Cancel dole after year, says Bennett

BY COLIN ESPINER
Last updated 05:00 23/12/2009
Paula Bennett
PHIL REID/Dominion Post
UNDER THE MICROSCOPE: Social Development Minister Paula Bennett is considering controversial changes to benefits.
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The Government is considering cancelling unemployment benefits after a year and forcing beneficiaries to reapply.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett unveiled the radical proposal a day after revelations that 300 long-term beneficiaries are receiving more than $1000 a week from the taxpayer.

It was revealed yesterday that the Harris family in Christchurch had received unemployment and sickness benefits for 25 years and recently received special-needs grants from Work and Income to fence their swimming pool and put new tyres on their 2007 Chrysler saloon.

The Harris family, which has links to gang activity dating back to the 1970s, receives $1000 a week from the taxpayer and has been given more than $30,000 in special-needs grants since 2000.

Former gang leader Darryl Harris, who has been on a benefit since 1984, was jailed in 1991 for the shooting of two Highway 61 gang members.

Ms Bennett said yesterday that she was planning changes, including a proposal to cancel the unemployment benefit of any beneficiary after 12 months.

Time-limited benefits were proposed by former National Party leader Don Brash, but the party dropped the idea before last year's election as too controversial.

Ms Bennett said the idea needed to be reconsidered in the light of new figures revealing the number of long-term beneficiaries.

Prime Minister John Key said he was concerned about the benefit revelations. Though most recipients needed their benefits and did not abuse the system, the Government would crack down on those who abused it, he said.

Other changes under consideration by the Government are understood to include work-testing for domestic purpose beneficiaries whose youngest child has turned six, compulsory budgeting advice for beneficiaries who claim frequent grants, and part-time work obligations for some sickness and invalid beneficiaries.

Information made public yesterday under the Official Information Act shows 6654 people have been on unemployment benefit for more than a year as of September, and 816 on the dole for more than five years.

Harris is on a sickness benefit because he has a medical opinion saying he has cannabis addiction. He must get reassessed by a doctor every 13 weeks, but Work and Income said yesterday that it could not force him to undertake drug or alcohol rehabilitation under existing laws.

Rehabilitation programmes exist for sickness beneficiaries addicted to drugs, but the department cannot force them to attend or withhold their benefit if they refuse.

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Yesterday Ms Bennett issued details of other beneficiaries receiving more than $1000 a week, including several who get $1700 a week. Many look after other people's children, and their names have been deleted from the files made public.

- The Dominion Post

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