Welfare changes: Children lose, say advocates

KATE CHAPMAN
Last updated 13:26 28/02/2012
MARCUS WILD

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

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The Government's welfare reforms fail to take the needs of children into account, child advocates say.

The Government yesterday announced the roll-out of the first tranche of controversial welfare reforms that will see beneficiary parents forced to look for part-time work when their youngest child is five and full-time work when their youngest is 14.

One of the most contentious changes requires parents who have a baby while on the benefit to look for work after 12 months.

Private agencies will also be employed to manage the benefits of unemployed youth and teen parents.

Child Poverty Action Group spokesman Mike O'Brien said children were invisible in the changes although they would be "profoundly affected".

"At the very time the Government is consulting on vulnerable children, it is about to blow a huge hole in the safety net provided to thousands of children whose parents are on a benefit.

"The minister argues on the one hand that her first priority is the protection of vulnerable children so she needs to explain how the interests of children and so-called vulnerable children in particular are enhanced by these moves."

'PLENTY OF JOBS'

Prime Minister John Key said there were jobs for beneficiaries despite claims to the contrary by opposition parties.

Key said on any given day there were jobs available in the economy.

 "It's true, ultimately if every one was to get off welfare we'd need to create even more jobs, but that's the Government's whole agenda is to have a vibrant economy that does produce jobs."

Horticulture companies had to bring people from overseas, through the Pacific work scheme, because they couldn't find people in the local labour market despite there being more than 350,000 people on a benefit.

Those horticulture jobs may be in different locations, or did not suit people, Key said.

"I certainly accept there's not a job for every single person, but I don't accept there aren't some jobs out there."

At any one time there were 1000-2000 jobs being advertised through Work and Income and others through different outlets.

"Some people are more aggressive at looking for work than others and those that are more aggressive tend to find work."

The welfare system was there to help people when there were no jobs for them to go into, he said.

'NASTY PIECE OF WORK'

Auckland Action Against Poverty described the changes as a "nasty piece of work".

Spokeswoman Sue Bradford said the Government failed to understand two basic work concepts.

"The first is that there has to be jobs to go to before people can get paid work.

"The next is that bringing up children on your own is very important work in its own right."

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said she didn't agree with those who said the only jobs available were demeaning and low paid.

"I think any jobs a good job."

Cleaning jobs and work in fast food restaurants were "noble" and gave people experience to help them move on, she said.

People must be available for work but if they could not find a job they would not be punished.

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Labour leader David Shearer said the party supported people getting off welfare and in to work or training.

"The problem about these welfare reforms is actually that none of that is going to happen because the training opportunities are not there and there are no jobs," Shearer said.

"If there are jobs available for people and they're reasonable, then they should take those jobs. But a lot of those jobs are actually in difficult places to get to."

The big question was "where are those jobs?", he said.

Mana Party leader Hone Harawira said the Government wasn't creating jobs but taking them away.

He pointed to recent announcements of job losses at government departments including; 50 at the Maori Affairs Ministry Te Puni Kokiri, 305 from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and 70 from Housing New Zealand.

"I'm all for putting people into work, but the Government needs to take leadership on the issue rather than creating cycle tracks that employ no-one."

NZ First leader Winston Peters said National was just "whistling in the wind" because it had done nothing to improve the economy or create jobs.

"Since this Government took office in 2008 an extra 65,000 people have gone on benefits."

Making people be "work available" was a nonsense when hundreds of job losses were announced every week.

"The new measures have been designed by rich people to keep the poor and downtrodden in their place at the bottom of the heap."

FIRST ROUND OF CHANGES

- Solo parents on the dependent person, widow's and women alone benefits will be required to look for part-time work when their youngest child is five.

- Solo parents on those benefits will be required to look for full-time work when their youngest child is 14.

- Solo parents who have an additional child while on a benefit will be required to look for work after one year.

- Work and Income will be able to direct people to prepare for work early.16 and 17-year-olds on a benefit and teen parents will have essential costs, such as rent and power, paid directly on their behalf. Money for living costs will be loaded on a payment card and they will receive a maximum weekly allowance of up to $50.

- Young parents will get a childcare assistance payment to help them study.

- Young people will be encouraged to take budgeting or parenting courses and could get $10 a week more for doing so.

- Youth service providers will be incentivised to help them get young people into work, education or training.

- Information sharing will allow government agencies to target school leavers most at risk of going on to a benefit at 18.

READY AND WILLING, BUT THERE'S JUST NO JOB

Lauren Carline, 18, is ready, capable and willing to work. But no-one will give her a job.

After completing level 1 and 2 NCEA at Wellington East Girls' College, Ms Carline decided school was not for her and she left a couple of months into her final year to pursue a qualification in business administration at McGirr Associates.

She finished the course in December and was confident she would find work.

Just three months later she has signed on for the unemployment benefit. "I thought it would be real easy to get a job. But nope."

She has applied for jobs online, sometimes up to three a day, and usually does not hear back from the prospective employers at all.

"I'm capable of a lot of things. If they saw my CV, and if they met me, it would be a different story. I'd put in 110 per cent and I'd be willing to learn, but they just don't give me the chance."

Frustrated, Ms Carline travelled from Petone to Upper Hutt dropping her CV to stores and cafes along the way. She never heard anything back.

"I've honestly been so bored out of my mind ... I'll go wash dishes for nothing because I am that bored I just want a job."

Mana Party leader Hone Harawira said many beneficiaries wanted to work, but there were no jobs.

NZ First leader Winston Peters said National was just "whistling in the wind" because it had done nothing to improve the economy or create jobs.

* Comments on this story have now been closed.

- Stuff

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