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Social Development Minister Paula Bennett says it is ridiculous that soon-to-be-retired carers are being told to work under the new welfare regime.
Ms Bennett met Work and Income staff yesterday after reports that grandparents caring for their grandchildren were being asked to get back to work, sometimes just months from retirement.
"It was certainly not my expectation that people only six months away from retirement or who had children that had a special need . . . would be work-tested."
She had reinforced to staff that beneficiaries should be exempted from work obligations if factors such as age, location, transport or health made it clearly impractical. "I expect staff to use common sense."
She resisted calls for a separate benefit for grandparent carers, claiming their circumstances varied and some were able, and willing, to work.
Yesterday's Dominion Post revealed that grandparents who had given up jobs to care for children who would otherwise be under Child, Youth and Family care were being asked to get back to work.
Labour says the grandparent carers are only the first of many groups that will be unfairly caught out by the latest round of welfare reforms.
Its social development spokeswoman, Jacinda Ardern, said demanding that grandparents caring for often traumatised children find work or face sanctions "defied common sense".
"The majority are single grandmothers, aged over 55 and already struggling on low incomes," she said. "To lump them into the same category as a fit, 22-year-old job seeker, and force them to look for work when they are already doing one of the most undervalued jobs, is completely unreasonable."
However, grandparents were only the "tip of the iceberg" in a system that lumped 128,000 different beneficiaries into one category focused on finding work, she said.
"That is the issue with a broad-brush benefit. We will see more cases with people that have been unfairly lumped in as jobseekers."
Welfare changes introduced on July 15 have created an obligations for more than 120,000 beneficiaries to look for work or face cuts in payments. The new category is known as Jobseeker Support.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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