Benefit changes 'ludicrous in job climate'

JONATHAN CARSON AND FAIRFAX
Last updated 05:00 28/02/2012
MARCUS WILD

SHAKE UP: Social Development Minister Paula Bennett and Prime Minister John Key announce the welfare changes.

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New laws requiring beneficiaries with children to look for work will be introduced next month.

But Poverty Action Waikato researcher Anna Cox says forcing people into work is "ludicrous" in the current job climate.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett announced yesterday that the first stage of National's welfare reforms will get under way in March.

Legislation will require parents on the Dependent Purposes Benefit with – children aged 5 and older – to look for part-time work.

Those whose children are 14 or older will be required to look for fulltime work.

These expectations will also apply to those on the Widow's and Women Alone benefits, and partners of beneficiaries with children.

Sole parents on a benefit who have additional children will be required to work part-time when their baby is one.

Ms Cox urged caution around forcing parents into work due to the impact it could have on the family unit.

"I think we have to be really careful when we're pushing parents into work because everyone's circumstances are really different so you just can't take a broad brush approach to this kind of thing," she said.

"Our major concern would be how it will impact our children, the stress it will put some people under to find work and what that will then do to the family unit and, in particular, to sole parents who are struggling to do their job as a parent alone.

"We need to value parenting as a job actually – as work."

Changes affecting unemployed youth and teen parents will also be included in the first role-out of the welfare reform.

Essential costs such as rent and power will be paid directly. Other money, to cover the likes of groceries, will be put on a payment card.

Prime Minister John Key said the current system was not working.

"I think it's costing the taxpayer a lot of money, but it's also not benefiting those that are on it."

If there were no jobs available people would continue to receive their benefit.

Ms Cox said it made no sense to force people into work that wasn't there and that the legislation was "missing the point".

Labour leader David Shearer said he agreed those who could work should, but the opportunities to make people work did not exist.

Currently, 351,000 people, 13 per cent of the working age population, are on a benefit.

The changes are expected to take 46,000 off a benefit and to see 7000-11,000 beneficiaries working part-time.

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- Waikato Times

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