Govt under fire over report on solo parents

Last updated 00:00 01/01/2009

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The Government has been accused of trying to hush up a report harshly critical of its reform of the domestic purposes benefit (DPB) and its impact on struggling solo parents.

Social Development and Employment Minister Ruth Dyson said yesterday the report was biased and based on poor research.

Some beneficiaries would "never be satisfied with the help and support they receive from Work and Income", and the authors of the 120-page study had used too small a sample, she said.

But the Green Party, a support partner for the Labour-led coalition government, welcomed the study by the Rotorua People's Advocacy Centre and accused the Government of trying to prevent its publication.

Initially commissioned by the Families Commission, official backing was pulled in the middle of last year, resulting in a six-month delay in publication.

The DPB reforms of 2002 resulted in a sharp decline in the number of solo parents receiving benefits through the use of individual case managers.

Previously, most benefit recipients were not subject to a work test owing to the age of their youngest child or were granted exemptions and were required to have only annual contact with case managers.

The report focused on the Ministry of Social Development's obligatory Personal Development and Employment Plan (PDEP) case management process and its effect on the family work-life balance of 15 recipients.

It found a "largely negative and disempowering relationship" between beneficiaries and Work and Income.

"It was felt that Work and Income was not forthcoming enough with extra assistance that might alleviate poverty and facilitate genuine personal and family development," the report said.

"On the whole, sole-parent DPB recipients felt that an emphasis on paid employment as the ultimate outcome ignored and devalued the work they were currently engaged in (as parents)."

One of the report's authors, Paul Blair, said the parents spoken to were living in relative poverty and some were coping with children with special needs.

"Adding full-time paid employment to this mix for many of these people would simply worsen their work-life balance," he said. "Part-time employment is a better option and it should be given statutory recognition through less punitive abatement rates of benefits."

Blair said there was still a stigma attached to DPB families. While there had been work done to improve the way Work and Income staff dealt with clients, the study revealed, "at times poignantly", there was still "some way to go".

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Several parents interviewed were not receiving their correct entitlements and one often went without food as a result, he said.

Green Party MP Sue Bradford welcomed the study's publication.

"It is a huge pity political interference from the highest levels meant they were forced to fund publication themselves, rather than have it produced by the Families Commission," she said.

Dyson said the researchers had used individuals for whom they were already providing advocacy.

"Independent surveys show 84 per cent of DPB clients are satisfied with the service they received from Work and Income," she said.

According to a Ministry of Social Development report published last month evaluating the reforms, the new regime was working well.

It said after the roll-out was completed in March 2004, numbers fell from 103,000 in June that year to 99,000 in June 2005.

- The Press

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