A minority of people requiring state assistance will be on a benefit for the medium to long term or permanently. Most should be on it for the short term.
Responsible people accept help when they need it and do the best to become independent as soon as they are able to.
As Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said in announcing proposed changes to benefits:
“It’s not socially or financially sustainable to continue to spend eight billion dollars a year to pay benefits to 12 per cent of working age New Zealanders.”
There are clear links between welfare, poverty and poor health. Evidence shows children are better off when their parents are in work, not on welfare.
“We have greater aspirations for New Zealanders and their children, which are achieved through work, not welfare,” says Ms Bennett.
The proposal includes replacing unemployment, sickness, widows and women alone benefits with a new Jobseeker Support benefit. People on the DPB with children aged 14 or older will also be on the new benefit.
The name change is not just cosmetic, it signals a change in expectation, that those who can work should work.
Changes announced include:
• A new work-focused benefit called Jobseeker Support
• A part-time work expectation for sole parents with children over 5 years
• A full-time work expectation for sole parents with children over 14 years
• The new Sole Parent Support to replace DPB
• The new Supported Living Payment to replace Invalid’s Benefit and DPB care of sick and infirm
• An investment-based approach to the benefit system.
The investment based approach will tailor support to beneficiaries based on their likelihood of becoming long-term welfare dependent.
Expectations will centre on each individual’s capacity to work rather than ‘entitlements,’ shifting the focus to what people can do, not what they can’t.
Individuals receiving Jobseeker Support will have work expectations set depending on their capacity – full time, part time or temporarily exempt.
“Jobseeker Support will include those capable of work and those who are temporarily exempt, but will soon be able to work,” says Ms Bennett.
“Sole parents will be expected to be available for part-time work when their youngest is school-age and available for full-time work when their youngest turns 14, and like most New Zealanders, I think that’s absolutely reasonable.”
. . . Those currently on the Sickness Benefit will be included in Jobseeker Support and, according to work capability, will have a part-time or full-time work expectation or a temporary exemption until they are work-ready.
“The Sickness Benefit should be temporary but 40 per cent have been on it as long as four years, so these changes reset expectations of a return to work.”
A compassionate society looks after those who can’t look after themselves.
It doesn’t have a responsibility to support those who could and should be supporting themselves, although it may have to help them help themselves.
That help could include education and assistance with childcare.
The Supported Living Payment replaces the Invalid’s Benefit for those who are permanently and severely disabled, severely mentally ill or terminally ill.
“This benefit is for those who’re unable to work at all and the name change reflects the fact the term ‘invalid’ for many, is offensive and outdated.”
An investment approach guides how support is tailored to get the best results based on an individual’s likelihood of becoming long-term welfare dependent.
“For example, it makes sense to put more resources and support into helping a teen parent with no education, than to help a university graduate who is between jobs,” says Ms Bennett.
“Underpinning the investment based approach is a focus on the long-term social and financial cost of welfare dependency, not just on numbers.”
“170,000 New Zealanders spent the majority of the past decade on benefits, that’s bad for children, families, individuals and the economy,” says Ms Bennett.
Behind the numbers are people, many of whom have become trapped in welfare which isn’t good for them, the economy or society.
This policy aims to change that for the good of those on benefits, their dependents and the rest of us who support them.
A fact sheet Q & A on the policy is here.
Welfare Working Group chair Paula Rebstock says she’s encouraged by the scope of the policy:
Ms Rebstock says it’s encouraging the policy also commits $130 million a year towards reforms in areas including child care and training.
She says the National Party seems prepared to invest and look at the range of initiatives needed.
“There is no simple answer and there is no silver bullet”, she says.
Complex problems don’t have simple solutions. Resetting expectations so those on benefits who could work know they will be expected to and helping with training and child care so they can work will help.