Differing view on benefits

JO MOIR
Last updated 05:00 15/11/2011

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The plight of beneficiary Selena Vesely has highlighted the differences between New Plymouth's two election hopefuls.

New Plymouth MP Jonathan Young is taking the stand that taxpayers shouldn't have to foot the bill for beneficiaries to receive life's luxuries while Labour candidate Andrew Little says the benefit system needs a shake-up.

Work and Income (Winz) provides income-tested benefit assistance and requires beneficiaries to declare income from all sources – a requirement that has landed New Plymouth's Selena Vesely in a sticky situation.

Mr Young says taxpayers don't expect Winz to support beneficiaries who are receiving a regular second income. In Ms Vesely's case, her mother has been providing additional support on a fortnightly basis to top up her benefit which she says doesn't cover the cost of living.

In a Taranaki Daily News story yesterday, Ms Vesely said Winz had contacted her after she featured in an article earlier this month discussing how difficult it was to make ends meet.

After Winz called her asking for an explanation, Ms Vesely had to sign a declaration saying she wouldn't take any more payments or she could have her benefit cut.

Mr Little says the benefit system should be reviewed on a periodic basis and there need to be formulas in place to allow for adjustments on a case-by-case basis.

"It's a tricky situation when a family member is providing additional support. We don't want to stop or inhibit family members that are helping out in a difficult situation so instinctively I would say ... it's a case of looking at the thresholds," he said.

Regional Commissioner for Social Development Gloria Campbell said regular payments or support received for essential living costs have to be declared.

"That income has to be declared to us because it has an impact on how we abate her benefit ... We were not aware of that information," she said.

Ms Vesely has been unable to work because she suffers from sleep apnoea.

She believes the phone, internet and cellphone she pays for each month are necessities but Winz doesn't agree, she says.

Mr Young is another who says an additional cellphone or internet connection is not a basic need taxpayers should have to pay for.

"I think many people would accept that if someone has a health problem which might require emergency help, ensuring that person has a phone is appropriate. However, I don't think many would think an additional cellphone or internet connection is a basic need taxpayers should pay for."

Mr Little says another issue with the benefit system is the lack of incentive for beneficiaries to get back into work. "I have certainly had people on the DPB say to me, I'd like to transition into work but if they do any more than a small amount of hours they lose the whole lot. They're not saying leaving the DPB as it is but are saying give us some more flexibility."

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