Check-up limited to 'most vulnerable' in system

TRACY WATKINS
Last updated 05:00 24/09/2012

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A new regime slapping tough sanctions on beneficiaries who fail to meet Government-imposed social obligations appears to be largely toothless for the majority of beneficiaries.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett yesterday said authorities would only check some of the most "vulnerable" children to make sure their parents met their obligations, which include enrolling children with a GP and in early childhood education.

Speaking on TVNZ's Q+A, Ms Bennett said about 20,000 to 25,000 children would be checked for compliance, out of 220,000 children in households reliant on a benefit.

"We will only be dealing with those who we class as vulnerable . . . the others, we expect them to [meet their obligations] but we won't be checking up to see if they have."

Ms Bennett also acknowledged that not all children needed to be in early childhood education.

"But I have seen enough evidence of these really vulnerable kids that are not getting access to what is freely available in most cases and which they can access, and they're the ones that are falling behind," Ms Bennett said. "They're the ones that I'm now dealing with at 16, 17 years old, they're the ones that I see in my youth justice facilities . . . I don't think that every child actually needs to be in early childhood education but I do think it benefits those that are most vulnerable so much that that's why I'm doing this."

Under the changes, parents will have their benefits halved if they fail to take "all reasonable steps" to keep their children in licensed or certificated early education for at least 15 hours a week from the age of 3 until they go to school.

Cabinet estimates there are 31,500 children, aged 3 and 4, whose parents are either on sole parent or couple benefits.

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- Fairfax Media

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