Editorial: Line drawn on benefits

PETER O'NEILL
Last updated 05:00 16/07/2013

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Some major changes in the country's benefit system kicked in yesterday.

The aim ... to reduce the number of beneficiaries by getting them into work. Or off the books.

How? A changed structure, a changed approach. More Work and Income staff have been employed and more of them will be focused on supporting people into work.

The Government thinks that most people on a benefit can work, and that they want to, they just have to be matched with the jobs. Assuming the jobs are there.

A trial run since October, which included the Timaru office although not in a big way, showed remarkable results.

Of 10,000 people involved, 6000 of them are no longer on a benefit. More than half found work, but the rest opted out or were no longer meeting benefit eligibility requirements. You'd have to ask, where are they now? No job, no benefit? How are they living? Crime?

So the new system is pretty tough. You have to prove you are looking for work. You have to be work ready, and that could include being drug free. Solo parents and widows with children aged 14 and over are expected to be available for fulltime work.

All of which is fine, if case managers bring the supportive approach rather than the big stick. So the case managers are key in making this work, and it makes a lot of sense that the same manager works through the process with the same pool of clients. And that there's a focus on long-term beneficiaries.

In Timaru there are around 250 unemployed people, which isn't that many, and perhaps jobs could be found for a fair proportion of them. Under the new set-up though there will be more focus on the 420 people on the sickness benefit, and on those among the 886 domestic purposes beneficiaries who have children aged 14 or more.

The devil will be in the detail, and you can expect some allegations of discrimination, some beneficiaries who feel picked on.

But if someone can work and a job is available, there is an expectation within reason that they should take it. The job has to fit the person.

A line has been drawn in the sand though. The Government expects to save some serious money here. Watch this space.

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