Activist on dole may be told to get a real job

BY MARTIN KAY
Last updated 05:00 25/02/2010
Benjamin Easton
ANDREW GORRIE/The Dominion Post
HOMELESS NO MORE: Benjamin Easton after moving into his council flat.

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An unemployed Wellington man who boasted he was living on the dole to run court crusades on social issues has been told to report for an immediate work test.

Benjamin Easton, who has lodged an Environment Court appeal to stop Manners Mall being turned into a buses-only road, told The Dominion Post on Tuesday he was "deliberately and directly" on the dole so he could bring "the people's challenge to the courts".

"It is a sacrifice, really. I am perfectly capable of earning."

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said she was "appalled" by the comments, and Work and Income officials had called Mr Easton in for an immediate work test after reading them.

She would not comment on what that would involve in his specific case, but said his views indicated he was in the category of beneficiaries to be targeted under a new regime of work tests due this year.

"It's exactly the type of person that our welfare changes are meant to identify and actually move off a benefit and into work. There will be obligations on people like him that they must meet."

Mr Easton said he had been told to attend Work and Income at 9.30am today, but he was not worried about the potential threat to his benefit.

"I'll take to them the information of what it is I've presented to court relative to the issues I've raised, and if anyone's gainfully employed, it's me. I'm working hard. The amount of hours I've put into these proceedings in the public interest is extraordinary."

Mr Easton – who has taken several cases on a range of issues – has lodged an appeal against Wellington City Council's $11.1 million project to make Manners Mall a bus route.

Mediation is set for next week, but if it fails the resulting court action could cost the council up to $90,000. Last year, it spent $72,000 successfully defending Mr Easton's High Court bid to stop the proposal.

The appeal is being taken on behalf of protest group The City is Ours, which has applied for legal aid.

The row comes as Ms Bennett prepares new work-test rules that will see people on the dole lose their benefit after a year if they cannot show an honest attempt to find work.

"If you say, `well, actually, I haven't done anything and I live deliberately and directly on the unemployment benefit so I can bring the people's challenge to the courts and to the system', then we will cancel your benefit."

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She is also planning compulsory work tests for sickness beneficiaries deemed fit to work part-time and domestic purposes beneficiaries whose youngest child is six.

Ms Bennett said she wanted a simplified system for work tests, with graduated sanctions rather than the current sole sanction of complete suspension or cancellation.

- The Dominion Post

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