Beneficiary contraception plan 'intrusive'

The Government's plan to offer free long-term contraception for beneficiaries and their daughters is being labelled as an insult and intrusive to women's right to have children.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett yesterday said contraception would eventually be fully funded for female beneficiaries and their 16 to 19-year-old daughters.

The move was part of the first round of controversial welfare reforms that would cost the Government $287.5 million over four years, including $81.5m of new money.

Auckland Action Against Poverty spokeswoman Sue Bradford this morning said while the contraception was voluntary, it was "totally unacceptable" for the Government to get involved in women's reproduction.

"Most New Zealand women will not accept that. It's because beneficiaries are seen as people who are worth less than others," she said.

Bradford said the Government was persuading women to take contraception through sanctions, such as having beneficiaries who have an additional child on the benefit to look for work when that child was one.

"We believe that women in this country have the right to control their own reproduction," she said.

Child Poverty Action Group's Mike O'Brien agreed that offering free long-term contraceptive was offensive, but said the plan was also a distraction from helping those living below the poverty line.

"We are starting out at the wrong end. We are starting at the end of how you are getting people into work, rather than saying what do children need.

"What we've got is very narrow and in many respects quite punitive. It deflects from the really basic issues about providing for children," O'Brien said.

Bennett denied young women would be coerced to get a contraception implant.

"It's not compulsory, it's just something to add to them trying to plan their family so they've got choices. It's completely reasonable."

Bennett said she often heard young women could not afford contraception.

"There is often an additional cost. Some are subsidised, some are not and it depends on what is best for you and your body as to what you take," she told Radio New Zealand.

Bennett said she met young women who saw getting pregnant and going on the domestic purposes benefit as a "viable option".

"Twenty-nine per cent of those on benefits have had a child while on benefits, so that's pretty high numbers.

"What we are saying is if the cost is a barrier, let's help you overcome that cost so you've got choices."

Prime Minister John Key told TV3's Firstline programme that young people often engaged in sexual activity and the Government was trying to make sure the outcome was in their hands.

It wasn't new for the Government to subsidise contraception and the Health Ministry had provided free condoms for many years.

The long-term contraception was a more effective method of family planning, he said.

"The advantage as I understand it is that it is highly effective and really doesn't require too much thought. You're just on that programme and it lasts for three years."

Other welfare reforms included all solo-parent beneficiaries being required to look for part-time work when their youngest child is five, then full-time when that child is 14.

Assistance payments would provide young parents with up to $6 an hour for 50 hours a week for their children to attend approved early childhood education services.

That's on top of funding for the 1155 extra early-childhood education places needed to meet the needs of parents returning to work or study.

The biggest chunk of funding announced yesterday was for services aimed at 16 and 17-year-olds who were not in work, training or education.

Fairfax Media