Work tests for beneficiaries only fair

Last updated 05:00 01/04/2013

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OPINION: An important social contract underpins New Zealand's welfare system. At its heart is the principle that society will provide for individuals who are unable to support themselves on the understanding that those who are able to work will make an honest effort to look for employment.

The majority of beneficiaries take that responsibility seriously, and not just because they recognise it is their duty to minimise the amount of time they remain dependent on those who work for a living. Most also understand they will be far better off in paid employment, and those who have children realise their sons and daughters will have vastly improved lives if their parents are in work.

Sadly, however, some beneficiaries see it as their God-given right to remain on welfare for life and not only make no effort to improve their lot, but add to the burden on taxpayers.

They include women on the domestic purposes benefit who seem to believe they can have as many children as they want while remaining dependent on the state, and that workers will be happy to pay for them to have that privilege.

As Social Development Minister Paula Bennett has noted, sending a clear message to those women is reason enough on its own for the new work-test regime presently before Parliament.

The number of women who have had additional children while on the DPB is undeniably cause for concern. Between 1993 and 2011, almost a third of women who drew the benefit had at least one more child. In 2010 alone, 4800 children were born to solo mothers already on the DPB - 7.5 per cent of the total live births that year.

That is not fair on working parents who would dearly love more children, but who have put off increasing the size of their families because of economic pressures. It is also not fair to the children of those beneficiaries.

It has long been established that children in working families have far better health, education and social outcomes. That is true for children with one parent as well as those with two.

Not only do children in sole-parent families benefit from their mother or father having a higher income than they would get from welfare payments, they also benefit enormously from seeing their parents go out to work every day.

Under Mrs Bennett's changes, DPB recipients who have another child will have to look for part-time work once that child turns 1, if their older children are over 5.

Those who repeatedly refuse to take reasonable job offers will face cuts to their payments.

Critics of the reforms claim they will result in domestic purposes beneficiaries being punished for not being able to find a job in tough economic times. That claim is disingenuous.

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Nobody will have their benefit reduced or face any other sanction simply because they cannot secure work. Rather, they will merely be expected to actively look for employment, and accept reasonable offers that are presented to them.

That is something all beneficiaries who are able to work should be doing anyway.

- The Dominion Post

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