Welfare reforms passed, but protests won't stop
The Government's welfare reforms have become law but the controversial policy will continue to dog National, with a rowdy protest planned for the party's annual conference at Sky City this weekend.
Teen beneficiaries will have their payments managed as soon as next month and new requirements for solo beneficiary parents to look for work will come into effect in October. Parliament passed the changes by 64 votes to 57 last night.
The changes have been labelled an attack on the poor by beneficiary advocates, but the Government says it will modernise welfare and overhaul the system from a passive approach to an active, work-focused system.
Auckland Action Against Poverty and the Auckland-based student movement Blockade the Budget will picket National's conference on Sunday in protest to the reforms.
Under the changes, from October sole parents with children aged over five will be expected to look and be available for part-time work. Those with children over 14 will be expected to look for full-time work.
Auckland Action Against Poverty spokeswoman Sue Bradford said there were no jobs for beneficiaries to move into, especially those who could only work between the hours of 9am and 3pm, or who faced leaving their children at home alone after school.
"This is not creating any new jobs, but is harassing people off or out of the benefit system by making their lives so difficult, they will do anything to get off or stay off the benefit.''
The Government failed to realise that parenting was a job in itself, she said.
Beneficiaries will also been given access to long-term reversible contraception.
However, Labour's welfare spokeswoman Jacinda Ardern today said Parliament had been told beneficiaries would have to pay for it themselves in the first instance and be reimbursed by Work and Income.
Few beneficiaries could afford to pay $300 for contraception such as a hormone-based IUD, which many women used after they had children, she said.
"If you want to make contraception more available, start with low-income women and a much better measure for that would have been a Community Services Card.''
For most beneficiaries over the age of 19, the only change was extra work testing, Ardern said.
''The Government says it is revolutionising the welfare system but all they are doing is introducing a couple of extra tests for mums.''
For the first time in New Zealand history, private companies would be managing the payments of young beneficiaries, she said.
Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said aspects of the existing welfare system were out of step with modern life. For example the outgoing widow's and women alone benefits were available only for women.
"Young people in particular will have much greater obligations, but also greater supports to help them get the education needed to be independent of welfare."
The Government was specifically targeting teen parents and was providing $80 million for childcare so they could continue with their education and training, she said.
Blockade the Budget said it opposed the ''war on the poor, being carried out in this country by the National Party and a elite few who take everything and contribute nothing".
Prime Minister John Key said protests against the Government were to be expected.
"That comes with the territory. New Zealanders will say is the Government being fair? I think we are."
There would always be people who complained about the Government but they were largely its political opponents "as opposed to genuine aggression to what the Government was doing."