New work rules for sole parents

KATE CHAPMAN AND DANYA LEVY
Last updated 16:15 27/02/2012
MARCUS WILD

SHAKE UP: Social Development Minister Paula Bennett and Prime Minister John Key announce the welfare changes.

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New laws requiring beneficiaries with children to look for work will be introduced next month.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett announced today that the first stage of National's welfare reforms will get underway in March.

Legislation will be introduced requiring sole parents on the Dependent Purposes Benefit with children aged 5 and older to look for part-time work.

Those whose children are 14 or older will be required to look for full-time work.

These expectations will also apply to those on the Widow's and Women Alone benefits, and partners of beneficiaries with children.

Sole parents on a benefit who have additional children will be required to work part-time when their baby is one.

Changes affecting unemployed youth and teen parents will also be included in the first role-out of the welfare reform.

Essential costs such as rent and power will be paid directly.

Other money, to cover the likes of groceries, will be put on a payment card.

Youth will be able to increase their payments through an incentive scheme, for example young parents will be able to get $10 extra a week after completing a parenting course.

Bennett said the existing system was out-of-touch with modern life.

"Instead of just handing benefits over and leaving people to their own devices, the National-led Government is taking an active approach."

"Despite the good intentions of the welfare system, it's now creating a cycle of dependence."

Almost a third of sole mothers worked full-time and few relied on men to support them.

Asking those with a child aged one to return to part-time work was in line with paid parental leave.

"We should be supporting beneficiaries to move off benefits where possible."

Currently, 351,000 people, 13 per cent of the working age population, are on a benefit.

The changes are expected to take 46,000 off a benefit and to see 7000-11,000 beneficiaries working part-time.

The reforms will cost $130 million a year with an expected saving of $1 billion over four years. Benefit rates will stay the same.

Prime Minister John Key said the current system was not working.

"I think it's costing the taxpayer a lot of money, but it's also not benefiting those that are on it."

It was about making people work-ready, he said.

If there were no jobs available they would continue to receive their benefit. Legislation will be introduced next month and the first tranche of changes be phased in from July 2012 with all implemented by 2013.

Earlier, Labour leader David Shearer said opportunities to make people work did not exist.

Shearer said he agreed those who could work should, but the opportunities just weren't there.

"Everybody in New Zealand, I believe, would want to make sure people are cared for when they need that care but they also want to see the other side which is the responsibility."

The responsibility was to move off welfare and back into productive work when able to, Shearer said.

However, people needed opportunities to be able to achieve that, he said.

"That's in the form of training, which I actually think is lacking, it's in the form of jobs, which there are very few of out there."

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The announcement today seemed to be a "re-heat" of previous announcements.

He would wait to see the details before commenting specifically on the Government's plans.

Key this morning said 13 per cent of the working age population, or 350,000 New Zealanders supporting 220,000 children, were on some type of benefit.

That cost the Government $20 million at day, or $8 billion a year.

"The emphasis has got to be if you can work, that you should work and people should make themselves available to work," he told TVNZ's Breakfast programme.

"The Government has a role making sure the economy is strong enough to support jobs but in the end those welfare numbers have to come down."

There were a group of 16 and 17-year-olds who were not at school, in work or in training.

"They are on a collision course. That group, and there is thousands of them, when they turn 18, the day they are eligible for a benefit, they will go and apply for one.

"So we need to invest in them very heavily and take them off that pathway to the Work and Income office."

Key denied the Government had a punitive approach to welfare reform, saying its proposals were balanced.

"It will be a combination of investing in childcare and training, and giving people the confidence to get back into the workforce."

Thousands of people had gone off the unemployment benefit when the Government introduced Future Focus in 2010 which required beneficiaries to reapply for their benefit after 12 months.

* Comments on this story have now been closed.

- Stuff

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