Tougher benefit criteria exposes those not in need

If I was asked whether I was in paid employment or self-employed for more than 20 hours, I would reply, quite truthfully, "No".

"Are you then claiming an unemployment benefit?"

"No, I'm not," I would reply. "Are you actively looking for work?" Once again my reply would be in the negative.

I wonder if, as a result of this hypothetical interview, would I be part counted as part of the 170,000 unemployed, of which only 50,390 are being paid an unemployment benefit?

Some journalists, like Simon Collins of the New Zealand Herald, who has always been to the left of Michael Savage in his philosophy, make the argument that the gap between these two figures is as a result of the National Government making it harder for people to receive their benefits. One does wonder what planet he is on. Collins quotes The Council for Christian Services which claims that "those in genuine need are unable to obtain social welfare assistance".

It's always been my experience, over many years of working with the disadvantaged in our community, both as a politician and as a budget adviser, that if they are in genuine need they will surely receive financial assistance.

The most recently reported number of unemployed, receiving a benefit, has fallen from 65,281 to 50,390, a fall of almost a quarter. This has released millions of dollars to be used in paying off our debt, improving our schools or on health care.

The main reason for this drop has been the toughening of the criteria. In particular benefits are cancelled if, after a year, the beneficiary fails to re-apply. Now why would you fail to re-apply for your unemployment benefit? Could it be that you would be exposed as no longer being eligible; perhaps a fraudulent beneficiary who has been ripping off the system? The same size drop has been experienced among the numbers of those "sole parents receiving a domestic purposes benefit". Perhaps they were no longer a "sole parent" and the process of re-applying would expose that fact. We, the taxpayer funders of these fraudulent claims, should be applauding this drop in demand for social welfare payments, not looking for some other nefarious reason. All power to the hand, I say, of the gutsy minister and former beneficiary, Paula Bennett from West Auckland.

If the numbers receiving benefits had unjustly dropped you'd expect those people claiming food parcels would increase in number; not so. The Salvation Army, an organisation I personally support because they actually put their money where their mouths are, report that 7 per cent fewer families are coming to them for food parcels since these measures were introduced.

Simon Collins points out that some of this drop in unemployment numbers could be as a result of New Zealanders leaving for Australia. Well, from what I read they could be in big trouble over the ditch if they find themselves requiring an Australian benefit of any sort; the Aussie taxpayers have said no to that, and quite rightly so in my view. In fact his argument falls apart as recent figures show a reverse in those numbers of people leaving for the "not so lucky land".

One of the good indices published in the last few weeks has been that CPI fell by 0.2 per cent, mainly as a result of drops in food and petrol prices. Vegetable prices have fallen by 16 per cent. I didn't notice that Collins mentioned these "good news" items, but then I wouldn't expect him to do so, although surely balanced reporting should be the norm for a major daily such as the Herald.

Of course, the unemployment figures at the end of September, obtained from an interview such as mine, have come under pretty heavy questioning. How come the PAYE tax take for November shows a 6.9 per cent increase, maybe caused by the gross weekly earnings having reportedly increased by 4.6 per cent or maybe more people in work; definitely not the reverse. Not bad for a country in recession!

And despite Collins "going off" against the current Government, he has failed to point out that in the most recent Roy Morgan political poll, support for the National Party was, once again, up.