system at all, or supporting them off benefit quickly,” says Mrs Bennett.
There are currently around 3,000 teen parents and 16 and 17 year olds on benefits, almost every single one is now under money management.
That means a specialist youth provider works with them to ensure their bills are paid directly, before grocery money goes on a payment card, with up to $50 in the hand. They can’t use the card to buy cigarettes or alcohol.
“Evidence clearly tells us young people who go on benefit, are at the greatest risk of staying there long term over their lives.
“Under the old welfare system, a fistful of cash was essentially handed to teenagers – hundreds of dollars – and they were just left to get on with it,” says Mrs Bennett.
Around the world, countries are grappling with the issues of young people who are Not in Education, Employment or Training and this Government is focused on solutions that work for New Zealand.
This Government has reached out and managed to re-engage with 9,000 young people classed as NEET and connected them to Youth Services even if they don’t go on a benefit.
“I’m proud to say we now have 63% of those 9,000 young people actually in education.
“The best possible outcome for these young people is to re-engage in education because without that, their job prospects are seriously limited,” says Mrs Bennett.
Other changes to the welfare system include stopping benefits to those on the run from police. Beneficiaries are given fair warning to clear outstanding warrants for their arrest or their benefit will be suspended.
So far more than 1,000 warrants have been cleared as a result of this policy.
A change that was introduced as part of Future Focus reforms in 2010, and continued under the new system, is a requirement to reapply for the Jobseeker Support (formerly Unemployment) Benefit after one year.
Since Jobseeker Support was established in July last year, around 4,500 Jobseeker benefits have been cancelled during the reapplication process.
More than a third of those cancellations were due to the fact individuals had already found work and a further 37% didn’t bother to fill in the form.
Another new policy was designed to incentivise people making the decision to proactively move from welfare to work before they are required to.
The Work Bonus allows people to keep some of the benefit for the first few weeks in a new job.
So far, more than 2,500 people have received the Work Bonus, the vast majority of whom were sole parents moving into work.
“Every week more than 1,500 people move off welfare into work and we’re backing every one of them,” says Mrs Bennett.
Many of these people have needed a lot of support and have overcome significant challenges to get and keep a job:
“Twenty-four year old James has battled brain cancer and is legally blind, but none of that has dented his incredible determination to work,” says Mrs Bennett.
James has received a Supported Living Payment (previously called Invalid’s Benefit), since he was diagnosed with a brain tumour at age 18.
People on this benefit are not required to work.
“With the help of his family and friends, James found a removal company prepared to offer him 20 hours of work a week, working in the storeroom.
“After a referral from a specialist health and disability provider, Work and Income negotiated a wage subsidy with James’ employer to allow them to stretch to providing more hours.
“This determined young man is now working 30 hours a week. I’m in awe of his motivation to work despite his many challenges and the fact that there is no requirement for him to do so.
‘I’m told his boss is really impressed with James’ attitude and motivation and plans to keep him on long-term,” says Mrs Bennett.
This employer indicated that the job subsidy has made a big difference with meeting the costs of training and support to help James on the job.
The Government supports around 7,000 people a year through wage subsidies which allow employers to take on staff who may require extra support.
There are currently more than 3,300 people on Supported Living Payment who are working part time.
Under new welfare reforms, the name of this benefit was changed and while there is a new streamlined process for new applications, the entitlement and qualification rules remained the same.
“Without question, the welfare system is there to support those in genuine need and New Zealanders with serious disabilities and terminal illnesses should be provided support without onerous paperwork.
“We also have a responsibility to support anyone on this benefit who wants to work; it is a basic right to be able to participate in work like anyone else,” says Mrs Bennett.
Notes: People assessed as legally blind may continue to receive a benefit while working.
Benefit dependence is one of the biggest pointers to poor social, educational, health and financial outcomes.
Opposition policies don’t recognise this and would keep holding people back.
National’s policies do recognise this and are helping people move forward.