Community Scoop

What to look out for in Proposed Policies

Press Release – Beneficiary Advisory Service

Due to recent tightening rules in order to get food grants, more people have had to go to food banks when they cannot afford to feed their families. How is this system fair when the Government cuts back and expects the Charities to pick up the slack?! …What to look out for in Proposed Policies

Due to recent tightening rules in order to get food grants, more people have had to go to food banks when they cannot afford to feed their families. How is this system fair when the Government cuts back and expects the Charities to pick up the slack?! The policy for getting foodgrants said “if you would otherwise have to go to a foodbank” you could get a foodgrant. Somehow the system has forgotten this and seems to think it is okay to let people go hungry or survive on the meagre amount they can get from foodbanks when they are able to get there. People are not (generally) asking for foodgrants because they lack budgeting skills, but because they do not have enough income for their basic costs. Raising benefit levels would help here.

We have been told that Annette King wants “affordable after-hours health care”. There was an old system where we thought we had free health care for under sixes, but this was later amended to read “affordable” health care. This meant some places charged only $5 or $10 (or so!) for a visit. This is often more than I can afford and I am in a middle income bracket. It certainly makes people on low incomes think twice before taking their child to the doctor – don’t want to waste money if it is not serious! So I can see this “affordable” nonsense getting out of hand as well. Free 24 hour health care for children under 6 and affordable for all children would be a good start.

National is proposing that single parents look for work once their child reaches a certain age. I believe forcing people into inappropriate work environments especially before they are ready will create more social problems than it will solve as all children and increasingly teenagers (i hear) need social support and guidance from parents. They were also worried about the teen pregnancy statistics. Do we really think leaving teenagers alone for unknown periods of time will help this?

Would you be happy to leave your 14 year old at home alone for hours every day just so you can work full-time? People (including children) are all different. Some 14 year olds and their parents would be fine with this. Others would not and that should also be taken into account. Do we want to leave at-risk teens unattended??

I was pleased earlier this month to see CPAG spokesperson Dr Susan St John say “the government continues to deny that caring for one’s own children is work.” A point I try to say every media release!! There is no logic whatsoever to requiring single parents, whose youngest child is only one, to be looking for work! Seriously.

I have no problem with parents working if they can find the work and want to, but if a parent wants to stay home with their pre-schooler, they should be able to do so. There are also extenuating circumstances for many parents on how it would be difficult / inappropriate to have paid work even if their youngest child is over 6. This can be due to safety issues, child or parent health issues or other factors I can’t even think of. A welfare system has to be flexible and have discretion and trained compassionate people to administer it. This applies to all benefits, not just DPB: most people on Unemployment Benefit would much prefer to work. If someone has a physiological or psychological barrier to work this is not just a problem for them, but for society. Whether we like it or not, several of us (often unconsciously) judge people with disabilities and believe they won’t be as good at the job as an able-bodied (or minded) person. It is very hard to find work these days with hundreds of people applying for each job opening. It is even harder if you have what employers would consider a barrier to work like a disability, children you may need to care for (eg when they are sick) or (even) have been on the benefit for a while!

The solution is obvious and has been proposed by some parties. There should not be an age limit for looking for work. If someone on a benefit needs help finding / getting into / getting qualified for work then they should be helped (including good quality affordable child care available). If someone on the DPB wishes to make caring for their children their priority we should respect that and give them all the help they need.

I’m quite delighted to see child poverty actually being an issue this election. Finally. Although if we continue as we are it shall be as Tapu Misa said “As for the 200,000 children living below the poverty line, they must wait until the books are balanced and the economy has grown sufficiently to provide jobs for their parents – a prospect that, on current trends, doesn’t look promising.” We need to create policies that will last for decades ensuring we have a strong system that supports children and families in need and gets us out of the poverty trap. Several suggestions were made recently on the Special Report on Poverty (Inside New Zealand) that screened earlier in the week. It also suggested how we pay for these measures. For a start, ensuring we prevent diseases is much cheaper than curing / looking after children once they have got serious problems. We also need to look at our housing and bring that up to a standard that keeps people healthy rather than makes them sick. Bryan Bruce who hosted the show suggested a Warrant of Fitness type thing for houses. It sounds like a good idea as long as it doesn’t make it harder for the poor (eg if they own their own home).

I’m pleased several parties and suggesting no (or reduced) tax on the first x dollars earned, but am interested as to how this will apply to benefits. Benefit rates are set at the Net paid rate, not the Gross rate. This means that when workers receive a tax cut and get more money in the hand, beneficiaries receive exactly the same amount. This is not no-change as the gap between haves and have-nots increases! Therefore we need to ensure basic benefit levels are raised to a sensible amount that will cover the basic needs of most people.

Incentive to Work: People who do paid work should have more money than people in the same situation on a benefit so that there is a financial advantage to working. This already exists (though both should be more as it is almost impossible to survive on a benefit) no more needs to be done to financially incentivise work (except make non-beneficiary supplements more readily available for those on low-incomes etc). There is also the other reason: people want to work. People like to keep busy and feel like they are valued and contributing to society. What the current Government fails to realise is that people contribute to society in many ways: through paid work, through art, through raising the future (caring for children), through volunteer work, through gardening projects, community social networks and the list goes on. We need to value everyone in our society and not treat people as outcasts. This will not improve our life!

I look at Labour’s proposed policies and see what is going on: they think they are not doing so well and the only way to compete with severe right-wing policies is with some left-wing policies for a change. I am fine with this, so long as they live up to some of their policies. The problem is everyone hates beneficiaries, including beneficiaries. Most people on benefits realise they themselves deserve to be on a benefit due to temporary difficulties but that the rest are bludgers. Which simply isn’t true! We need the help of the media to change the views the current Government has created – the negative image of beneficiaries. People on benefits currently have no full-time work to support them. This can happen to anyone at any time and we all need to look after each other. Again what we need is a society that appreciates everyone, that looks to understand rather than judge. This is the type of world I want to live in.

Beneficiary Advisory Service is a Christchurch based Community Group who help people on benefits and low incomes with their problems with Work and Income. We are specialists in Welfare Law and provide advice, information, support and advocacy to hundreds of people every year.

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