Rules hard on jobless teens who want work

ALISTAIR BONE
Last updated 05:00 21/08/2012

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One thing stands out about the 40 teens spilled around the concrete bunker down off Hamilton's Victoria St.

It's not that they are down on their luck - this (Education Action, a private contractor the Government sends you to if you are young, out of school, offside with the cops or maybe down to one last chance.) is, after all, where you come if that's the case.

It's also not the crackling energy or adventures in hair and clothes that any group of teens in a small space produces.

The thing grabbing attention is something manager Leigh Finlay says and some of the teens confirm off their own bat.

It's that a third of them are prepared to tear up their benefit card, shrug off the support of family, friends and Government and wing it to Australia.

The latest changes to the dole will bring hardship, no question, but it's really peripheral to any kind of life plan going on in this city basement. They don't want it, they want the work they can't find.

On a Waikato day beaten up with rainstorms, serving in Perth or digging mines in the desert seems way better.

Patricia Oliver is 17. She'd go now, with just the basic training in retail she's got from being here.

The new arrangements won't touch her: there is nothing left after food and rent at the moment; she needs help with the bus fare to get here.

It's always a struggle - this week is a noodle week - and she'd be on the jet if only she had the money. She could stay with Nan in Coromandel, but the chance of jobs there is even less; Auckland's just a scary crime scene.

She's been out of school for a couple of years and looking since then. She knows there'd be no help in Oz. "No. I want to work," she says.

Seventeen-year-old George Johnson's mum put him on the benefit because the family need help.

He didn't know about the changes coming. But then, they don't worry him either. "That's all right. I don't really want to be on the benefit."

Given the power, he'd give those on the dole just enough to live on. Everyone else living under a Johnson administration would get a job.

Tony Wereta says he's heard about a bit of sly dealing, where rent is overstated and the excess payments find their way back to the beneficiary.

"Fifty dollars is not much bro, but it's all right."

His cash in hand will go down by nearly a half, but he believes the new deal will trip up the cheats and that's good. It's getting tiresome, but he says it anyway: "I'd rather work. You get heaps more."

Manager Leigh Finlay says it's part of the philosophy of the place to make the youngsters, some unemployed for years, positive and forward-looking. But she believes the Government's new arrangements will see some struggle.

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"Sometimes their budget is not just for them," Finlay says. "Sometimes it's shared among much more than them - younger sisters, elderly grandparents.

"Groceries are great, but when that extra heating bill comes in and you are trying to keep everyone else who stays with mum and dad warm and safe and dry and well, some of these kids pitch in."

Subsidising work placements at small businesses would be the way to go she says. There is an upside, rent is guaranteed and the kids aren't out on the street. But buying smokes and booze with the grocery money is not allowed.

Fifty bucks is not much for those with bad habits. Finlay has a calling and loves her brood.

But they are all tough kids in hard times and she can't be sure. "Will they start stealing stuff? I don't know."

THE CARD

The new $148 million government beneficiaries scheme was rolled out yesterday where young welfare recipients will be issued new youth service providers and new payment cards.

The payment cards will be loaded with a limited amount weekly to pay for items such as groceries and bills, but not alcohol or tobacco. Their rent will be paid directly to landlords.

The changes will affect beneficiaries aged 16 to 17 years, and 16-18-year-old parents.

The youth services scheme means that young beneficiaries will no longer be able to go into a Winz office to get help.

Hamilton organisations National Urban Maori Authority (Numa) and Te Wananga o Aotearoa Te Kuratini o Nga Waka will join 41 other community organisations nationwide in being responsible for providing youth services to beneficiaries.

The scheme aims to target up to 14,000 teenagers aged 16-17 who are not in education, employment or training.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said the key components of the services were mentoring with an emphasis on education and training, plus budgeting courses, and parenting courses for those with children.

Concerns have already been raised about the scheme, with Labour MP Jacinda Ardern saying it was not ready for release and should be further delayed or withdrawn completely.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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