Rebstock appointment to welfare reform board concerns

Last updated 08:40 16/05/2012

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There is concern the Government is moving towards a corporate approach to benefits with the appointment of a business-focused new board to oversee welfare reform.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett yesterday announced the board would establish the Government's new "investment approach" to welfare.

The board will be chaired by former Welfare Working Group head Paula Rebstock, who is a former Commerce Commission chair.

It also includes the head of the private insurer Southern Cross Healthcare Group Ian McPherson, businessman Andrew Body, company directors Reg Barrett and Debbie Packer who both have private and public sector experience, and rehabilitation expert and Welfare Working Group member Professor Kathryn McPherson.

Auckland Action Against Poverty spokeswoman Sue Bradford said Bennett was supposed to be in charge of her department.

"Not a random bunch of people pulled from the corporate world with little understanding of the issues faced by people on benefits, and with little sympathy for vulnerable people when the system fails them."

The new board's mandate to oversee an investment approach showed the Government was moving towards a corporate approach to welfare.

"This radical reform is taking place at a time when government economic policies are failing badly, unemployment is rising and the world is facing a very uncertain economic future."

Labour's social development minister Jacinda Ardern said the Government was using the board to further some of the radical ideas of the Welfare Working Group which it did not adopt.

Those ideas included using a private insurance model for Work and Income, setting up a superannuation-type fund to pay for forecast future welfare payments or using an ACC model.

"The minister has announced the same title [as the Welfare Working Group idea] of an 'investment approach' but as said all they are doing [is] monitoring welfare reform."

There was concern recent changes to youth services which gave 16 and 17-year-olds bonuses for completing courses were a pilot for wider welfare reforms, Ardern said.

Bennett today acknowledged on Radio New Zealand the board would take a more business approach to welfare.

"If you look a the lifetime costs for those on benefits and then work out on a month by month basis where it's looking, where the liability lies and the type of responses that needs."

The minister denied she was handing over control of welfare to the board but acknowledged it was a new approach.

"This board will be giving advice and support to the chief executive and myself and I think it's a good thing to be happening."

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Rebstock had detailed knowledge of the welfare system, was an appropriate chair for the board and would adhere to the Government's policy, Bennett said.

"I don't have concerns at all she will be pushing a different agenda."

- Stuff

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